11/12/12 3:59pm
The "On Golden Pond" cast, from left: Noah Ludlow, Thomas Cardisco, Rusty Kransky, Che Sabalja, Marion Stark and Bill Kitzerow.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
The “On Golden Pond” cast, from left: Noah Ludlow, Thomas Cardisco, Rusty Kransky, Che Sabalja, Marion Stark and Bill Kitzerow.

What is more pleasant than visiting a glimmering pond in the woods, pinkish at dawn, golden all the afternoon and russet at dusk? Its placid surface seems created for contemplation.

In 1978, a 27-year-old Ernest Thompson used such a setting for his pleasant, placid play that he surprisingly titled “On Golden Pond.” It is a lovely play, as unsurprising as its title and it is given a lovely, unsurprising presentation at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

Aristotle said drama depends on plot, but many distinguished people dispute him. There is no plot in “On Golden Pond.” It is all character and ingratiating conversation.

The father, Norman Thayer, is a crusty, crotchety senior, suspicious of foreigners (especially Jews), but as well played by Rusty Kransky, his tongue-in-cheek sharp wit allows him to get away with it — or did 34 years ago when the play was first produced.

Ethel, his honest and sensible wife, is played by Marion Stark with abundant good humor and charm. In one of the sweetest moments of the play, while Thayer is busy insulting people to keep them at a distance, Ethel tells him, “You are the sweetest man in the world and I am the only one who knows it.”

Their daughter, Chelsea, beautifully played by Che Sabalja, calls her father Norman, but her mother Mom. She complains gently that her father never made any close contact with her. When she comes for a visit, she brings her fiancé, honestly played by Tom Cordisco, and her prospective stepson, 10-year-old Billy, well played by Noah Ludlow.

The youngster is the one who finally thaws Thayer’s heart to genuine affection and Norman learns to live anew. This may sound like TV-style tidiness, but the audience is charmed and cheered by it. The director, Robert Horn, and the cast escape a disastrous dive into what one critic called “the deep end of weepitude.”

Whatever the play, brand new or a classic, an actor’s greatest magic is the ability to surprise. The turns an actor’s emotions can take, the waves of nostalgia a line washes over us, a scene nudging a memory or two of our own — these are the actors’ secret weapons. At one point in the play, Ethel and Chelsea surprise and elate us by breaking into an old camp song. It comes seemingly out of nowhere with utter naturalness. Charlie, the mailman, delightfully played by Bill Kitzerow, also surprises with his manic laugh and spaniel-like desire to please.

The movie, based on the play “On Golden Pond,” featured Henry Fonda and his daughter, Jane. Over the years, these two stars had made no secret of their estrangement, but they became reconciled during this filming, much in the same way Thayer and Chelsea did. Jane’s father died shortly after.

The American master of nature writing, Henry David Thoreau, shared with the character Thayer a poor opinion of his fellow men and avoided them when he could. He wrote: “I went to Walden Pond to front the essential facts of life and see if I could learn what it had to teach. We must learn to re-awaken ourselves by holding an infinite expectation of the dawn.” It’s a good reminder after the havoc of Hurricane Sandy.

Performances continue through Nov. 18. For tickets, visit nfct.com.

03/22/12 6:00pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The North Fork Community Theatre presents 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' beginning tonight and running through April 1.

“How to to succeed … ” Well, first of all, go to North Fork Community Theatre and “without even trying” you’ll succeed in adding two hours of joy to your life. Then, driving home, sing what you remember of “I Believe in You,” furtively glancing at your own image in the rearview mirror.

The ingenious Pulitzer Prize musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is the work of the theatrical giants Cy Feurer, producer; Abe Burrows, writer; and the great Frank Loesser, who provided the memorable music and lyrics.

‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue March 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31 and April 1. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday, 2:30 p.m. For tickets, call 298-6328 or visit nfct.com.

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Its brilliant satire, sharp but appealing, shares its ’60s sensibilities with the hit TV show “Mad Men” (which, incidentally boasts the original star of “How to Succeed,” Robert Morse). The material was originally from a book by Shepard Mead entitled “The Dastard’s Guide to Fame and Fortune” and makes fun of the treacherous path up the corporate ladder. Frank Loesser said he liked the idea of making money by making fun of people devoted to making money.

One of the reasons to go see the NFCT production is the role of J. Pierrepont Finch, performed by the personable, inventive, likable charmer Michael Hipp. We watch enchanted as he advances from window washer to chairman of the board.

