Authors Posts by Melissa Arnold

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Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

By Melissa Arnold

Classical music has a long-held reputation for being upscale — there’s something about it that feels refined, polished and graceful. The Department of Music at Stony Brook University is passionate about demystifying the genre, making the works of Mozart, Brahms and others enjoyable for everyone.

Each year, the Stony Brook University Orchestra invites the community to join them for their Family Orchestra Concert, an hour-long performance meant for all ages, including young children. This year’s concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at the Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

“[This event] used to be called the children’s concert, but we didn’t want to give the impression that it’s just for children — the whole family comes along, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said conductor Susan Deaver, who’s led the orchestra since 2000.

The ensemble is comprised of over 70 Stony Brook students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as a handful of area high schoolers. Many of the students aren’t music majors and come from a variety of disciplines. In fact, the majority are studying biomedical engineering.

“So many of these students have been in music all their lives and don’t want to let it go,” Deaver said. “We have a lot of great players, and it’s a real blend of disciplines, the common denominator being a love of playing orchestral music.”

 This year’s concert theme will highlight dance in orchestral music, with each piece either having “dance” in its title or creating a sense of dance and movement. The repertoire features recognizable pieces including selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bach’s Minuet in G, along with some that might be unfamiliar, like Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka. 

The program will also feature works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Borodin. Dancers under the direction of SBU’s faculty member Amy Yoop Sullivan will collaboarte with the orchestra.

A highlight of each year’s concert is a solo performance from a grade school musician in Stony Brook’s Young Artist program. Open to grades 6 through 12, the program allows young musicians to enhance their musicianship and ensemble performance skills. Students are encouraged to enter an annual concerto contest, where a panel of impartial judges chooses a student to play at the concert.

This year’s contest winner, 12-year-old pianist Viviane Kim, will play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I’d practiced a lot. I played the song for my family, my friends, and anyone else who came to our house,” said Viviane, a seventh-grader at Port Jefferson Middle School. “It also helped that only three people were listening,” she joked.

Viviane, who also plays the flute, comes from a musical family — her father, Alan Kim, plays piano as well, and her grandmother is a violinist. “I played piano all the time when Viviane was a baby, and she took a natural interest in it. She started playing around the same time she started reading,” her father said. 

Michael Hershkowitz, executive director of Community Music Programs for the university, sees the annual concert as a chance to expose the audience to something new and wonderful.

“It’s important for classical musicians to be as accessible as possible and to break down barriers for people wanting to try it. A lot of people have an impression that classical music is just old and stuffy,” Hershkowitz said. “I think that dance is one of my favorite themes we’ve done — so much of music is tied to motion and bringing people together. And once you see a classical concert, you want to do it more.”

All seats for the Family Orchestra Concert are $5. For tickets and information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

For more information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

The Smithtown Historical Society will host its first Victorian Tea Party on Sunday, April 14. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

By Melissa Arnold

Whether it’s a holiday celebration or a football party, a rite of passage or a family outing, there’s something about food and drink that brings people together. In families, shared meals can be the perfect setting for passing down traditions, memories and personal history.

Cienna Rizza knows this intimately. A self-described “dyed-in-the-wool Long Islander,” some of Rizza’s fondest memories involve sharing tea with her mother and British grandmother. 

Rizza valued those experiences so much that she began to share them, hosting tea parties for friends that eventually grew to include their friends and even strangers. Armed with a deep knowledge of tea party symbolism and rituals, she created the Mad Harlot Tea Society, an organization seeking to empower and connect people from all walks of life. Taking on the persona of Miss Penelope Proper — a whimsical, rabble-rousing British authority on all things tea — she has shared her message of joyful, unapologetic confidence with women of all ages.

“Penelope is a free spirit, a leader for women who want to get out of the box. Although she is a character, she brings out the best in people and is still very ‘me,’” Rizza said. “While every tea party is a bit different, you can always expect a warm, loving atmosphere.”

On April 14, the Smithtown Historical Society will welcome Miss Penelope as she hosts a Victorian-style royal tea for ladies in the beautiful Frank Brush Barn. Proceeds from the afternoon will benefit the historical society.

“The Smithtown Historical Society works to preserve the historic properties in our town, and we seek to expand and improve upon programs for both adults and children,” said Executive Director Priya Kapoor. “All these activities require funding, and we have been fortunate enough to have the support of our wonderful friends and neighbors in Smithtown.”

The historical society holds a variety of fundraising events throughout the year, but this is its first tea party, Kapoor said. The idea was suggested by Myra Naseem, co-owner of Elegant Eating caterers in Smithtown.

