Playhouse warms up for summer

Playhouse warms up for summer

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If MJ Bruder Munafo guesses right, you’ll laugh, clap, tap your feet, and find yourself riveted by this summer’s four offerings at The Vineyard Playhouse. As the theater’s artistic director, Ms. Munafo has put together a season that she hopes will enrich and entertain audiences.

From July 1 to July 17, the Playhouse will produce “Runaway Beauty Queen: The Lost Pleiad,” by Rhonda Coullet. This autobiographical “celestial rock-musical fantasy,” as Ms. Munafo characterizes it, chronicles the journey of free-spirited Sis from her rural upbringing to the Miss Arkansas beauty pageant, on to Broadway and beyond. The show’s creator, Ms. Coullet, has herself starred on Broadway, performed on Saturday Night Live, been featured on National Lampoon comedy albums, sung back-up with Cher on a Meat Loaf album and written a top 40 single for Jimmy Buffett. The show’s music has been described as a mixture of “Elvis, rockabilly, Janis Joplin and foot-stomping, hand-clapping gospel,” with a script that is “bawdy” and “laugh-out-loud funny.”

The lighter vein will continue at the Playhouse from July 22 to August 7 with “The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall,” a contemporary new comedy by Sam Forman, a “hot young playwright,” according to Ms. Munafo. The play made its debut last spring in Washington, D.C., where it prompted glowing reviews for its effective and affectionate homage to Woody Allen and his classic 1977 romantic comedy. Also called “cheeky and charming” for its New York-style wit, the play will be directed by Johanna McKeon, an up-and-coming young director with Broadway and Williamstown Theatre Festival credits as well as strong professional ties to the Playhouse.

In a departure from recent summers, Ms. Munafo says she is excited to announce the Playhouse’s first “African-American Festival of Music & Theater” from August 12 to 28. “This is the first festival of new work in over a decade during the summer season,” she says. “If it’s successful, we’ll consider presenting a themed festival every summer.” The African-American Festival will include a reprise of “Fly,” last summer’s runaway hit about a WWII squadron of black fighter pilots, along with stage readings of three new plays, and a performance by Opera Noire of New York, a performing arts group of African-American opera singers.

The summer season will wrap up with “Faith Healer,” by Irish playwright Brian Friel. First staged on Broadway in 1979, this drama about the life of Irish-born itinerant faith healer Frank Hardy consists of four monologues performed by three characters – Hardy, his wife, and his stage manager. Directed by Vineyard Playhouse Artistic Associate Joann Green Breuer, “Faith Healer” will be performed downstairs in the theater’s intimate lobby space. The show, according to Ms. Munafo, will feature three acclaimed Boston actors.

And, although she is not ready to announce the specifics of the Monday Night Specials, Ms. Munafo plans to continue the tradition of inviting theater luminaries such as Tony Shalhoub, Mia Farrow, Diane Wiest, and Amy Brenneman to present readings of new works.

In addition to the main stage productions, The Vineyard Playhouse will also continue to host performances for children and families at the Amphitheater at the Tashmoo Overlook in Vineyard Haven. Ms. Munafo will direct one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” from mid-July to mid-August. The Fabulists, a troupe of adults and teens, will perform comic adaptations and new works for children each Saturday at 10 am during July and August. The Playhouse is also adapting Island children’s author Kate Feiffer’s book, “My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life” to the stage. Auditions will be held in May for a mid-June production.

As always, according Ms. Munafo, the Playhouse welcomes support from Island residents in the form of donations, housing for actors, or ushering during performances. Information for volunteers is available at vineyardplayhouse.org.

Good news for budget-conscious theater-lovers: Ms Munafo is dropping ticket prices for main stage productions. “We’re lowering prices in response to the economy and to make the theater available to more people,” she says. “The Playhouse is a vital part of the community and we’re hoping to show that vitality in a big way this year.”

Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.