Rosemary, who desires to be his corporate wife, is played by Tara McKenna with dedication and aplomb. It demands a stretch of the imagination for a 2012 woman to convince us she is a female of 1960 — especially in numbers like “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.”

Peter Peterson is excellent as the boss’ nephew and Lindsey Scoggin is the only actor up there who is completely believable as a businessman. He provides the whole production with a basic standard from which the comedy can take off. Sherry Powers does the same for the secretaries.

David Markel, who consistently provides the NFCT with excellent performances, gives his best yet here as J.B. Biggley. He creates a hilarious and original characterization which is delightful. Jan McKenna as Hedy LaRue is a great audience favorite and her duet “Love From a Heart of Gold” with Mr. Markel is exactly right, skillfully funny with a dash of sincerity.

Other rewarding moments are Marguerite Volonts’ surprising and memorable contribution to “The Brotherhood of Man,” Luke Sisson’s perfect game show announcer and Amanda Mouzakes’ wonderful scrubwoman. The rest of the company includes Samantha Payne-Markel, Charlie Lehner, Lon Shomer, John Hudson, Heather Cusack, Brandon Hollborn, Corinne Araneo and Becca Mincieli.

Unfortunately, the show as a whole is slow and laborious, although intermittent numbers and scenes sparkle.

America’s great contribution to the theater is how our musicals are models of integration. They cement story, lyrics, acting, singing and dancing, creating a closely woven continuity.

The piano cannot run out of cover music, and an actor must not run out of words before he gets to his exit; the audience must not sit in quiet darkness, ever. The answer to all these problems is divinely inspired cuts. Don’t be afraid to cut; be afraid not to.

We are all aware of NFCT’s admirable endeavor, now nearing its deadline, to buy its theater building. You can do your part in supporting that endeavor by buying tickets to see this lively show, directed by Bob Beodeker and produced by Mary Motto Kalich. You won’t be disappointed.

 

01/27/12 6:30pm
North Fork Community Theatre

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Alan Stewart (from left), Marilee Scheer and Becca Mincieli in a scene from John Patrick Shanley's 'Doube: A Parable.'

“When in doubt, abstain.” Thus spake Zoroaster in 700 B.C.

“Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy.” So said John Patrick Shanley in 2004.

The playwright chose “doubt,” that place between belief and disbelief, certainty or distrust, for the title and theme of his darkly funny Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play set in 1964.

Doubt
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Jan. 27 and 28, Feb. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m.; Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 at 2:30 p.m. The Jan. 28 performance is followed by a talk-back with director and cast.
For tickets, visit nfct.com or call 298-6328.

The plot dramatizes the balance of power between Sister Aloysius (Marilee Scheer), a nun who is certain even if truth is not, and Father Flynn (Alan Stewart), a young priest whom she suspects of molesting one of her students. The battle is between the fierce, forbidding school principal and the priest who preaches love and who wants to be believed. As written, they crash into each other, their perception clouded by paranoia like two semis blinded by fog on the expressway.

The clash on the Mattituck stage, while perfectly functional, attractive and well turned-out, lacks the combustion of human anxiety and urgency.

The excellent Marilee Scheer continues to amaze and delight with her ability to feel and project the heart of each one of the varied characters she plays. Alan Stewart is a skillful director as well as actor, but somehow the struggle between them is never death-defying. As film folk say, “The chemistry is wrong.”

Or perhaps the role of Father Flynn is not written as clearly as one might wish. Mr. Shanley’s writing was enormously successful with the ebullient screwball comedy “Moonstruck,” for which he won an Oscar. It seems less so in this subversive narrative. His old-fashioned storytelling is as clear and direct as Arthur Miller’s and as full of local color as Horton Foote’s. But it never has the poetry of Tennessee Williams or the musicality of August Wilson, and for all the wonderful prose in the world, it is the poets who shape our lives.

One of the great satisfactions for the audience at this production is the appearance Deborah Morgenstern, who plays the mother of the boy who may or may not have been involved to some degree with Father Flynn. In just one scene, this actress presents a whole woman, integrity intact, and we know her and care what happens to her.

The other role in the cast is the self-effacing Sister James, whose nature is to submit to Sister Aloysius in all things. When the principal asks what class she is teaching, Sister James answers, “Art,” and suffers a bull’s-eye put-down, “Waste of time!” Rebecca Mincieli has the challenge of being yes-woman to her boss and at the same time projecting a person in her own right.

