Theater

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The Martha's Vineyard Playhouse's Monday Night Specials feature readings by playwrights.

A Catholic priest is struggling with his faith and the tenets of the church while mourning the loss of his mother to lung cancer. Not exactly the stuff of comedy. However, “Sweetened Water,” the first play by author and frequent CNN contributor Edward L. Beck, deals with some pretty heavy issues with a light touch and a good deal of humor.

Kicking off the Monday Night Special series at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, a reading this past Monday of “Sweetened Water” drew a sellout crowd. The play featured performances by Amy Brenneman, Brooke Adams, and Stephen G. Anthony, with D’Arcy Dersham and Brian Keane from the Playhouse’s current production “The Whaleship Essex” in small roles.

In a Q&A following the performance, the playwright quoted the common advice, “Write what you know.” As a Catholic priest, Mr. Beck is very familiar with some of the controversies surrounding the church. His play explores touchy territory such as the perception of the church with pedophile priests in the news. But mainly the seriocomedy explores the priestly vow of celibacy and the question of where does a clergyman draw the line between intimacy as a spiritual advisor and intimacy on a more human level.

This is all very familiar ground for Father Beck, who has been tapped variously by ABC News, CBS News, FOX News, CNN, HLN, and MSNBC to comment on issues of ethics, morality, and religion. The charismatic priest is also the executive producer of the Sunday Mass on the ABC Family Channel, and previously he co-hosted “Focus on Faith” for ABC News. Father Beck is also the author of three non-fiction books.

The play is set on Martha’s Vineyard and deals with a priest taking his own meditative break after leading a retreat here. Like his protagonist, Father Beck does lead retreats on the Vineyard and elsewhere. While on the Island on vacation following one retreat, he found himself in a situation similar to that which is depicted in his play. However, as far as the play’s menage-a-trois of sorts, Father Beck explained that part came purely from his imagination. He noted that writing the play was a way for him to tread on territory forbidden to a man in his position. “I feel constrained in some areas,” he said. “How can I explore issues like celibacy? Fiction is a way to do it.”

Recognizing that some of the play’s language and sexual scenarios might strike the audience as a little shocking coming from the pen of a Catholic priest, Father Beck explained that priests are often misperceived as less human than they truly are.

One audience member asked Father Beck what he thought the Pope would think of the play. The priest/playwright answered that as long as His Holiness wasn’t asked to publicly condone it, “I think he’d love it.” Monday night’s audience certainly did, giving the actors and playwright a standing ovation.

The next Monday Night Special reading is “Tevye, Two Daughters, and a Cow” written by Sholem Aleichem, 7:30 pm, Monday, July 14, hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and held at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven. $25 donation. For more information, call 508-687-2452 or visit mvplayhouse.org.

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Actors Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams will present their Martha’s Vineyard stage debut at at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center this Monday, June 30, at 7:30 pm. The actors, a married couple in real life, will enact the amorous relationship of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper in “I Take Your Hand in Mine,” a play written by Carol Rocamora based on letters between the Russian author and his spouse.

Brooke Adams.

Brooke Adams. — Martha's Vineyard Playhouse

Mr. Shalhoub is best known as the eponymous detective Adrian Monk in NBC’s “Monk” (2003-2009) for which he received three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his comedic acting. He has also made appearances in “Men in Black” and “Spy Kids” among others, performed voice work in Disney/Pixar’s “Cars,” and is a cofounder of the Arab American Filmmaker Award.

Ms. Adams’s TV and film career began in 1963 when she appeared in “East Side/West Side” and includes movies like “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” and “Man on Fire.” She has made special guest appearances in “Frasier” and several episodes of “Monk.”

Though the actors are prominent on the screen, they began their careers on the stage. After receiving his Master’s degree from Yale School for Drama, Mr. Shalhoub moved to Cambridge where he worked with the American Repertory Theater, and then to New York where he starred in Broadway shows including “The Odd Couple” and “The Heidi Chronicles.” Ms. Adams debuted on Broadway at age six when she performed in the 1954 revival of “Finian’s Rainbow.” She attended New York’s High School of Performing Arts with Lee Strasberg as her mentor.

Regular tickets to “I Take Your Hand in Mine” are $100; premium center seating is $200. Proceeds from the show will benefit Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s capital campaign. For ticket reservations and more information, visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

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Catch “Peter Pan,” as presented by the students of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, this Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Showtimes are Friday at 6 pm, and Saturday at 2 and 6 pm. Tickets are $6; $20 for families.

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From left: Annie Palches, Molly Chvatal, Stephanie Burke, and Felicity Russell in "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals."

