Theater

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Rykerr Maynard, as Peter Pan, watches Katie Feeks, Jared Livingston, and Jaiden Edelman fly.

Between August 16 and 24, Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) presented Peter Pan at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center. Featuring its ever-youthful namesake, along with other well-known characters created by Scottish playwright Sir James Matthew Barrie, the elaborately staged musical came to life for eight evening performances and two matinées under the direction of ITW vice president Kevin Ryan.

One of the many notable aspects of the production was a stage set with scenic elements fashioned by Brad Austin and the set crew. The remarkable set pieces included a forest, a ship’s deck with rigged mast, and gigantic window.

“I requested Brad design a functional window that would magically open and close with the music cues and that would be as large as the theater would allow,” Mr. Ryan said. “His words to me in a production memo were ‘be careful what you wish for.’ He delivered a stunning 14-foot-plus towering multi-pane window with Palladian top. Brad, along with set consultant Steve Zablotny, rigged it to open and close on a silent system of hidden lines and pulleys.”

In order to achieve the illusion of supernatural flight, ITW tapped Kentucky-based ZFX, a flying effects company that specializes in stage productions. The rig and harnesses they provided are something of a trade secret and not allowed to be photographed from certain angles.

“The rig was originally installed under the instruction and direction of ZFX representative Russ Morgan,” Mr. Ryan said. “Russ trained our fly operator crew prior to his departure for his next location and show. Assembled, it spans more than 40 feet across, is suspended 25 feet above the stage, and weighs in at close to 1,000 pounds. When dismantled, it is confined to a two- by four-foot wood and steel crate.”

In true ITW spirit, close to all of the cast and crew of Peter Pan were volunteers, many of them children. “I found a huge sense of community volunteering and having a child in the production,” said Kristin Mathias, who helped with tickets and concessions. “Everyone accepted everyone with open arms. As someone helping and offering to volunteer, the sense of thanks was overwhelming. The entire ITW family was wonderful to my son. They were caring, understanding, and always happy to see him. This, as a mom, was important. He was always happy to be there and made many new friends and met so many people that he looked up to.”

Zach Mathias, Ms. Mathias’s son, a third-grader at the Oak Bluffs School who played Nibs, summed up his experience working on the play: “I loved being in Peter Pan! It was a lot of fun and it was great to see so many people back from being in the Wizard of Oz last year. I have made some great new friends even though many of them are older than me. And I can’t wait to see what Kevin decides to do next year. I love to act and be on stage. As well as play sports.”

There was a surprise during the performance on Thursday, August 21. At approximately 7 pm, Kevin Ryan “advised the crew to hold the curtain, but without further details,” said volunteer and ITW board member Connie McCreery. That’s when Dukes County deputy sheriff Nate Vieira walked out on stage and trumped Peter Pan himself by proposing to Wendy [played by Katie Feeks].

“People in the audience were crying with happiness,” ITW president Stephanie Burke said.

ITW and the cast and crew of Peter Pan dedicated the musical to the late Clark Maffitt, a longtime friend of ITW as well as a performer who died in June. “He was a wonderful man with a terrific sense of humor and a terrific storyteller. We were really sorry to lose him,” said Lee Fierro, a creative, driving force behind ITW for four decades.

Emphasizing the indispensable foundation that volunteers provide, Mr. Ryan said that families especially make critical, and often unsung, contributions to productions like Peter Pan.

“The community theater company exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism,” he said. “I am so very proud of not only the Island Theatre Workshop organization, but each and every one of the individuals involved, along with their families. It is no small feat to transport children to and from rehearsals, often in different locations, at many late hours throughout what is about a nine-week process, while juggling other kids and family summer schedules. These families are committed to daily email communication and hands-on involvement at all times. Several of the parents in this production worked backstage as well as in the front of the house. Every night it is dressing, make-up, staging, assisting with others who might be in need of help. This is what the public never gets to see, and it is every bit as important as what is happening on stage during the performances. We love our cast parents and family members and could never do a show such as Peter Pan without them.”

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The Playhouse hosts two play readings, on Saturday and Monday.

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse winds up its season of Monday Night Specials (play readings featuring professional actors) with two new works. On Monday, Sept. 1, the Playhouse presents a comedy/drama by Avram Ludwig, movie producer (Swingers) and actor. The Same Boat will tread some familiar ground for Vineyard audiences as the action takes place on a sailboat headed to the Island. A staid Connecticut couple’s life is shaken up when a bohemian young woman enters the picture. The reading is at 7:30 pm at the M.V. Playhouse on Church Street in Vineyard Haven. Admission is $25.