One of the play’s themes is the treatment of women’s lack of power in the Roman Catholic Church and Ms. Scheer handles this beautifully. So does Mr. Shanley, who also hints that what led to the church’s scandals regarding young boys was the “doubt” people had about what was right and what was wrong.

We are all familiar with the fear and/or courage involved in making decisions, in taking sides and the irrevocability of certain choices. The play “Doubt” helps us understand and, like all really good theater, allows us to see we are not alone.

10/18/11 8:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | North Fork Community Theatre presents 'Harvey.'

Mary Chase, the playwright who created a six-foot-tall white rabbit named Harvey, not only won a Pulitzer Prize for it but for the past 60 years has been cheered by audiences who accepted and identified with the situation.

She skillfully tapped into generations of beliefs that a rabbit’s foot is good luck, that a white rabbit can lead Alice and us to fantastic adventures and that a giddy or foolish person is “hare-brained.”

With this background, we eagerly believe that Elwood P. Dowd, played at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck by Matthew Orr as an affable, ingratiating fellow, has as his best friend an imaginary rabbit, even though his niece, nicely acted by Jessica Raven, describes him as “the biggest screwball in town.”

Of course, theater people — actors and audiences alike — are accustomed to seeing people and things that aren’t there. In Noel Coward’s popular “Blithe Spirit,” we howl when the leading man sees and talks to his deceased wife, and in “Macbeth,” we gasp when the murdered Banquo appears.

Elwood does not mind that people fail to see and appreciate Harvey, but his sister Veta, played by Beverly Gregory with a touching comic vulnerability, minds very much and endeavors to get him committed to a sanitarium. The doctors (two accomplished leading men, Jim Navarre and Wade Karlin), however, are understandably dubious about the rabbit and proceed to lock her up instead of Elwood.

This farcical turn of events demands an urgency the production sometimes lacks. Lines that appear innocuous or commonplace need the same investment of vitality and purpose as life-threatening tragedy. Lisa Dabrowski, as the sanitarium’s nurse, retains an honesty along with the zaniness of her situation, and both Caroline Ciochetto and Susan Hedges are adept at mixing sincerity and silliness.

Kevin Monsell as the taxi driver rewards us toward the end of the play with a truthful performance that makes us wish he’d been on all along.

The director Alan Stewart, who recently staged “The Incorruptibles” by Michael Hollinger with unusual inventiveness and ingenuity, again demonstrates that he knows how to bring a script to life. The same can be said of the producer, Deanna Andes, who has mastered the maze-like challenge of turning the printed page into a glowing, attractive, living thing for our pleasure, our great pleasure.

At the end of the play when the doctors, and Veta, have given up trying to change Elwood, he triumphantly says, “I have wrestled with reality and I finally got the better of it!”

It’s up to us, the audience, to decide who is more dangerous to society: the easy-going dreamer with a vivid imagination or the people who want him to conform to the accepted version of society.

‘Harvey’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Oct. 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29 and 30. For tickets, call 298-6328 or visit nfct.com.

08/03/11 6:19am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The North Fork Community Theatre will present a stage adaptation of the popular 1984 movie "Footloose" beginning on July 28 and running through August 14.

Of all the dedicated theater artists, dancers are closest to the angels. Not just because they can soar above us ordinary mortals, which they can, but because of the admirable passion, discipline and tenacity they devote to their work. That is what raises the sparkling production of “Footloose” by Tom Snow and Dean Pitchford at Mattituck’s North Fork Community Theatre above ordinary fare.

The feel-good plot concerns characters who live in a community where dancing is against the law. They find a way to remedy the situation. That’s it.

But as directed and choreographed by Erin McKenna, it explodes with a youth-fueled energy that revs up the metabolism of the audience. It exudes the happiness and well-being we associate with beach books and escapist summer film comedies.

In spite of the fact that there is not a lot of room to breathe on the NFCT stage, Ms. McKenna fills the space with ever-changing original patterns, with an occasional refreshing example from vaudeville or variety (“Mama Says”).

In the same tasteful style, she balances riotous routines with rapturous renditions of ballads. We are elated by the appearances of Victoria Carroll, the irrepressible Becca Mincieli and Abbey Clark and we are enraptured by the beautiful singing of Tara McKenna (“Can You Find It in Your Heart”) and her lovely duet with the ebullient Amanda Mouzakes (“Learning To Be Silent”).