“As a Smithtown resident since 1960, I feel that it is my town and I want to help it to be the best it can be. In the past, we’ve catered tea parties for bridal and baby showers and occasionally a Red Hat party — occasions when someone is looking for a dainty experience,” said Naseem. “I met Penelope Proper some time ago at a tea party where she was seated at our table. You can’t just sit next to that lady without totally enjoying her character.”

Naseem and Miss Penelope have carefully crafted the menu for tea time, which includes traditional fare — fresh-baked scones, tea sandwiches, berries and clotted cream, minicakes, tarts and more. Each guest will have her own individual teapot with a variety of teas to sample and enjoy, along with sparkling water or cider.

Miss Penelope loves revelry, so she’ll lead the group in some games and raffles throughout the afternoon, as well as the opportunity for pictures on the grounds. In addition to the food and frivolity, guests will be treated to a brief lesson on the history of tea and tea parties on Long Island, which grew in popularity following World War I. 

The Royal Victorian Tea fundraiser will be held at the Smithtown Historical Society’s Frank Brush Barn, 211 E. Main St., Smithtown on April 14 at 1:30 p.m. Please note, this event is limited to 30 people and is for women only.  Hats, gloves and costumes are encouraged (though not required) and prizes will be awarded for the fanciest hat and most historic costume. Tickets are $50. To reserve your seat or for further information, please call the society at 631-265-6768.

By Melissa Arnold

Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do children die? Is there a God, and does He really answer prayers? Plenty of us grapple with those questions from time to time, and the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has tracked down the Big Man Himself to get some answers in the one-act comedy, “An Act of God.” The show opened last Saturday.

The 90-minute play is a stage adaptation of “The Last Testament: A Memoir,” a satirical book written by “God,” aka David Javerbaum. Javerbaum has won more than a dozen Emmy Awards over the course of his comedy career, most of them earned as the head writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He’s also the voice behind the snarky Twitter account @TheTweetOfGod, which has amassed 5.6 million followers  – no pun intended. 

“An Act of God” isn’t your typical Broadway show with a neatly packaged storyline. Instead, it’s meant to treat audiences to a live and in-person encounter with God (Evan Donnellan), who’s not exactly the embodiment of divine goodness. In fact, God is fed up with the way He has been misrepresented by organized religions and has come to Broadway to set the record straight. He’s even got a new and improved set of commandments to share, among them “Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate.”

Donnellan oozes charisma and command as God, who is at once charming and narcissistic. His jokes are shocking and laugh-out-loud funny, but Donnellan creates striking dissonance during his character’s pessimistic rants and self-absorbed navel gazing. He also deserves serious kudos for the amount of preparation involved for this show – the majority is a monologue.

Supporting God’s appearance are his faithful archangels, Gabriel (Scott Hofer) and Michael (Jordan Hue). Hofer’s Gabriel is obedient but goofy, adding his own comedic touches as the show’s Bible reader and peanut gallery. In contrast, Michael is often sullen as he wanders through the crowd, asking God those tough questions and seeming unsatisfied with His answers. The trio has great chemistry, and watching God try to keep the two of them in line is a lot of fun.

It’s obvious that director Christine Boehm and the cast have taken some liberties with the original script, but that’s a good thing. Early in the show, they make fun of their own decor – it seems they’ve decided to leave much of the set for the children’s theater production of “Aladdin Jr.” in place, since the shows run concurrently until Feb. 24. They also reference the ticket prices, Smithtown and Evan Donnellan’s looks and personality, as well as the original Broadway production’s lead, well-loved “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons. 

Be prepared, God is always watching – He’ll make a point of drawing attention to and potentially embarrassing random audience members during the show. Don’t take it personally.

The bottom line is that while the cast is very talented and the special effects are cool, this show is simply not for everyone. The script aims for satire but often either misses the mark or drifts into territory that’s just offensive. 

Those with deeply rooted religious beliefs might want to give this one a pass, unless you can handle 90 minutes of unapologetic cynicism and crude blasphemy. But if you keep an open mind and a sense of (twisted) humor, you might feel inspired by the show’s overarching message that you should believe in yourself. Or you might feel nothing at all. Your mileage may vary.

See “An Act of God” through March 3 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. Contains strong language, references to drugs and strong sexual content throughout. For tickets and info, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org. 

All photos by Courtney Braun

A drawing from Torrey’s book, ‘My Dog, Bob’

By Melissa Arnold

For most of his childhood, Richard Torrey dreamed of becoming the world’s first pro hockey player/cartoonist. His father, Bill Torrey, brought home multiple Stanley Cups as a general manager in the National Hockey League. Following in his father’s footsteps was practically his destiny. But young Rich found that his passions were leading elsewhere.