Another work with a similar title — but very different subject matter — will be presented on Saturday, August 30 at 4 pm, also at the Playhouse, also $25. The Same Man compares the lives and work of two of our greatest contemporary authors — George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. The play is written by attorney/author David M. Lebedoff and based on his critically acclaimed book of the same name. Mr. Lebedoff, a former treasurer of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, has written a number of other nonfiction books covering topics from partisan politics to the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Both plays will be followed by Q&As with the playwrights. For more information, call 508-696-6300 or visit mvplayhouse.org.

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Rob Karma Robinson plays Satchel Paige in the M.V. Playhouse's current production.

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

Satchel Paige, one of the most famous players in baseball’s Negro leagues, is responsible for the above quote. Often repeated, it is included in the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s latest production.

Soneela Nankani and Stan Strickland in "Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing."

Soneela Nankani and Stan Strickland in “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing.” — MJ Bruder Munafo

While baseball hall-of-famer Paige has been relegated these days to a footnote in history, in his own day he was a legend and certainly more than deserving of the sort of hero worship that has been bestowed upon other baseball greats by biographers and filmmakers.

In Richardo Khan’s and Trey Ellis’s new play, “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” not only is Paige’s remarkable professional story — a stellar career as a pitcher in the Negro Major League and a short stint in the major leagues — brought to life, but the man who lived his life according the above quote is seen as the highly likeable, charismatic, and complex man that he was.

“Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing” is a rich, full spectrum of a show. There’s music — both a couple of ensemble songs from the period and some saxophone interludes, dancing, simulated ball playing, a dream sequence, a dramatic fight scene, and some extremely effective use of projections and lighting.

In fact, the entire piece is a masterwork of choreography. Players mime a practice session very realistically, throwing and hitting an imaginary ball. The difficult blocking of the multi-character dramatic scenes is executed without a hitch. And everything is authentic to the period, including Paige’s old-style wind up and delivery.

The play’s action takes place shortly after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black player in the major leagues — in 1947, when Paige was 41. Paige was robbed of that distinction despite his reputation — among other ballplayers as well as fans — as the best player in all of baseball. Still, Paige is enjoyed great success and acclaim and, in his own way, is broke color barriers by taking part in a barnstorming tour with Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller. For many years, the two men led opposing teams that travelled together and played in major league parks during the off season, introducing many baseball fans for the first time to black players.

The story starts out during this tour on a ballfield, but most of the action takes place in a black-owned rooming house in Kansas City where a few of the ballplayers, including Paige and Feller, are lodging. The audience is introduced to the proprietress and her young daughter, an aspiring singer who is following in her mother’s footsteps. The inclusion of these fictional characters lends some Tennessee Williams-style drama and a considerable bit of sexual tension to the story. The boardinghouse scenes also lead to the relating of a few very funny anecdotes, the exploration of some of the issues faced by black ballplayers, and some nice repartee between Paige and his former love, Ms. Hopkins.

Ms. Hopkins is played by the remarkable Suzzanne Douglas, who has appeared at the Playhouse previously as both an actress and as a jazz singer. She is well known for her many television and film roles having starred in the sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood” as well as in several motion pictures including “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” In the Playhouse production, she proves herself a very strong dramatic actress with a flair for comedy. It would have been nice to have been able to enjoy a bit more of Ms. Douglas’s considerable musical talents in the play.

The real revelation among the cast is the very versatile Rob Karma Robinson, a New York stage actor who has twice before appeared at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. In his most recent outing here as a member of the ensemble cast of “Fly,” we got a taste of Mr. Robinson’s acting chops as he played the most charismatic of the play’s Tuskegee airmen. As the star of “Satchel Paige,” Mr. Robinson proves that he can run the acting gamut — alternately joking with the boys and quoting from Homer’s “The Odyssey” — a very effective recurring metaphorical device used throughout the play.

Along with a strong cast, including Playhouse regular Christopher Kann, it is a delight to watch an actor of Mr. Robinson’s strength and range. He is clearly ready to break into his own version of the major leagues, and we are very likely to see more of this extremely talented actor — hopefully on Broadway or in TV or film.