Island Theatre Workshop’s 2014 One Act Play Festival kicked off this past Friday evening, with shows also Saturday and Sunday, and continues this coming Friday through Sunday at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

Tim Daniels and Katrina Nevin in "Mirror Mirror."

Tim Daniels and Katrina Nevin in “Mirror Mirror.” — Photo by Susan Safford

The three plays are David Ives’ “Sure Thing,” directed by Leslie J. Stark; Bruce Kane’s “Mirror Mirror,” directed by Kevin Ryan; J.M. Barrie’s “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals,” directed by Lee Fierro. Showtimes are 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and 4 pm on Sunday. Admission is $15; discount for Our Island Club card holders. For more information, see the article in last week’s MV Times, “Three comedies at One Act Play Festival” or visit itwmv.org.

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Stepmother (played by Corinne deLangavant) consults the magic mirror (Clark Maffitt) in "Mirror, Mirror" during rehearsal.

For the next two weekends, Island Theatre Workshop (ITW) will inject a dose of humor to the tail end of the winter with its seventh annual One Act Play Festival. The three short plays included this time around are all comedies, but their styles range from relatively silly, to clever with a twist, to a wry British parody with a sweetly sentimental twist.

“The one acts are a perfect time to do something light. It’s winter,” said Kevin Ryan, who is one of the three directors – along with Leslie J. Stark and Lee Fierro – presenting work.

Mr. Ryan’s selection, the middle play of the program, is the lightest of all. It’s a short piece called “Mirror, Mirror” by Bruce Kane that spoofs the traditional fairy tale.

“He’s taken two or three very popular fairy tales and mashed them together,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s a little over the top.”

Jesse Seward rehearsed his role as Prince Charming for the upcoming One Act Play Festival.

Jesse Seward rehearsed his role as Prince Charming for the upcoming One Act Play Festival. — Photo by Meg Higgins

The short play takes place in a contemporary setting and features a wicked stepmother (of course), a beautiful stepdaughter (naturally), and princes. The scene stealer of the show however is a talking mirror that doesn’t always cooperate. As the mirror, the very talented and versatile actor Clark Maffitt brings his deadpan comedic chops to the show.

The short play also features Brad Austin, Tim Daniels, Corinne deLangavant, Katrina Nevin, Jesse Seward, and Becky Williams.

For his directorial outing, longtime ITW actor/director Leslie J. Stark has chosen David Ives’s “Sure Thing.” The one act is part of a series of short plays that are often performed together under the title “All In the Timing.” Mr. Ives’s plays all feature quirky premises.

“Sure Thing” offers a unique take on the courting ritual. A man and woman meet in a cafe and try to make a connection. Despite some awkward moments and embarrassing missteps, they are luckily given chance after chance to get it right, thanks to an interesting dramatic device.

The play riffs on the the differences between the sexes and the challenges of approaching a stranger, whatever one’s intentions. There are some very funny lines, along with some jabs at stereotypical banter.

Mr. Stark, who has acted in and directed work for ITW for many years, will star in the short play along with Linda Comstock. The two are both members of the Peter H. Luce Play Readers group that meets weekly at the Tisbury Senior Center. Recently, the group presented four of David Ives’s short plays, including “Sure Thing” at the Vineyard Haven and Chilmark Public libraries. The reception of that program encouraged Mr. Stark to choose the first play from “All In the Timing” (and the one that has a line that gives that series its title) for the One Act Festival.

“The play reminds me a great deal of the cartoon work of our wonderful Island treasure, Jules Feiffer,” Mr. Stark said. “There’s a serious underpinning to everything that seems light or silly. It’s very wacky, very typical of David Ives, but it has a certain poignancy. I think light stuff works well when there’s some substance to it. It’s definitely light and very funny, but underneath the lightness is real angst.These are clearly two unattached, lonely people wary of making a connection.

“I like two-character plays. But they don’t usually work. There’s no dramatic tension. In this particular play, there’s dramatic tension right from the get go.”

Lee Fierro, former ITW artistic director and veteran actress and director, has selected something a little meatier for the festival. “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” is a one act by J.M. Barrie, the Scottish author and dramatist best known today as the creator of Peter Pan. Barrie wrote many short stories and novels during his lifetime but was recognized most in his day for his plays.

The play that Ms. Fierro is directing is a comedy/drama set in London during WWI. It starts off poking fun at a group of London charwomen and their competitive natures and turns into a sentimental, at times sad, drama of a lonely old woman. The author, in classic tongue-in-cheek style, caricatures his protagonist and her circle of friends in a wry, humorous way. Enter a male character, who creates a dilemma for the hostess of an informal tea party. From there, the play takes a very different, almost dark direction, while maintaining the humor. It’s a lovely, bittersweet story that is bound to leave the audience smiling as they walk out the door.