Torrey has spent more than 30 years engaging readers, first as a comic strip creator and later as the author and illustrator of more than 15 children’s books. In February, the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham will showcase his childlike imagination with an exhibit titled, Richard Torrey: The Creative Process.

The cover of Torrey’s ‘Almost’ book

Born in Los Angeles, Torrey grew up all over the U.S. and Canada, spending long summers in a Canadian cabin without TV or other technological distractions.

“I was always drawing,” recalls Torrey, 59, who now resides in Shoreham. “My mind would wander, and I was always coming up with new ideas. I used to cut out the Sunday comics and try to figure out how to draw the characters.”

As luck should have it, Torrey had a chance opportunity to meet beloved Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz thanks to his father’s career in hockey. Schultz was a diehard fan and season ticketholder for the now-defunct Oakland Seals, where the elder Torrey was general manager in 1970. Rich approached Schulz during a hockey game, eager to present him with a drawing of a horse he’d done recently.

“He wrote feedback on the back of my drawing, and was so kind,” Torrey recalled. “That moment hooked me.”

Still, he found art classes in school terribly boring and too structured, and while he first majored in pre-med at Allegheny College, he knew immediately it wouldn’t work. He got a degree is psychology mostly out of obligation and spent the next several years working with his father, directionless.

But there was plenty of downtime on the job, and Torrey always found himself drawing. Despite self-doubt, his big break finally came in 1984 when his first comic strip, “Heartland,” was picked up for syndication in 180 newspapers.

Torrey would go on to create a successful sports-themed strip called “Pete and Clete,” but as the newspaper industry began to change, he wondered what else he might do for work. 

“Ally-saurus & the First Day of School”

“I looked for avenues that would be a good fit for my style of illustration, and children’s books seemed like the answer,” he said. While Torrey first took jobs illustrating for others, he continued to fill notebooks and reams of cheap paper with drawings, bits of text and storylines of his own. He knew he had to try writing his own books.

“Nine times out of ten it’s going to be a horrible idea, but if you generate enough of them, something is bound to be good,” Torrey said. “All kinds of things inspire me — it might be something on the radio or something my kids did growing up, or just lines that pop into my head.”

Today, Torrey considers himself an artist that writes. His award-winning stories, including “Ally-saurus & the First Day of School” (Sterling), “My Dog, Bob” (Holiday House) and the series “Why,” “Almost” and “Because” (HarperCollins), are drawn or painted almost entirely by hand in a variety of mediums.

Lorena Doherty, adult program coordinator and art coordinator of the North Shore Public Library, said that Torrey is a regular library user and has occasionally read his books to children during special programs there. He is also a well-known speaker at area schools and an instructor at the Art League of Long Island. “Illustrators are genuine artists, and we love to feature local members of our community,” Doherty said. “He uses quick, simple pencil lines in his drawings, and there’s a storyboard quality about them. He’s very playful. This exhibit is different in a fresh way, and I believe it has a wide appeal.”

The exhibit will feature approximately 25 illustrations from Torrey’s career in varied stages of completion, along with text from Torrey explaining his inspirations and work process.

“I think people will enjoy getting a peek into the way I operate when I’m doing a book,” Torrey said. “I talk to kids often, and I tell them that none of it is magic. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of mistakes. There is no single route for creativity. I want people to see the bumps and bruises [in my work]. The path to success isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a ball of yarn.”

See Richard Torrey: The Creative Process from Feb. 1 through 27 at the North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham. Torrey will also speak at the library’s Art Forum meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information, please call 631-929-4488.

Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 attend a wake for Andrew McMorris where they stood as honor guard. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Melissa Arnold

All across Long Island, as Boy Scout troops gather for regular meetings, they reaffirm their commitment to the organization’s oath and law. Time and again, they promise to be loyal, trustworthy and brave and to “help other people at all times.”

Whether it’s running fundraisers, washing cars, visiting seniors or fixing up neighborhood points of interest, the Boy Scouts in local troops are often the driving force behind Suffolk County community service efforts.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said they believe that all Scouts, boys and girls alike, stand as a positive example to our community, and that everyone should strive to join them in living a life of respect, leadership and helpfulness.

“The town always has a ‘wish list’ of projects we’d love to take on, but simply don’t have the funding for,” Bonner said. “The Scouts really complement the work that we do, but even beyond that, they make a tremendous impact in so many different areas of our community.”

Many of the organization’s service projects are dreamed up and implemented by the most senior Scouts, boys approaching their 18th birthday who are striving to obtain the highest rank: Eagle Scout.