All this does not happen by chance. It results from the precision that characterizes dancers. Once the press visited a Jerry Robbins rehearsal and after watching a complicated section executed over and over again, a reporter asked, “How many more times are you going to do that?” Without a pause, Broadway’s foremost choreographer replied, “As many as it takes.”

Under the musical direction of Jacob Boergesson, a well-balanced pit band supports these extraordinarily good singers. The musical score has a large share of generic melody and the lyrics capitalize on cliché, but Mr. Boergesson inflects them with sensitivity and brassiness in equal parts.James Yaiullo gives a believable, endearing performance as the hero, and the NFCT lucked out with a star-quality, professional performance from the attractive Ivy Croteau as his girl. Their duet of “Almost Paradise” is unforgettable.

Ryan Beodeker is excellent as the tortured minister who eventually “sees the light” on dancing. His “Heaven Help Me” and “I Confess” are heartbreaking. Billy Finn is all you could wish for as the “bad” boyfriend and his fierce version of “The Girl Gets Around” is stunning.

Dan Yaiullo gets even better every time we see him. He is always good, but here his sharp awareness of the seriousness of his situation blends with his talented singing and dancing into a marvelous performance.

Christina Stankewicz aces all her comic moments and moves us deeply with her heartfelt “Let’s Believe We’re in Love.” Justin Harris is at his best as the free-spirited Cowboy Bob. He is immensely enjoyable.

We all start life with freedom of movement. If you sing to a baby, both little legs fly up in the air and he wiggles his toes. But as life progresses, we settle for tapping a toe or drumming our fingers. “Footloose” will awaken your agility and set you free. There are eight more performances; don’t miss it.

‘Footloose’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Aug. 4-7 and 11-14: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. For tickets, call 298-6328 or visit nfct.com.

05/23/11 7:50am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The North Fork Community Theater will present a production of 'Oklahoma!' beginning this weekend.

Here is a golden opportunity for you to revel in a score of waltzes, ballads, folk and comedy songs while you celebrate both our country’s past and the history of the American musical. Do yourself a favor and see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” at North Fork Community Theatre.

From the moment a tall cowboy named Curly (James Stevens, blessed with both singing and acting talent) strides down the aisle singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” we know we are in for a treat.

Mr. Stevens and the lovely soprano Jessica Raven as Laurey carry us away in “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” while an admirable Linda Aydinian as Aunt Eller churns and rocks. The gorgeous “People Will Say We’re In Love” and the exuberant “Farmer and the Cowboy” follow. Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary said her father resumed classical piano lessons when he worked on this show. That may explain the wondrous range of styles, e.g., “Lonely Room” (beautifully and movingly sung at NFCT by Rusty Kransky as Jud).

When the Theater Guild first presented “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs at its playhouse in Connecticut in 1931, neighbor Dick Rodgers was invited to see it. Two years later, he and Oscar Hammerstein began work on the musical version, calling it “Away We Go.”

At the time, “musical comedy” was simply that — a series of popular songs and comic sketches. But Rodgers and Hammerstein changed that forever by integrating story, lyrics and dance, all motivated by the unique feelings of individual characters. They would discuss a scene, who the character was, what the song was about, then write it.

As Steve Sondheim writes in his memoir “Finishing the Hat,” “Oscar transformed a moderately successful play about homosexuality and the loneliness of the early settlers into a paean to American pioneering and expansion.” It opened in 1943, a perfect time to honor our forefathers and mothers who tilled the land and tended cattle since we were all volunteering to help in World War II.

Ironically, the duo found it difficult to raise the backing. Investors complained it had no striptease, no suggestive jokes, no Jewish comic. (It does have a Persian peddler and at the NFCT, David Markel is simply marvelous in the part, trying to sell wares and avoid matrimony.) When Walter Winchell’s agent saw the show’s tryout, she wired back: “No legs, no sex, no chance.”

But they persevered. On the road in Boston, they decided they needed a big uplifting number, preferably about the land. Saturday, after the matinee, the creators went back to their hotel and wrote “Oklahoma.” The director, Reuben Mamoulian, put it in Sunday and Monday nights, and when the chorus rushed down to the footlights and sang, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma” right into the laps of the audience, they knew they had a hit and the title was changed.

