STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It would be hard to accuse the Staten Island Shakespearean Theatre of not being ambitious. For the inaugural production of its new season, the company takes on a relatively new play, “Yankee Tavern,” a drama that plumbs the slippery nature of rumors and conjecture.
And not just speculation about any subject: “Tavern” turns on the events of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Staging a 9/11-conspiracy theory play on Staten Island, a community once home to nearly 10 percent of the 9/11 World Trade Center victims, takes guts.
This production — which we are reviewing based on a preview performance — does a good job at getting at playwright Steven Dietz’s message: History is up for interpretation.
Still, with director Wayne Miller’s guidance, there could be few improvements.
The play is not just a big picture story. It revolves around an international studies graduate student, Adam, and his fiancé, Janet, who run an aging tavern. Adam’s father’s best friend, Ray, is a regular at the gin joint who spouts conspiracy theories on everything from the common cold to Starbucks to 9/11. Palmer, a seemingly all-knowing stranger with an affinity for Rolling Rock, enters the tavern and forces the young couple to re-evaluate their past and future.
Portraying Ray is Henry Bruh, the same actor who gave us the bigoted Bob Ewell in the Shakespearean's recent “To Kill a Mocking Bird.” Here, Bruh brings much needed levity to the scene. He’s kooky and endearing, kind of like a less credible Doc from the “Back to the Future” film franchise. Bruh flubbed a few of his lines, but we’ll chalk that up to preview jitters.
Adam and Janet are portrayed by Michael DeQuinzio and Giana DeGeiso, two newcomers to the Staten Island community theater scene. Maybe its a function of the script, but the couple did not create believable emotional intimacy. Still, DeGeiso was plenty compelling as a woman longing to be a part of something bigger than herself.
John Gatti, a familiar face in the borough’s community theater scene, portrays Palmer, the stranger who presumably has some FBI background. Though the script calls for him to sit quietly throughout the first act, Gatti must be careful to enunciate when he starts speaking. Several audience members at the preview had trouble hearing him at times in the 125-seat black box version of the St. George Theatre.
Once again, the Shakespearean has converted the gilded 1,800-seat movie palace’s large stage into a smaller theater by setting up chairs on the main expanse, installing a slightly raised smaller stage in the wing and drawing the curtain closed, blocking off the vast auditorium. The company tried it for a production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in June. The intimate space works equally well this time as Miller, also the set designer, creates a realistic old watering hole. The three-walled set with a storefront window, full bar, and jukebox looks like an actual bar.
Ultimately, “Yankee Tavern” is a scene worth exploring.
Written by Ed Wiseman, Executive Director, Historic Richmond Town
Saturday, 24 April 2010 09:02
I'm a little late with this post. Too much time has slipped by without acknowledging the wonderful experience of To Kill a Mockingbird. When the show closed last week, The Staten Island Shakespearean Theater Company left us a wonderful memory of a fine production in our Third County Courthouse. Director Wayne Miller blended savvy staging and powerful performances into poignant theater. And those performances…they were marvelous. Who needs Gregory Peck? We have Joe Daly. This particular performance was reality theater. Here's a dad who needs to balance his professional and personal life in the midst of controversy. Very contemporary stuff. And Joe played it perfectly. Perhaps that's the best part of the Company's production - the director and actors made all the right dramatic choices for today's audience while upholding the dignity of the play.
This kind of theater is an elbow in our ribs. It reminds us of how much our community has matured. It reminds us of how much more work needs to be done. Finally, it clearly shows how our theater has grown. This was a first class performance. As my 15 year old "I'm too busy and cool" nephew was overheard telling Mr. Miller after the show, "Well, I really thought I was going to be totally bored. But now I am going to read the book." Imagine…theater getting kids to read.
Although I've only mentioned Mr. Daly and Mr. Miller by name, I'll be clear, the entire cast was terrific. Despite the various levels of experience and the size of the parts, each performance was handled with care and to great effect. Bravo!
We give a standing O to the entire Staten island Shakespearean Theater Company. You are welcome here - scratch that - you are urged to return here for more of your fine work. Who can argue with a complete sell out…with added performances?
To Kill a Mockingbird” A play based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel When: April 15-16; 3 & 8 p.m. April 17; April 18 How much: Tickets are $22.50-$25 More information: www.ShowTix4U.com or www.SISTNY.org
STATEN ISLAND, NY -- The Depression Era Deep South could easily feel like a long way from Staten Island, 2010.
But not in the supremely capable hands of the Staten Island Shakespearean Theatre.
The troupe’s staging of “To Kill a Mockingbird” elicits genuinely heartbreaking moments by leading you to ask: Could the same kind of injustice and loss of innocence happen here and now?
Christopher Sergel’s play, based on Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, closely follows the original story: Atticus Finch, a principled lawyer, is court appointed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s. His young daughter and son, Scout and Jem, are enjoying an idyllic childhood until they learn bigotry permeates their town when they become the victims of gossip and abuse.