Troop 204 uniform

In Miller Place’s Troop 204, anywhere from six to eight boys make Eagle Scout each year. The process is rigorous, and the Scouts run every aspect from initial planning and fundraising to completing the project and writing a final report. According to Scouting Magazine, less than 10 percent of all Boy Scouts go on to become Eagle Scouts.

“It’s great watching the boys come in as novices and grow and mature and become good citizens,” said Joe Argento, scoutmaster of Troop 204. “It’s special to see kids I’ve known since they were young go on to make Eagle.”

This year, the troop’s newest Eagle Scouts from Troop 204 protected wildlife at Cedar Beach with the installation of fishing line receptacles, made massive repairs to a large storage facility at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point and spruced up the Miller Place signs and Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, among several other projects.

While the Boy Scouts are known for serving their neighbors, they are also fiercely loyal to one another. The strength of those ties was on display this fall when Andrew McMorris, a Scout from Troop 161 in Shoreham, was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver during a day hike in Manorville Oct. 1. Several other Scouts were injured in the episode as well. In the days after Andrew’s death, Scouts from across the region banded together to hang hundreds of red ribbons from Riverhead to Wading River and beyond. 

On the day of Andrew’s wake, they came out in force to stand vigil for their brother. Troop 204 served as an honor guard.

“No matter what kind of Scout you are, it’s all one big family,” said Ann Colletta, membership coordinator for the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. “Troop 161 is very dear to Troop 204, and we all wanted to show them that we have their backs. It could have been any of us.”

The Scouts would go on to raise more than $20,000 for a memorial fund in Andrew’s memory that went to support Troop 161. In addition, the troop is raising funds to build a 3,200-square-foot Adirondack cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. 

Scoutmaster of Troop 161 Matthew Yakaboski said the troop is only just beginning to heal after the tragedy in October, but they still have a long way to go. 

“To have that life cut short like that is awful,” Yakaboski said. “We’re just trying to celebrate his life and do what we can.”

Along with the effort to build a cabin in Andrew’s honor, Troop 161’s scoutmaster said a number of their Scouts are planning several Eagle projects in the upcoming year, all of which will honor Andrew and the other Scouts injured on that day. One Scout is doing his Eagle project at the Robert S. Reid Community Center in Shoreham creating a paved brick patio and garden around a tree the troop originally planted in honor of Andrew. Yakaboski’s son, also named Matthew, is going to work on a project in conjunction with nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the Jones Beach Theater. He will be renovating the area around a flagpole to create a brick path in the shape of a ribbon with each brick engraved with the name of people who have been killed or injured during DWI incidents. 

Anker was quick to note that troop leaders and parents are also worthy of praise for the time, effort and support they contribute to the organization.

“We have to give the scoutmasters credit, too — they’re more than just leaders or supervisors. They’re true mentors and role models that challenge the Scouts to grow not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And when you have strong leadership in Scouts, it perpetuates strong leadership for the next generation.”

With additional reporting by Kyle Barr.

By Melissa Arnold

Whether you’ve been playing carols for weeks or are just now contemplating putting up the tree, the end of Thanksgiving signals the official arrival of the holiday season. If this is the most wonderful time of the year in your house, there’s no better way to enjoy it than by catching “Elf`The Musical” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

Based on the beloved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, “Elf” tells the story of a little boy who crawls into Santa’s gift bag and ends up at the North Pole. Raised as an elf, the ever-growing Buddy has no idea he’s really human, even though he’s a terrible toymaker. When Buddy learns the truth about his identity, he sets out on a journey to New York City to reconnect with his roots and find his family.

Insulated by the always cheery atmosphere of Christmastown, it’s an understatement to say Buddy faces culture shock upon arriving in the Big Apple. But it will take a lot to keep Buddy from spreading Christmas cheer, especially to the person that needs it most: his Scrooge-y father.

“Elf” made its Broadway debut in 2010 with book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan and music by Michael Sklar and Chad Beguelin. Devoted fans of the film will appreciate the show’s faithfulness to the original script, including Buddy’s classic one-liners that make it so iconic. The musical numbers aren’t especially memorable and feel unnecessary at points, but they do open up the opportunity for some great dance routines.

The production begins with Santa (Gordon Gray) inviting the audience to join him as he reads the story of Buddy the Elf. There’s something so fun about these moments that allow actors to interact with the crowd and draw viewers in. And the little details in Santa’s scenes (his oversized chair with a bag of Doritos and the remote control stuffed in the cushion) feel genuine and cozy. Gray’s portrayal of Santa is effortless, funny and truly believable — his belly laughs will make you wonder if he’s the real deal.

