Stretching their acting muscles

Peter H. Luce Play Readers take on ‘God of Carnage’ next week.

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The Peter Luce Play Readers in rehearsal for a past presentation, from left: Elaine Eugster, Nancy Shaw Cramer, John Brannen, Esther Hopkins, Paul Doherty, and Gaston Vadasz. — Courtesy Linda Comstock

In the Tony and Olivier awardwinning play “God of Carnage,” an informal get-together gradually degenerates into full-on hostility, even violence, as two sophisticated upper-middle-class couples eventually devolve to unabashedly airing their true feelings about one another. Sound like a fun evening out? In the hands of the Peter H. Luce Play Readers, a reading of the 2009 play will give audience members an opportunity to see why the play has been hailed as a masterpiece of dark comedy.

For almost 20 years now, the Peter Luce Play Readers have gathered weekly to read aloud plays (individuals from the group serve as rotating cast members) and hold a spirited discussion after the reading. The selected work ranges from Shakespeare and the Greek tragedies to contemporary plays, often those that have made a hit on Broadway and/or the West End. For the past few years, the play readers have treated Vineyard audiences to a rehearsed public reading on one or two occasions.

Myra Stark, who along with her husband, the late Leslie J. Stark, took on the task of organizing the group when founder Peter H. Luce passed away in 2007, explains that the readings provide Islanders with a unique educational as well as entertainment opportunity. “It’s like lifelong learning to be exposed to all these plays,” she says. “As opposed to reading a play on your own, there’s the excitement of listening to a play and actually performing — pushing yourself, going outside of what you’re comfortable with.”

The group takes turns at the helm. Each month one member is responsible for programming the offerings, and four members are assigned to direct the individual plays. The director is responsible for casting, as well as doing background research and providing a brief introduction.

Stark notes that the readings give Islanders a unique opportunity to be exposed to a wide range of dramatic work: “When it’s my turn to choose, I try to bring in contemporary plays that if I was still living in New York, I would be seeing.” At the end of February, Stark will be directing the recent Tony awardwinning saga “The Ferryman.”

Paul Doherty is directing “God of Carnage.” A professional actor who enjoyed a successful career in New York City before moving to the Vineyard in 2013, Doherty notes that taking on a variety of roles in the weekly readings allows him to stretch his acting muscles. “I never would have been up for any of these roles,” he says. “They had me stereotyped for a certain kind of performance. Casting directors and agents don’t tend to stretch you. I get to do unbelievable roles I would never have been cast in.”

The play readers welcome new members (or drop-ins) of any age and any level of acting experience. Their ranks include everyone from Equity actors to those who have never tested their acting chops. Stark says that the readings attract from 30 to 40 individuals off-season, to up to 50 in the summer.

When Stark and her husband were asked to take over the group, they declined to take on the role of leaders, opting for a more all-inclusive approach. “We said, ‘We don’t need a leader. We can work out a self-actualizing way to do it.’ We turned it into a tri-party. It’s a very democratic way of doing things. I like it better this way. When people take ownership, it involves them more

in what they’re doing. It’s so wonderful to see how people flourish as readers. And with the discussions, all of us get more critically attuned.”

Visitors to the library reading will get a chance to see just how much the group and some of its individual members have flourished in the past years. The cast will feature Cynthia Segal,

Roberta Hurtig, John Brannen, and Wayne Greenwell. In March, the play readers will also collaborate with the Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters for a play honoring the early suffragettes.

 

Peter H. Luce Play Readers present “God of Carnage” at the Vineyard Haven library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 pm. The performance is free and open to the public. The play readers meet every Wednesday morning from 9 am to noon at the Tisbury Senior Center. All are welcome.