The Shakespearean puts on a top-notch production and there are many reasons. Yes, the troupe is staging the show in HistoricRichmondTown’s Third County Courthouse, an authentic courtroom built in 1837, offering unbeatable ambiance. Aside from that, the space provides good natural acoustics; it was erected before microphones.
But the real gifts of this production come from the performances and the direction. The cast, led by the Shakespearean artistic director, Wayne Miller, is comprised of community theater veterans who have taken local stages for three decades.
Joseph Daly, last seen in the Shakespearean’s “Inherit the Wind,” is dead-on as Atticus Finch, creating a compelling and believable father.
Julie Corbin, who has played Adelaide in “Guys & Dolls” as well as Lee in “Marvin’s Room,” among many other roles, delivers an exceptional performance as Maude Atkinson. In the play, she’s a nurturing neighbor to the Finch children as well as the narrator. By contrast, the book gives that job to Scout, a 6-year-old in the novel.
The Shakespearean wisely casts 13-year-old Sabrina Bogen to play Scout at age 11. Acting since she was less than half her own age, the young actress holds her own with the stage vets, skillfully pulling off the child’s precocious nature without seeming cloying. Another child actor, 11-year-old Patrick Maruffi, is a scene-stealer as Dill with some of the play’s best lines.
However, Kevin Pearl as Jem is slightly problematic. We have no complaints about his actual performance. But to look at him is disconcerting. In the book, the character is almost 10 years old. The production makes him 15, but Pearl is obviously a grown man.
Other stand-out performances come from Sonya Mason as Calpurnia, Joan Kell as Mrs. Dubose and Dorri Aspinwall as Stephanie Crawford. Dorian McGhee is particularly effective as Tom Robinson, the man accused of rape. The actor captures the dialect of a rural Southern farmhand.
Miller doesn’t force the entire cast to go for regional accents, which is a smart move. None of the actors sound untrue to the parts. Professional stage lighting brought into the courthouse for the show and incidental sound effects — mockingbird chirping among other noises — elevate the production’s sum even higher.
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
April 1, 2010, 5:18 pm
For Theater Troupe Without a Home, All the World’s a Stage
In 2006, the company lost its longtime home in a former tuberculosis hospital. Ever since, it has wandered the borough, matching sites with shows, performing, for example,“The Laramie Project” in a music studio and “A Christmas Carol” at a restored chapel.
Next week, the troupe will get even more site specific, staging “To Kill a Mockingbird” in a defunct courthouse on the grounds of Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island’s 100-acre museum of living history.
“It’s a huge bonus,” said Joseph Daly, who plays Atticus Finch. “To have the judge up on the podium, that’s great.” On the other hand, the green-room has jail bars on the door.
The 3rd County Courthouse, built in 1837 and last used for a trial in 1919, has been untouched by major renovation since the 1860s. “It certainly still gives you a sense of what the courtroom would have looked like in the mid- or later-19th century,” said Maxine Friedman, chief curator at the Staten Island Historical Society, which runs Richmond Town.
Experts on “To Kill A Mockingbird” say that outside of Harper Lee’s hometown in Alabama, where the play is performed each May in the Monroe County Heritage Museum’s courthouse, it might have not been staged in a real courtroom before.
Four years ago, Sea View was transformed into a facility for senior citizens with dementia, and the nurses’ dormitory with its auditorium were turned into a residential complex for the elderly. The troupe, which had already dipped its toes into site-specific performance, staging a production of “Our Town” in the 1980s that ended in the graveyard of the Church of St. Andrew, became a traveling company full time.
They made their first visit to the Richmond Town courthouse in 2008 to put on “Inherit the Wind.” Last summer, they staged “The Laramie Project” the drama about the Matthew Shepard murder, at the Little Shop Studios, in the Port Richmond neighborhood, bringing a wood fence and two video screens for the multimedia show.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” opens April 8. On a recent Monday night at the courthouse, with its creamy yellow trim, gracious chandeliers and somewhat clattering acoustics, Wayne Miller, producing artistic director, led the actors through their paces.
“You guys have to be more centered,” he told the actors playing Scout, Jem and Dill. They shuffled left, away from the jury box. Actors prepared for their moment onstage in a small room with bar-lined doors adjoining the prisoners’ cell.
While the troupe stages about half a dozen productions a year, Mr. Miller, who has been with the company since 1979, said that the novelty of life on the road was beginning to wear off. “Our ultimate goal is to have our own exclusive performance space,” he said.
Until then, he’s pondering a revival of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” if they can find a willing Catholic school.
Also on the docket: staging “Yankee Tavern” in a local watering hole.
“If I can find the right bar owner,” Mr. Miller said, “then we’ll do the play in a bar.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” runs April 8 through April 18 at the 3rd County Courthouse in Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave., Staten Island. Tickets are $25 and $22.50 for students and senior citizens.