Erik Gratton is no stranger to the role of Buddy. He also starred in the national tour of “Elf” and last year’s Madison Square Garden production. While it’s hard to shake off the image of Will Ferrell in that famous green hat, Gratton leaves it all on the stage with tons of energy and all the zany enthusiasm Buddy deserves. His first experience and subsequent obsession with a paper shredder will have you in stitches. It’s also worth noting that he approaches the show’s rare emotional moments with surprising tenderness. Gratton will break your heart at the end of the first act during “World’s Greatest Dad (Reprise).”

After fantasizing endlessly about what life with his dad will be like, Buddy meets his overworked, agitated publisher father, Walter Hobbs (Joe Gately). Tension rolls off Gately in waves, and when Hobbs loses his temper, Gately fills the theater with powerful, roaring tirades. He’s a wonderful foil to Christianne Tisdale and Zachary Podair, who play Hobbs’s wife Emily and young son Michael. Tisdale and Podair have great chemistry as mother and son, and their duets in “I’ll Believe in You” and “There Is a Santa Claus” were personal favorites.

Of course, Buddy’s life is further turned upside down when he finds himself smitten with a beautiful, yet world-weary Macy’s employee, Jovie (Caitlin Gallogly). Gallogly is delightfully edgy and jaded for the majority of the show, making her character’s eventual thawing that much more enjoyable. She also has one of the strongest voices in the cast, and her vocals in “A Christmas Song” and “Never Fall in Love With an Elf” are a treat for the ears.

The ensemble in “Elf” has several different roles to play, from elves in Santa’s workshop to retail employees and bitter mall Santas. They deserve major props for their elf scenes — since elves are tiny, the actors perform on their knees. It’s no small feat to sing and dance to “Christmastown” from that position!

Choreographer Mara Newbery Greer and associate choreographer Tiger Brown are to be applauded for their hard work with the cast. The intense tap dancing in “Nobody Cares About Santa” is another impressive surprise.

Set designer Nate Bertone creates a whimsical backdrop for the show, grounded by huge arches covered in snowflakes. The giant logos for Macy’s and Greenway Press are eye-catching, as are the creative use of props and background silhouettes to show scene changes in real time. While musical director Charlie Reuter and the small orchestra are tucked out of sight in the pit, they provide the perfect, almost cartoonish, accompaniment to this silly show.

All told, director Matt Kunkel has led the Engeman’s cast of “Elf” in a production that’s loads of fun for the whole family — a perfect fit for the holiday season.

A note on content: “Elf” does contain some brief mild language and lighthearted innuendo that most children won’t notice. The show is generally appropriate for all ages.

If you have some extra money to spare, consider making a donation after the show to the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry, which supports more than 150 local families each week. Cast members will collect donations as you leave. For more information, call 631- 261-4357.

See “Elf The Musical” now through Dec. 30 at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. Tickets range from $73 to $78 with free valet parking. For more information or to order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos by Michael DeCristofaro

The cast of '26 Pebbles'. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Melissa Arnold

In the world of high school theater, it’s pretty common to see a troupe of eager teens take the stage to perform a lighthearted comedy or timeless musical. David Kramer knows that, and he’s certainly enjoyed directing shows in those genres many times before. But in the past several years, the director of Mount Sinai High School’s theater program has moved to exploring deeper topics for the benefit of both actors and audiences.

Kramer has devoted more than 40 years to arts education. He taught music in the Miller Place School District for 39 years and was also involved with the after-school theater program. In 2014, he was hired to direct both the annual drama and musical for Mount Sinai High School. The opportunity has enabled him and his students to be able to bring plays that “hope to spark conversations of timely, mature social issues” to the community, including “The Laramie Project,” “And Then They Came for Me,” “Twelve Angry Jurors” and “Our Town.”

On Nov. 13 and 17, Mount Sinai High School will present “26 Pebbles,” a poignant and timely one-act drama about how the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, grieve and attempt to recover in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This show builds upon Mount Sinai’s growing reputation for tackling difficult topics and societal issues through its drama program.

“I always thought there should be high-quality shows that expose young adults to different aspects of the human condition as well as theater skills,” Kramer said. “I’m not looking to crush them. I’m looking to help them develop a sensitivity to what’s going on in society. My goal is to use theater to encourage change.”

Kramer selected “26 Pebbles” for its focus on current events, including gun violence and the ensuing debate about safety in schools. Several school districts on Long Island now employ armed guards, so Kramer found the show relevant to local audiences. He was also touched by the story of a former student whose child attended Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the shooting.

While some of the auditioning students admitted that they initially weren’t excited over Kramer’s selection, he said they all agreed it was an important story that needed telling. During auditions, Kramer showed students a trailer of the show and asked them to read from portions of the script. The result is a cast that connects deeply to the show’s message and is passionate about sharing it with audiences.