Mr. Khan’s and Mr. Ellis’s previous collaboration “Fly,”  which was a hit on the Vineyard in 2010 before taking off to the famed Ford Theater in Washington, D.C., featured an ancillary character — a tap dancer — who helped interpret the action. Similarly, the accomplished jazz saxophonist Stan Strickland provides both music, some exposition, and atmosphere in the current Playhouse production. At one point, Mr. Strickland also does a brief turn as the legendary Charlie Parker on the verge of revolutionizing the jazz music world.

All in all, the show has mass appeal beyond baseball fans. And, it’s a telling story about the history of race relations in this country. In an interview after opening night, co-writer and director Mr. Khan noted that his research for the play led him to an interesting discovery.

“In the midwest, where segregation was very much a part of life, the result was a thriving black middle class,” he said, “I was shocked that there would be so many blacks who owned their own businesses and that that community actually survived.

“The idea was to tell the story of the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues in baseball, but I also wanted to explore the climate of an America that was just on the eve of integration. That was originally my intent. We were so separate and yet in 1947 Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and I guess the question at that time was what was going to happen now. It was kind of representative of all of America to take a snapshot of Kansas City in the middle of the country.”

“Satchel Paige” is cleverly staged, using projections, a musical narrator, and an interesting, minimal opening scene set to good advantage. The lighting and special effects are worthy of a metropolitan production and, as previously mentioned, the choreography, including dance and movement sequences by Marla Blakey, is exceptional.

Theater: “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” Wednesdays-Saturdays through Sept. 6, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For more information and for tickets, call 508-687-2452 or visit mvplayhouse.org.

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Rykerr Maynard as Peter Pan, and Katie Feeks as Wendy.

Wendy, Michael, and John will fly high over the stage following Peter Pan in the new production of the musical “Peter Pan,” based on the play by James M. Barrie, an Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) production.

From left: Jesse Seward, Brad Austin, Jim Osborn, Corrine deLangevant, and Bob Dusa rehearse for ITW's "Peter Pan."

From left: Jesse Seward, Brad Austin, Jim Osborn, Corrine deLangevant, and Bob Dusa rehearse for ITW’s “Peter Pan.” — Katrina Nevin

The performance includes a cast and crew of more than 40 people, in which ITW has hired the flying masters from ZFX (Zealous Flying Effects), a flying company headquartered in Louisville, Ken., to build the necessary structures to send Peter and his adopted family high above the stage.

Islander Kevin Ryan, who directed last year’s extravaganza, “The Wizard of Oz,” is directing this year’s show, and New Yorker James Higgins is the musical director. Lee Fierro, director of ITW for more than 40 years, is artistic consultant for “Peter Pan.”

The large cast is loaded with skilled and accomplished actors and singers. The lead role of Peter is played by Rykerr Maynard, who played the scarecrow in last year’s show. Katie Feeks plays Wendy, Jesse Seward is Captain Hook, Jaiden Edelman is Michael, and Jared Livingston is John. Shelly Brown and Brad Austin play the parents, the Darlings.

“Peter Pan,” August 16–24 (no show August 20), 7:30 pm, M.V. Regional High School Performing Arts Center. Sunday matinees at 3 pm when the audience can meet and greet the cast. $22; $12 for children.

Special Preview Night: August 15, 7:30 pm, benefits Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living. $25; $12 children.

For more information, call 508-737-8550. For tickets, visit Ticketsmv.com. Tickets also available at the door.

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Rob Karma Robinson plays the title role of Satchel Paige.

The third play of the 2014 Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse season opens with two preview nights, August 14 and 15, with the official New England Premiere opening night on Saturday, August 16. “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan and directed by Mr. Khan, runs Wednesdays through Saturdays through September 6.

“It’s 1947. Jackie Robinson has just integrated American baseball,” states a press release. “In his shadow, Satchel Paige and his All Stars gear up to play Bob Feller’s All Stars from the majors in a thrilling off-season match-up. Jazz fills the night, baseball the day. And America is about to experience something it’s never faced before.”

Theater: “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” Wednesdays through Saturdays, August 14–Sept. 6, 7:30 pm, M.V. Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For more information, call 508-687-2452 or visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

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See "The Three Musketeers" at the Tisbury Amphitheater on Thursdays-Saturdays through August 9.