One of the more thrilling things about musical theater is the sound of a full chorus and the chorus at the NFCT is wonderful — there’s no other word. We happily accept the convention of a crowd singing the same lyrics, presumably having all had exactly the same thought at the same time and Michael Horn, Sherry Beodeker, Ryan Beodeker and all of the farmers and cowboys in the large cast are marvelous.

Amanda Mouzakes as Ado Annie has the skill to make it look easy as she performs a show-stopping “I Cain’t Say No” and later, she duets with the talented and ingratiating Daniel Yaiullo as Will Parker. Celeste Holm, who originated the Ado Annie part, tells the story that on opening night one of the producers came to her dressing room and said, “Remember, it is a tragedy that Ado Annie can’t say no.” Before she could adjust to that, another producer came in and said, “Remember, we are counting on you for comedy!” Sometimes an actor can only listen to his own instinct!

Luckily, at NFCT, the company listened to producer Marion Stark and director Robert Horn. The myriad components of musical production are gathered, unified and presented beautifully by Ms. Stark. Robert Horn’s direction is clear, exuberant, sensitive and altogether right.

Of course, once the curtain is up, it is the pianists who hold the evening together and move it along. Patricia Wall and Kelli Baumann are the real wizards of this magical evening. We lose ourselves in their music and owe them two great “bravos.”

The set is perfect, the costumes grand and the lighting would be even better if the follow-spot lit the faces instead of the laps of the singers.

Equally responsible for the emotional spell of the evening are the choreographers: Erin McKenna and Jan McKenna. Agnes de Mille was the first to introduce “the dream ballet” to musical comedy in order to reveal the hidden fears and desires of the characters. She could only have been grateful and thrilled by the beautiful work of Katie Sousa as well as Peter Peterson and Ryan Beodeker.

“Oklahoma!” is a landmark in the evolution of “the American musical,” which (along with jazz) is our singular and unique contribution to the theater of the world. Rejoice and be proud of it!

‘Oklahoma!’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue May 19-22 and 26-29. Thursday-Saturday performances start at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees begin at 2:30.
For tickets, visit nfct.com or call 298-NFCT (6328).

03/08/11 5:56am
Michael Hipp, center, as Leaf Coneybear, spells the names of South American rodents in a scene from 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. The musical continues through March 20.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Michael Hipp, center, as Leaf Coneybear, spells the names of South American rodents in a scene from 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck. The musical continues through March 20.

There is a late Valentine, cheery as a bouquet and tasty as chocolate, waiting for you at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck: The Tony Award-winning “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin.

Beautiful melodies, intriguing harmonies, skillful choreography by Michael Disher and fabulous accompaniment by Robert Peterson are all combined under the able direction of Ken Rowland, who needs no spangly curtain or glittery drop as long as he has the talented, inventive lighting director Charlie Scheer.

More than all that, the script shows how competition can turn into a struggle for survival and how a prize can become not merely a statuette, but life or death. That’s what good theater does. It entertains but also suggests and informs. The contestants learn that winning isn’t everything and losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser.

To handle all this takes courage and skill. The old joke has it that an actor’s last words on his deathbed were, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” If you reach for crimson, you may attain pink. If you play to the back of the house, you may reach row M. If your character is “exuberant,” you may project “happy.” Good comic actors don’t know the meaning of timidity. In the TV series “Glee,” the characters’ jealousies, dreads and longings have the strength of undiluted poison.

NFCT’s production of “Spelling Bee” was produced by the capable, thoughtful and personable Margaret Motto. It opens promisingly with the assured presence and magnificent singing of Kelli Baumann, followed by a generous, believable performance by Daniel Yaiullo, one of those performers who make you miss them when they exit and elated when they return.

Amy Rowland and Jessica Raven give two totally different characterizations, both of which please and move the audience equally.

Michael Hipp is in a class by himself. He is enchanting as a singer and as a comic. James Stevens, too, is splendid, singing beautifully and handling comedy skillfully.

Amanda Mouzakes and Ryan Beodeker provide accomplished comic turns as well as some tender, intimate moments that are very moving.

David Markel is an authoritative mainstay of the production and when, at the end, he makes a generous, humane gesture, it is enormously affecting.

Earlier this month, “Watson” the supercomputer won the TV game show “Jeopardy.” It beat two humans without ever comprehending or understanding the semantic content of its answers. How much an actor adds to the semantic content of his lines is usually in direct proportion to how much we in the audience enjoy the play.

‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays, 2:30 p.m., through March 20.
For tickets, visit nfct.com or call 631-298-NFCT (6328).