Playwright Eric Ulloa spent months in Newtown conducting dozens of interviews for “26 Pebbles,” which uses a docudrama format to tell the story of Sandy Hook through a variety of perspectives. While the original script calls for each actor to play multiple characters, Kramer chose to expand the cast by assigning individual roles. The stories of parents, teachers, first responders, clergy and community members are all represented by a cast of 24 students in grades 9 through 12. The set for the show is deliberately sparse and unfinished, conveying that both the national conversation on gun violence and Newtown’s recovery are ongoing.

Kramer is extremely proud of his students and their dedication to telling the story of Sandy Hook with respect, honesty and powerful emotion. To prepare for the show, Kramer asked the cast to write mock sympathy notes to families who lost loved ones in the shooting, allowing them to connect and empathize with the people they portray.

“The souls of [the people of Newtown] are embedded in these students for the hour and a half they’re on that stage … they have shown incredible realism and growth. I think whoever comes to this show will be incredibly taken by it.”

Mount Sinai High School, located at 110 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai, will present “26 Pebbles” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 17. Tickets are $10 at the door. Runtime is approximately 90 minutes. There is no violence in the show, but it is recommended for mature audiences only. For information, call 631-870-2800 or 631-870-2882.

By Melissa Arnold

Entertainer and comedian Bob Nelson has spent more than four decades doing what he loves most — making people laugh by taking them out of their problems and into his world.

“The greatest blessing for me is when people — families — have come up to me at a show and said they’ve been doing my routines together at the dinner table for years, that it’s gotten them through hard times, that it brings back memories of people they’ve lost — there’s no better feeling,” said Nelson in a recent phone interview.

The Massapequa native’s career has taken him from coast to coast, performing with greats including Eddie Murphy, Rosie O’Donnell and Rodney Dangerfield. And while he doesn’t travel as much these days, he’s begun treating Long Islanders to a hilarious, fast-paced monthly show at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

 

Bob Nelson as Eppy Epperman

Nelson said he’s thrilled to be returning to his comedic roots for this residency, blending observational sketches with his unique portrayal of multiple characters at once. Characters such as the lovable nerd Eppy Epperman, punchy boxer Jiffy Jeff and chicken rancher Wilby Stuckinson aren’t the most politically correct, but they are one of a kind, memorable and hysterically funny.

“My earliest shows involved using three doors on the stage as well as the two wings to create dialogue between different characters,” Nelson explained. “I’ll say something as one character, exit through one of the doors, and then re-enter and respond as someone different. It’s a very physical show, but I love doing a kind of comedy you don’t see every day.”

The development of Nelson’s career was far from linear. In fact, he landed his first comedy gig on a fluke. In his late teens, one of his job responsibilities was fact-checking advertisements in phone books by making cold calls. Nelson sometimes did impressions on the phone to make his co-workers laugh, and during one such call, he impressed a man who was working on opening a new comedy club.

That club, the White House Inn in Massapequa, became Nelson’s first stage.

“The first night I went, I just got the bug for comedy and kept going back,” he said.

Not long after, Nelson changed his major at Nassau Community College from communications to theater, declaring to his family that he planned to make a life of entertaining.

“My dad wasn’t thrilled about that decision. He said, ‘You’re never going to make anything of yourself,’ and told me to move out,” Nelson recalled. “So that’s what I did. I was 20. In the end, I made it work, and my dad is now my biggest fan. We have a great relationship.”

Nelson did more than just make it work — his career has led him to clubs all over the country, he’s acted on stage and in film, and starred in multiple comedy specials on HBO. His most popular special, “Nelson Schmelson,” can be found on YouTube.

Reflecting on his career, Nelson prides himself on delivering clean comedy routines that are appropriate for all ages.

“When I think of the people that have inspired me — Ernie Kovacs, Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis — those guys were truly talented, and truly funny. They didn’t need to resort to cursing, dirty jokes or mocking people to make people laugh like so many entertainers do today. That’s just not funny to me,” he said. “I want everyone to be able to come to the show and get away from their troubles for a while.”

Bob Nelson in the role of Jiffy Jeff

Douglas Quattrock, special events coordinator for Theatre Three, remembers first seeing Bob Nelson perform while watching “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” when he was growing up. He immediately memorized every word of the skit. 

“I always thought he was the most fascinating comic I’ve ever seen,” Quattrock said. “You never know what you’re going to get from him. He’s just pure comic genius.”

With the help of Paul Anthony from the Long Island Comedy Festival, the theater was able to contact Nelson about a performance. That show sold out and feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive, leading  the theater to invite Nelson for a residency. 

