Kicks off with Oct. 4 performance of Lend Me A Tenor
By Alison Rooney
When Philipstown-based World’s End Theater Company (WET) began their 20th Century Classics play reading series several years ago at 69 Main St., the members envisioned a low-key, somewhat under-the-radar gathering of director, actors, texts and audiences eager to soak up theater on a regular basis. From the start the series has been a hit, both in terms of full houses and a consistently positive response.
WET Founding Member Jenn Lee elaborates, ”Unexpectedly, the reading series has really grown into something bigger than we originally expected. When we started three years ago, it was a fun idea we came up with partly for our own artistic muscles and also, as an easy way to entertain the community we love without any real cost. I think in many ways it’s become much bigger than that. As WET members we cherish it, and I think the community feels the same.”
This season the reading series is shifting to a consistent performance schedule, of each First Friday of the month, coinciding with art gallery receptions, restaurant promotions and cultural institution programming all coming together on those evenings. A new WET reading – now aptly renamed the First Friday Reading Series – will take place from October through May, always at 8 p.m., at 69 Main St. All are free of charge.
“WET is delighted to once again bring theater to Main Street that you aren’t likely to see anywhere else in town. We have a slate of plays ranging from hilarious to heart-wrenching, read by exceptional casts with inspired direction,” says WET founding member John Plummer.
No longer limited to works from the 20th century, this season has snuck one in from the 21st, and one of those from the 20th concerns events from the 12th. Each reading will be directed by a member of WET and will feature local actors, including some familiar to Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival audiences. The series kicks off on Oct. 4 with the Tony-Award winning comedy Lend Me A Tenor, directed by Lisa Sabin, who describes it:
“It is the biggest night in the history of the Cleveland Grand Opera. Tito Merelli (Jason O’Connell), the world’s most famous tenor, is scheduled to perform “Otello,” his greatest role. But Merelli is nowhere to be found. In an act of desperation, the general manager of the opera (Gregory Porter Miller) persuades a previously obscure underling (Charlie Levy) to disguise himself as the famous tenor and to sing the role in his stead. Will this scheme actually work? Will the chairwoman of the Opera Guild (Sarah Dacey Charles) be duped? And what about the beautiful and sexy soprano (Jenn Lee)?
Chaos and hilarity ensue as the hotel suite is bombarded by a star-struck bellhop (Craig Mungavin) and the underling’s ambitious girlfriend (Kelsey Olson), not to mention the tenor’s very jealous and opinionated Italian wife (Christine Brooks Bokhour). Is Merelli alive? Has there been foul play? Behind-the-scenes antics and romances? Come discover the answers in a way only a masterful theatrical farce can deliver.”
The other directors describe the balance of the season, and, in some instances, what made them choose their play:
Nov. 1: Death Defying Acts, directed by Rob Bissinger. This long-running Off-Broadway hit features one-act plays by three gifted playwrights. David Mamet’s An Interview is an oblique, mystifying interrogation. In Hotline by Elaine May, a neurotic woman calls a suicide crisis hotline late one night. A well-to-do psychiatrist has just discovered that her best friend is having an affair with her husband in Woody Allen’s wildly comic Central Park West.
Dec. 6: The Lion In Winter, by James Goldman, directed by Donald Kimmel. Christmas Eve, 1183, the court of Henry II, King of England. “What shall we hang, the holly or each other?” Most families experience a bit of tension around the holidays. This family, however, has more to fight about than cranberry sauce. Who will be the next king of England? The royal succession is at stake, and everyone has a stake in the game. Henry, the aging but still mighty conqueror with an eye on posterity; Eleanor, his estranged wife, legendary queen and maker of kings; Richard Lionheart, the eldest, consummate warrior and mama’s boy; Geoffrey, the middle son with all that goes with it; John, the baby of the family, daddy’s feckless favorite. “Brilliantly, ruthlessly, savagely witty. An intimate portrait of larger than life historical figures, warts and all.”
Jan. 3: Six Degrees of Separation, by John Guare, directed by Andre Herzegovitch. A Fifth Avenue socialite and her art dealer husband take in a young man claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier. What follows is social commentary full of twists and turns that is funny and moving. “What drew me to the play was the New York City flavor, revealing characters and the underlying truth we are all connected; presented in a lyrical way.”
Feb. 7: All In The Timing, by David Ives, directed by Christine Brooks Bokhour. A hilarious six-pack of one-act plays. A wacky sense of fun overlays Ives’ skill with wordplay in these comedic sketches focusing on existentialist perspectives on life and meaning, and the complications involved in romantic relationships. “I saw this last February at Primary Stages and it was the perfect mid-winter doldrums remover. A total escape for the mind and the senses.”
March 7: The Madwoman of Chaillot, by Jean Giraudoux, directed by Malachy Cleary. It was written in 1945 and published posthumously. “Do you think fracking, corporate greed and contempt for the poor are new issues? Come see this play and watch how the countess and a ragpicker stop the oil barons from drilling for oil right through the Left Bank of Paris.”
April 4: The Women, by Claire Boothe Luce, directed by Jenn Lee. Originally with over 40 female characters, the goal of Luce’s 1936 comedy of manners was to get a play produced with a majority of females onstage, as opposed to the male populated plays of the era. Dealing with verboten subjects of the time, like motherhood and marital infidelity, The Women tackles these themes amidst the shark-infested waters of New York City’s pampered high society and the gossip that fuels their relationships. “With razor-sharp dialogue, this acerbic piece also reveals the deeper understanding and bond between its characters in the midst of comedy, tragedy, hope and disappointment.”
May 2: Circle, Mirror, Transformation by Annie Baker, directed by Alison Rooney. In an artsy small town, a collection of strangers signs up for a community center drama class. As their relationships develop, the seemingly silly games generate some real-life drama. Hearts are quietly torn apart, and tiny wars of epic proportions are waged and won. “Perhaps echoing the play, in a writers’ workshop in an artsy small town — possibly this one — we read this play aloud and found it conversational, truthful and smile-inducing, all in ‘non-hammered home’ ways.”
Tickets for readings are free, and space is very limited, thus reservations, which can be made online for the first reading, are strongly recommended. Please arrive at least 10 minutes before curtain time to maintain reservations. A limited number of seats will be released on the day of the performance on a first-come basis. Visit worldsendtheater.org.