“It combines some aspects that always appeal to me,” Ms. Fierro said. “A combination of warm humor and pathos – or heart feeling.”

The play stars Annie Palches, a longtime friend of Ms. Fierro. “She has played some leads for me, but she hasn’t acted in a while,” Ms. Fierro said. “She’s incredible. I am delighted to be reuniting with her as an actor. I like the way she works. This part is very good for her.”

Rounding out the cast are ITW president Stephanie Burke; Jesse Seward, Molly Chvatal, and Felicity Russell, who appeared recently in the “The Wizard of Oz;” plus ITW newcomer Gaston Vadasz.

Ms. Fierro notes that presenting one act plays offers more community members the chance to get involved. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for new actors of whatever age to get a little bit more experience before they tackle a full length play. It gives a number of people an opportunity to get up on stage and not have as many lines to learn. People are awfully busy these days. There much more open to being in a one act.”

And, she added, “The audience seems to really love the one acts. They really enjoy seeing that variety. I just think the entire evening is fun. You come in laughing, you go out crying.”

ITW One Act Play Festival, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven, Fridays and Saturdays, March 21, 22, 28, 29, 7:30 pm; Sundays, March 23 and 30, 4 pm. $15. For more information, visit itwmv.org.

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Shakespeare for the Masses presents free, fun, and shortened versions of the Bard's plays. Pictured is Billy Meleady and Brooke Hardman.

The Vineyard Playhouse presents another installment of Shakespeare for the Masses, organized and edited by Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Galland and performed by a group of actors. There are two shows scheduled: Saturday, Feb. 15, at 7 pm, and Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 pm, both at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

The only Shakespeare play ever banned by a democratic government, according to a press release, “Coriolanus” is a “startlingly contemporary tale about political intrigue, political spin doctors, political treachery…and, as with any story involving proto-fascism, the importance of motherhood,” the press release continued. Admission is free. For more information, call 508-693-6450 or visit vineyardplayhouse.org.

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From left: Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, Sophie Nelson, and Mikayla Tinus rehearsed on Monday.

Update: Saturday’s performance was cancelled because of the snowstorm, but an extra matinee performance is scheduled for 2 pm Monday.

Fantastical costumes, an elaborate set, stunning special effects, a full orchestra, loads of fun choreography, and a huge cast make for a very professionally executed spectacle as “Cats” pounces onto the stage of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) Performing Arts Center this weekend.

Josh Boucher, center, rehearsed his role as Rum Tum Tugger for this weekend's performances.

Josh Boucher, center, rehearsed his role as Rum Tum Tugger for this weekend’s performances. — Photo by Susan Safford

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical (the second longest-running Broadway show of all time) is the story of a community — of cats, of course. As produced by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, “Cats” is the story of a community as well: A community of teens and adults who combined their considerable talents to create an extravaganza of impressive proportions and a show that is sure to entertain all ages.

“It was a challenge that we wanted to take on,” said stage director Betsy Hauck. “It’s musically challenging, choreographically challenging, design challenging. We couldn’t have done it without all the help that we got. The more people who heard about it, the more people who approached us and asked how they could help. It’s an iconic show that people adore.”

Among those who volunteered their time and talents were MVRHS alum, high school faculty members, community tradespeople, sound and lighting engineers, and a host of others who helped out with sets, costumes, special effects, and just about every aspect of the production. Along with two former local high school students, a couple of home schooled kids help fill out the 30-plus member cast. A 15-piece live band, led by conductor Abigail Chandler, is split almost equally between professional musicians from the community and teens.

The end result is a spectacular testament to a teamwork effort and a production comparable to a large regional theater production. From the opening chords of the orchestra and the first glimpse of the fully wrought junkyard scene set — complete with a huge abandoned car and a long metal chute — one knows that they’re in for a magical evening. And the two-hour show certainly does not disappoint. The costumes, which were purchased from an off-Island theater company and reworked and enhanced by a six-person crew, bring the ragtag band of Jellicle cats to Technicolor life. The makeup by a high school team led by graduate Katie Feeks is equally impressive. Each cat sports a different dramatic look.

Jared Livingston, as Bustopher Jones, rocked his "Cats" costume.

Jared Livingston, as Bustopher Jones, rocked his “Cats” costume. — Photo by Susan Safford

Lighting effects dominated by a spectacular moonlight night do a lot to enhance the production and some very special effects are sure to surprise and enchant audience members.