“He’s been so receptive and we’re all thrilled to have him call Theatre Three his new home,” said Quattrock. “You’ll get to see your favorite skits and characters from Bob, but what makes this show special is that he also takes audience requests. He’s hoping to develop new characters during his time here as well, which would be historic for us to be a part of.”

Bob Nelson performs monthly, 90-minute shows at the Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage of Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets are $39. The next two performances are Nov. 15 and Dec. 6. The bar is open for refreshments during the show. For information on upcoming performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

'Finis Incertus' by Chase McGill

By Melissa Arnold

An eerie chill is beginning to settle over Long Island, and with it comes the creepy sort of magic that only Halloween can bring. Whether you’re in it for the candy or the costumes, celebrating All Hallows Eve encourages young and old alike to get creative and maybe even spooky.

To celebrate the season, the Huntington Arts Council is sponsoring its 7th annual Nightmare on Main Street at the Main Street Gallery, a juried student art show showcasing some of our area’s most talented young artists.

The exhibit allows students in grades 6 through 12 to submit their favorite Halloween-themed artwork for consideration. In total, 41 artists from Nassau and Suffolk counties were chosen, and more than 85 spooky pieces in varied mediums will be on display. 

‘Complement Me’ by Anna Laimo

This year’s juror, Jessica “Ratgrrl” Valentin, is primarily a digital and collage artist. Her “heartbreaking pop” style has graced galleries throughout Long Island and New York City. Her latest project, Muñeca Arthouse, is a unique gallery space in Patchogue.

Valentin also played a part in shaping the theme for this year’s exhibit. “I love spooky, but not horror,” she said. “I blend my work with spooky themes, color, and sweetness so I can deal with the things that scare me. How do you face the things that scare you?” she asked, setting the tone for the entries.

Anna Laimo, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East, was overjoyed to be chosen for this year’s Nightmare on Main Street, an exhibit she said is a perfect fit for her.

“My dad is a horror novelist, and I grew up watching scary movies with him. I love everything about the horror industry,” said the 17-year-old. “I submitted a few pieces for the exhibit last year but I wasn’t chosen, so it feels great to know I’ve improved this year.”

Laimo’s submissions include “Complement Me,” an acrylic and oil painting of skeletons on a date, and “Swell,” a drawing based on another interest of hers — special effects makeup.

North Babylon High School senior Zoe Hartmann is also making her debut at the exhibit this year thanks to an art class assignment. “My teacher had all of us do a Halloween-themed piece to submit. I was really surprised and excited when I found out I was picked. This is my first juried exhibit,” said Hartmann, 17.

Her contribution, a colored pencil drawing called “Rise of the Dead,” depicts a female skeleton alone in a cemetery. Hartmann said that she was inspired by the 2017 Disney-Pixar film, “Coco,” and the idea that, eventually, the dead are forgotten.

Along with Laimo and Hartmann, the works of Olivia Belluomo, Brooke Blumberg, Sage Boiko, Grace Burkart, Giavanna Castro, Ziqian Chen, Maxwell DeFalco, Alysse Fazal, Gloria Gang, Rachel Taylor Goldsmith, Elizabeth Gordin, Jenna Hart, Morgan Hlaing, Jiayi Huo, Evelyn Johnson, Aya Karimealaoui, Evgenia Kennedy, Siyu Lei, Juliette Liberatoscioli, Angelina Lomangino, Jessica Lyle, Sara Madsen, Chase McGill, Madalyn Metzger, Frida Misko, Benjamin Pollard, Sophia Polizzi, Dylan Roca, Matthew Rubenfeld, Jessica Rush, Mehr Sharma, Martina Simone, Juliah Triana, Leia Ulrich, Anna Vig, Emily Villavicencio,  Isabelle Waldorf, Hephzibah Yoo and Ida Zuo will also be on view.”

Prizes were awarded in two categories: grades 6 to 8 and 9 to 12. In the junior division, Best in Show went to Frida Misko for “Spooky But Sweet” with Angelina Lomangino receiving an Honorable Mention for “Wick.” In the senior division, Sage Boiko won Best in Show for “Werewolf of Wysteria” while Honorable Mentions were awarded to Anna Laimo’s “Complement Me” and Siyu Lei’ “This Red or This One.”

“I was honored and excited to be chosen as a juror,” said Valentin. “It was surprising; the layered complexity and the technical skill of these young artists. I love the places that they took the theme. It was hard. There was lots of good work to choose from.”

“Nightmare on Main Street continues to receive an incredible response from the student artists who enter the show as well as the surrounding community,” said Huntington Arts Council Executive Director Marc Courtade. “The artwork featured in this exhibit reflects an incredible level of talent.We are always thrilled to see the work of young adults in our gallery.”