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse kicked off their performance of “The Three Musketeers” last Thursday, July 24, at the Tisbury Amphitheater. The outdoor performance, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, was written by Ken Ludwig, with direction and fight choreography by Scott Barrow, costumes by Cynthia Bermudes, dance by Amy Sabin Barrow, and stage management by Ellen Dempsey.

Luke Bailey as Rochefort in "The Three Musketeers."

Luke Bailey as Rochefort in “The Three Musketeers.” — Michael Cummo

The cast of Playhouse veterans and newcomers includes Luka Glinsky as D’Artagnan, Chelsea McCarthy as Porthos, Andrew Spatafora as Aramis, Lagan Trieschmann as Athos, Luke Bailey as Rochefort, Lauren Zoppo as Constance, and Xavier Powers as King Louis XIII. The fast-paced and action-packed version of Dumas’s classic follows D’Artagnan on his journey to join the chummy Musketeers of the Guard, against all odds.

Performances continue Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, at 5 pm through August 9. Bench seating is installed in the amphitheater, and tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students, available for cash only at the door. For more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

Seated front row left to right: Grant Meacham, Mikayla Tinus, Sam Permar, Sarah Ortlip-Sommers. Standing next row left to right: Barbara Binder, Joe Mendick, Sophia Nelson, Darby Patterson, Garrett James, Bob Dutton. Standing last row left to right: Rykerr Maynard, Kenon Veno, Sydney Johnson.

Young Island actors bring the Tony Award winning musical “Spring Awakening” to the stage of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center this Thursday and Friday, July 31 and August 1, at 8 pm. The musical, a dynamic coming of age story set in late 19th century Germany, is rated PG. Proceeds from the show benefit the Island Wide Youth Collaborative. Tickets are $20 and can be found at ticketsmv.com, Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, or at the door.

The theater group The Fabulists has returned for the season to the Tisbury Amphitheater at the Tashmoo Overlook, presented by the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Every Saturday morning at 10 am through July and August, families can visit the amphitheater for a witty outdoor improvisational theater show aimed at children and join in the fun through audience participation. This Saturday’s show will be “Ashpet: an Appalachian Cinderella Story.” Tickets to the show are $10; $5 for children ages 2 and up. Visit mvplayhouse.org for more information.

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Peter Oyloe stars as Paul Clayton at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse.

Playwright Larry Mollin has opened a lost passageway for boomers, to a time that both liberated and frightened the stuffing out of us.

If we’ll recall, those of us who entered our pre-teen years in the early 60s and exited as – most of us – pseudo adults circa 1970, the time was so fraught with its ratcheting up of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, that after some silly years in the 70s of disco and literal money- burning via rolled-up bills for snuffling cocaine, we donned business suits and morphed into a new species called “yuppies.”

The whole cast, from left: Jared Weiss, Ereni Sevasti, Jaime Babbitt, Chic Street Man, Peter Oyloe, and Stephen G. Anthony.

The whole cast, from left: Jared Weiss, Ereni Sevasti, Jaime Babbitt, Chic Street Man, Peter Oyloe, and Stephen G. Anthony. — Photo by MJ Bruder Munafo

The 60s was never the elephant in the room. There was no elephant.

And then slowly, as the decades buffered us from our youthful stupidities, we’ve began to excavate the kitchen midden of that era, item by item, examining each with a renewed sense of wonder.

First we unearthed the Vietnam War — the tragedy that inspired our elders to make cannon fodder of every last draft-worthy male in our country — as books, novels, and lectures streamed forth. Next we re-discovered hippie attire, marijuana as a certifiable medication and a tame recreational drug, and biopics about 60s icons such as Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, and Tina Turner arrived in theaters. Now, at last, we’ve seized hold of an old relic we’ve avoided because it tugs so fiercely at our heartstrings, we fear it might unravel us.

I speak of folk songs.

For his new play, now running until August 9 at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, and directed with bold polish by Randal Myler, Mollin focuses on a folksinger well-known in his time, now a mere footnote regarded chiefly for his mentorship in the early 60s of that supernova, Bob Dylan.

Born in New Bedford in 1931, Paul Clayton, played by Peter Oyloe, jammed at home with his musical, quarrelsome mother (Jaime Babbitt) and aloof father (Stephen G. Anthony), who divorced when he was 12. The young Clayton followed his bliss to UVA in Charlottesville, where he majored in folklore, mining the hills and “hollers” of Appalachia for forgotten songs.