“Cats is based on the poems from T.S. Eliot’s book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” (1939). The production is a sung-through show: there is no dialogue, and the story unfolds through the songs. In the first half we are introduced to the cast of colorful cats — a pack with a variety of personalities and talents. Using the text of a number of the poems as lyrics and some very catchy tunes, Webber has managed to make the semi-wild cats inhabiting a London alley come alive and show off their very distinctive feline personas, including a former actor, a duo of thieves, a fallen beauty, a particularly finicky feline, and a dandified “fat cat” type.

The second half introduces a plot that pits the cats in a competition of sorts. This act includes the most famous song from the musical, “Memory,” which is the principal diversion from the T.S. Eliot penned lyrics. The hauntingly beautiful song’s lyrics were written by Trevor Nunnafter an Eliot poem entitled “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”.

Among the 18 songs, Webber’s versatility is in evidence as the cast performs tunes with influences ranging from jazz to pop to rock to ballads. Luckily, there’s plenty of talent among the young cast. It would be impossible to single out any one vocalists for his or her contribution because all of the soloists and ensemblists are very strong and up to the challenge of the show’s often difficult melodies.

Emelia Cappelli as Grizzabella.

Emelia Cappelli as Grizzabella. — Photo by Susan Safford

Veteran musical director Jan Wightman coaxes first-class performances out of her cast. The dancing is equally impressive. The choreography team of Lianna Loughman and student Alexis Willett (with a handful of students lending a hand) have perfectly incorporated feline behavior into numbers ranging from ballet to jazz to pull-out-all-the stops Broadway spectacle.

Kudos to Ms. Hauck for selecting a show that’s both challenging to students and a true audience pleaser. And congratulations to all involved for pulling off the challenge. Ms. Hauck is insistent that the credit for this remarkable accomplishment belongs to the entire community.

“We’re overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who’s been so helpful,” she said. As a token of their appreciation, the production team will offer free digital advertising to one local concern –—the Martha’s Vineyard Animal Shelter, of course. Images of cats up for adoption will be projected on the theater’s six large side screens before the show and during intermission. No guarantees that they can sing or dance.

Theater: “Cats”, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Feb. 13–15, 7:30 pm; Sunday, Feb. 16, 2 pm, M.V. Regional High School Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs. $10; $7 seniors and students at the door.

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In "Gibberish Poet Translation" are (from left) Carter D'Angelo, Clare Boland, Eva Wilson, Alley Ellis, and Aaron Wilson.

IMP and WIMP (former IMPers) joined together on stage at Alex’s Place at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard this past Saturday night for a comedy improv show.

The Vineyard-based improv group has a busy month ahead: they host an IMP Play Date on January 11 from 1 to 4 pm, and the IMP Student Show is January 18 at 7 pm, both at Alex’s Place.

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Shakespeare for the Masses brings "Henry V" to the stage this weekend. Pictured is Brian Ditchfield, left, and Mac Young in "Henry IV."

Long before the Godfather trilogy, there was the Shakespeare series of history plays — “Richard II,” “Henry IV” (parts one and two) and “Henry V.” And like the Francis Ford Coppola classics, the Henry/Richard tetralogy deals with a dynasty grappling with the issues of power and, after the first installment, the focus switches from the patriarch to the son.

However, unlike the hugely successful movie franchise, Shakespeare’s final episode is hardly a dud. “Henry V,” which will be presented this weekend as part of the The Vineyard Playhouse’s Shakespeare for the Masses series, is full of action and as equally compelling as the others.

Previously, the Shakespeare for the Masses team presented the three earlier plays as a composite and the co-directors are looking forward to checking in on the younger Henry (known as Prince Hal) to find out how he’s mended his errant ways.

“When we did ‘The Triple Crown’ in April 2010, that show ended with Mac Young as Prince Hal being crowned King Henry V,” said one of the two adaptation collaborators, Nicole Galland. “And now, three and a half years later, we’re finally getting a chance to revisit the character, with the same actor, and we’re really happy about that.”

Chelsea McCarthy and Ms. Galland have been entertaining — and educating — Vineyard audiences for the past six years with Shakespeare for the Masses, which is produced by M.J. Bruder Munafo and The Vineyard Playhouse. During the off-season, the two women present a handful of productions of condensed, enhanced, and narrated versions of the Bard’s plays — focusing on the tragedies and histories in particular.

“The tragedies are much funnier for us,” Ms. McCarthy said. “They’re much easier to make funny and ridiculous. The scenes are so strong. The emotions are so dramatic. For Shakespeare for the Masses, those emotions and themes are so huge we can play to the silly.”