Nightmare on Main Street will be on display through Nov. 3 at the Main Street Gallery, 213 Main St., Huntington. A costume reception will be held on Oct. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery, where prizes will be awarded to select artists and for best costume. All are welcome. Refreshments will be served. For information, call 631-271-8423 or visit www.huntingtonarts.org.

 

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Roy Schwartz

Roy Schwartz has had a deep passion for storytelling since he was a young boy growing up in Israel. While he’s written for a variety of audiences since arriving in America, the 38-year-old particularly enjoys writing for children because of their incredible imaginations and willingness to learn. 

His first published novel, “The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There,” tells the story of a 10-year-old girl seeking to bring her father back to life following a fatal heart attack. The horror-fantasy story is geared toward school-age readers, but Schwartz hopes people of all ages will connect with its message of courage, friendship, love and perseverance.

What was your upbringing like? Did you always want to be a writer?

I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, and then in 2004 I came to New York City as an unapologetic believer in the American Dream. I got a BA in English with a concentration in writing for children and young adults from the New School.

I used to want to be a comic book artist, but I didn’t have the artistic talent. I used to fill whole notebooks with stories during classes, to the endless frustration of my teachers. So it made sense to go on and study it in college. It seemed like something I couldn’t help but do. I got through college without having to work very hard just because I was naturally good at it.

After college, I was a freelance writer, but I was hit very hard by the economic collapse that began around 2008. I then went to grad school at NYU, taught for three years at CUNY, and eventually found myself in legal marketing. I found that I really enjoyed it. I’m now the communications director for a regional law firm.

What drew you to children’s literature?

I felt that to really make a difference in the world, I needed to write for children. The best children’s lit isn’t just for children — adults can also enjoy them, and they have merit and value for any age. But there’s no comparison to having a child come up to me and say a book of mine inspired them and gave them new ideas.

Is there a target audience for the book?

It’s for 8- to 12-year-olds, but a 6-year-old might enjoy it, and an adult can also appreciate it. I worked very hard to add those layers so that anyone can enjoy it.

What inspires you?

I’ve always been interested in classic fairy tales like “Aesop’s Fables” or “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” I wanted to give that wheel a new spin. The things we experience are sometimes scary or unfair, and there aren’t always happy endings at every turn in life, but everything can be endured with friends, family and having faith in yourself. There are always good people to go through life with, and at the end of the day it’s all about love. Those are the ideas I hoped to capture in this book.

Can you tell us about the book? Was it based on a personal experience?

This story is about a 10-year-old girl who loses her father to a heart attack. She learns that at night, she can travel to the afterlife, so she decides to try to bring him back. But traveling to the afterlife can be very scary and even dangerous. Along the way, she encounters people in the afterlife from a variety of different backgrounds and points in history that support her. I don’t have a dramatic personal story that inspired the book. If you look at a lot of children’s literature, the main character is either alone or has lost one parent, and that sets them off on an adventure.

What do you like about the main character, Lee?

Lee is an artist. She’s very much a “real person” — she’s not a perfect 10-year-old. She’s thrown into a very surreal situation and has to develop the courage to navi- gate that. I wanted to have a protagonist that was fully realized. Lee doesn’t start out wise beyond her years or have perfect knowledge of what she needs to do.

What message do you hope  readers will come away with?

I hope the book isn’t preachy but I hope that it can help create empathy for different experiences and perspectives. Lee could not have succeeded in her journey without the support of the people she meets along the way

Did you self-publish this book or pursue traditional publishing?

I went with the traditional publishing. The publisher for this book, Aelurus Publishing, is a UK-based, independent company.  An author friend of my wife’s went on to become an editor and sent it to her publisher. That’s how they found me.

What are you working on next?

I have a nonfiction book for adults about the superhero industry called “Is Superman Circumcised? How Jewish Culture Informed the World’s Greatest Hero” (working title) coming out in the spring of 2019 through McFarland Publishing.

Where can we learn more about you?

My website is www.royschwartz.com, and you can find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as RealRoySchwartz. 

“The Darkness in Lee’s Closet and the Others Waiting There” may be purchased online at www.aeluruspublishing.com, Amazon.com and the Google Play Store. 

Meet Roy Schwartz at the following reading and book-signing events: Turn of the Corkscrew Books and Wine, 110 N. Park Ave., Rockville Centre on Oct. 27 at 3 p.m.; The Dolphin Bookshop, 299 Main St., Port Washington (multiauthor event) on Nov. 10 at noon; and the Suffok Y JCC, 74 Hauppauge Road, Commack on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.