Jared Weiss as Bob Dylan and Ereni Sevasti as Suze Rotolo

Jared Weiss as Bob Dylan and Ereni Sevasti as Suze Rotolo — Photo by MJ Bruder Munafo

By the early 60s in Greenwich Village when he met Bob Dylan, fresh from Minnesota and dying for a break, Clayton had already recorded 11 albums with major record labels. He coached Dylan in the ancient art of “borrowing” from old melodies, making them better with the twist of one’s own talent, then copywriting the new work to gain one’s own royalties. Thus Clayton’s “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons?” (taken from an old-as-the-hills and none-too-commercial “Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens?”) underwent Dylan’s brilliant rewrite “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Mollin, within the parameters of our own evolved age, drop-kicks Clayton’s forbidden love for the young and vibrantly hetero Dylan, who bobs and weaves away from all overtures, yet hangs with Clayton until he’s been properly elevated to the spotlight.

At the gorgeously refurbished Playhouse, still redolent with freshly-milled wood, and under the artistic direction of MJ Bruder Munafo, the Village folksinger-cum-protest era is brought to life with no more than a platform, guitars on stands, and a curving screen that shimmers with projections of city lights, newspaper headlines (“3000 Beatniks Riot In The Village”), and backgrounds of the shabby New York streets that housed such iconic nightclubs as Café Wha, Kettle of Fish, and The Gaslight.

A group of talented actor-singers has been assembled: Ms. Babbitt, in addition to playing Clayton’s mother, also incarnates Village den mother Carla Rotolo. Mr. Anthony is both Clayton’s dad and another lost figure of the era, Dave Van Ronk, whose grim homage to New Orleans street life, “The House of The Rising Sun,” was first hijacked by Dylan then turned into a mega-hit by the Brit rock group The Animals, basically — and unintentionally — cutting Van Ronk off at the knees.

Ereni Sevasti plays Dylan’s early-Village-days girlfriend Suze Rotolo, and also the woman who steals him away from Suze, none other than the great Joan Baez. Performer Chic Street Man resurrects another forgotten figure of the Village scene, the Rev. Gary Davis and, whenever Chic joins the ensemble, a new level of soul, blues, and church-style reverence propels audience members to clap in time and shout “Halleluiah!”

Jared Weiss tackles the young, irrepressible Dylan, singing with the gravelly sound that shocked a nation raised on crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Paul Anka, a radical new style that Joyce Carol Oates later described, “as if sandpaper could sing.”

Was the early Dylan a thief and a rotten friend? Mollin makes a convincing case for that. But it wasn’t only gay Paul Clayton who had fallen in love with him. An entire country of under-aged, substance-starved Americans made Dylan a prophet and, later, a rock and roll superstar.

Arguably Dylan’s first ballads were stolen and reformatted, but in swift order he unfurled original lyrics on the level of a modern-day William Blake, such as:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far from the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
– Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965

Another star of “Search: Paul Clayton” is musician and composer Fred Mollin, picking away at guitar and banjo in the shadows, and lending rich textures to the production as musical director.

This show will thrill boomers willing to take a dip in the bathos of our youth, and for succeeding generations who’ve added their own unique layers to the midden.

And now let us root in old boxes for Cat Stevens, Donovan, Buffy St. Marie, and Judy Collins on vinyl and 8-track cassettes, then see if we can find machines on which to play them.

“Search: Paul Clayton” 7:30 pm, Wednesdays–Saturdays through August 9. $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For mature audiences only: sexually explicit, adult language, and scenes that depict drug use. For more information and for tickets, visit mvplayhouse.org or call 508-687-2452.

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Dubbed “A new folk musical ‘experience’” by the producer Larry Mollin, “Search: Paul Clayton” opens at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse on Saturday, July 19, with two preview performances on Thursday and Friday, July 17 and 18.

Directed by Randal Myler, this is a “World premiere of a new musical play celebrating the true story in words and song of one of Bob Dylan’s first musical mentors, Paul Clayton of New Bedford,” according to a press release. “From 1961-1965 Paul taught Bob the tricks of the trade, while falling helplessly in love with him.” The play is for mature audiences only; it is sexually explicit, contains adult language, and descriptions of drug use.

The show runs Wednesdays through Saturdays through August 9. Tickets are $50; $40 seniors; $30 students. For more information, call 508-687-2452 or visit mvplayhouse.org.