The two collaborators found Henry a perfect vehicle for their unique brand of entertainment. “We were surprised when we started working on it that it was totally hysterical,” Ms. McCarthy continued. “It’s not a funny story, but we couldn’t stop laughing. It’s so perfect. It was tailor-made for us.

Ms. Galland, who is currently living in Los Angeles, concurred: “Chelsea and I did the rewrite via Skype in a series of sessions, which was so much fun. We had, in particular, possibly the biggest laughing fit of our partnership over one very silly line of the narrator’s.”

The play, which the team condensed to just under an hour, deals with young Henry’s successful conquest of France. “Nicki and I love to look up the factual events,” said Ms. McCarthy, noting that contemporary audiences would have been familiar with the history. “We tossed some of those in.” Included in the additional history is a summation at the end of the play, outlining the fates of the key players.

The two collaborators, both serious Shakespearephiles, are very earnest about not changing any of the language or the structure of the works. “Because neither of us is brave enough to do any serious cutting, we trim it down and shape it,” Ms. McCarthy said. “One of the things that happened in Shakespeare’s day is that the shows were playing to an interactive audience. People would be drinking, talking, throwing rotten fruit, so he had to repeat some of the important plot points or ideas. We picked our favorite versions of the information.”

One of the things that makes Shakespeare for the Masses productions so fun and easy to digest is that a narrator (called the Folio) aids in the editing by explaining much of the action and throwing in some helpful historical information.

Generally Ms. Galland plays the Folio, but she won’t be on the Island this time around. “Chelsea will be the narrator, which is going to rock,” Ms. Galland said. “I’m simultaneously a little envious of her for getting to do the narrator and very envious of the audience for getting to see her do the narrator.”

“Henry V” includes some of the most famous of Shakespeare’s speeches — many of which are pages long. “The thing I really love about this play is that it shows Henry V as this amazing philosopher /deep thinker/war hero,” said Ms. McCarthy. “He’s in every aspect a king. He does a lot of speechifying and the speeches are incredibly well-written, but there are pages and pages of him talking and thinking — turning things over in his mind. The language is so gorgeous. That’s where it gets hard: we don’t want to cut a single word of the language, but we wouldn’t be doing anyone a service by boring people.”

Despite the challenge of trimming, the play features a good deal of variety. “It’s a really nice blend of the courtly scenes in both England and France and the pub life of the day-to-day commoners,” Ms. McCarthy continued. And it also offers many opportunities for humor through an international cast of characters, including an Irishman, a Scot, and a Welshman, all written to reflect their own accents and vernacular. Luckily, the current cast (many of whom are Shakespeare for the Masses regulars) includes a native of Wales — Peter Stray — to handle the trickiest of the accents.

Rounding out the cast are Anna Yukevich, Scott Barrow, Amy Sabin, Alexandra London-Thompson, Leslie Stark, Elizabeth Hartford, and newcomer Adam Petkus.

Many of the players were involved in this past summer’s production of “Henry IV” at the Tisbury Amphitheater, but some, like Mr. Barrow, who directed that show, have moved from behind the scenes to the stage and others are taking on different roles.

“What’s cool is getting to work with the same people, but we’ve completely mixed up everybody’s parts,” Ms. McCarthy said.

Although they’re getting a somewhat later start than in past years, Ms. McCarthy promises that the series will continue through the off-season. When, and which plays, will depend on the availability of the collaborators and actors, but Ms. McCarthy says there should be at least two more productions

“Our original mission statement was to do all of the Shakespeare plays, including those that no one has ever seen,” she continued. “It’s been as much for my own benefit as for anyone else who might be enjoying it. I wasn’t familiar with some of these plays. I’m a member of the masses myself.”

“Henry V” presented by Shakespeare for the Masses, Saturday, Dec. 28, 7 pm; Sunday, Dec. 29, 2 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Free, donations welcome.

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Maurice "Buck" Reidy as Bernie Madoff and Jesse Seward as Cratchett.

The A Gallery in Oak Bluffs presents its second “A Cabaret” on Thursday, Dec. 26, from 6 to 9 pm.

The evening includes a staged reading (with costumes and props this time) of Gwyn McAllister’s one-act play “Boxing Day,” a comedy that satirizes Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Following the reading, singer/songwriter Ted Perry will perform and there may be some surprise guests. This will be final weekend for the A Gallery, where you can find work by many artists, both local and from afar. Refreshments will be served, and there is a $5 suggested donation.

For more information, visit agallerymv.com.