Authors Posts by Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

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From left, Michael Tessler and best friend Jonathan Rabeno check out the sights and sounds of Hollywood. Photo from Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

Adulting is hard. This is a fact the universe likes to remind me of time and time again. Just when you think you’ve mastered it … BAM! you discover that you can’t buy a used, off-brand Roomba online and expect it to work for more than a week (it is now a glorified doorstop that makes me look way more successful than I am). 

Seriously though, every time I begin to feel comfortable adulting, I receive an absurd reminder that I am totally unequipped to cope with the actual stresses of figuring out what the heck an IRS 1095-A form is.

In the chaos of this transition, there are some victories. Both of my apartment’s fire alarms are incredibly sensitive and wail at the slightest inkling that I’m frying up turkey bacon. Using my adulting skills (and The Force) I’ve repurposed my replica Luke Skywalker lightsaber and have placed it in the living room so we can easily shut off the fire alarm, which would otherwise require a ladder. These small victories keep me going until the existential dread kicks in … this moment may be the nearest I will ever get to being an actual Jedi, but it is better than nothing.

During my ongoing efforts to embrace and tackle adulthood, I made a leap of faith by hosting not just one of my friends but three of them at the same time. In my mind, I was opening a sleepaway camp complete with preplanned activities, snack times and lots of sugar-free popsicles. When opening a sleepaway camp for your friends, be wary … they’ll probably want to actually do vacation things.

After you move across the country twice, it can be pretty difficult to maintain long-distance friendships. We as people tend to evolve and grow apart when placed far away from one another and/or while going through major life changes. Living in Los Angeles, work tends to get in the way of just about everything else. The extraordinary cost of living makes it hard to find time to take care of yourself let alone be there for others. Work, relationships, dreaded time zones … all can easily become excuses to disconnect. For me though, the greater the distance the more I begin to see which friendships matter and which don’t.

Best friends are the individuals you can go without seeing for months or even years and pick up right where you left off. They’re the ones who see your potential when you cannot. They know me better than I know myself. So thank you to my friends, the ones who have guided me on my path and inspired me through their own successes and comebacks. My friends are all pretty unique. Each occupies a special place in my heart. Their combined chemistry can be exhausting sometimes but also wildly entertaining (except if you’re our Uber driver in which case I’m so sorry).

Port Jefferson is just about as small as a small town can be. What’s most impressive about this community is, despite its smallness, the friendships made during the Port Jeff chapter of my life have proven to be the most lasting and most meaningful. I’m saying this because at present I’ve got three of my best friends in the world squeezed into my Hollywood apartment occupying an air mattress, my mattress and the couch, respectively. (So sorry to my roommate Andrew.) It’s not quite summer camp, but it sure is fun being back with the gang.

We’re about to head to Venice Beach. My best friend Jon and I have committed to wearing matching cat swimsuits. That should hopefully distract the rest of my friends from the $85 parking ticket they already got and the fact that I only own three blankets and there’s four people here. But hey, at least we’re together!

Catch Open Mike on a monthly basis in TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles.

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

Today marks one year since my weight loss journey began. At my heaviest, I weighed 356 pounds and had transitioned from an already uncomfortable diagnosis of morbid obesity to the dreaded diagnosis of extreme morbid obesity, thus making me the literal opposite of an extreme sports athlete. You might have a food problem when the phrase “quitting cold turkey” makes you a little hungry.

In all seriousness — at just 24 years old, I was living a frightening reality. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, occasional chest pains … my body was telling me I was going to die, and it was going to happen fast if I didn’t change soon. Doctors told me the same thing and despite being successful in regularly helping others, I seemed absolutely incapable of helping myself. 

My weight was controlling every aspect of my life. Time and time again I embarked on unhealthy and unrealistic efforts to magically lose all of my weight. Each time I refused to actually change my lifestyle. These attempts were focused on instant gratification, and I refused to consider or acknowledge the reality of my food addiction and where these weight problems likely stemmed from. 

Crash diets, feel good unused gym memberships and diets of deprivation wasted years of my life and wreaked havoc on my body. Each time I’d not only gain back the weight I had lost, but I would become heavier than I was when I had started. This was self-sabotage at its worst.

Finally, I had my aha moment. One family member staged a silent intervention. Without speaking a single word she set me down a radical new path — one that I can comfortably say has saved my life. My niece was less than 2 months old when my sister-in-law asked me to watch her for an hour or two. 

Baby Lilly didn’t weigh much at all. Despite changing her diaper and feeding her I couldn’t seem to make her happy. So I picked her up and starting singing. We danced around the living room and I rocked her back and forth. Her crying subsided as we passed a big mirror hanging on the wall. I didn’t recognize the man holding my niece in the reflection. 

Michael Tessler with his beautiful little motivator, Lilly Rose Tessler. Photo from M. Tessler

His face was red, sweaty, and the simple act of holding a newborn child had him panting for breath. He didn’t even look like me … but this was my reality. Holding Lilly, all I could think about is all the memories and experiences I’d miss in this little girl’s life unless I did something drastic, unless I was really willing to do whatever it’d take to change. 

So rather than waiting another day I got to work. I cleaned my pantry and refrigerator right then and there and went for my first walk that night, adding more and more steps each time. 

I began some serious research, reached out to an amazing therapist (special thanks to Jill Haire) and dedicated myself to not just combatting my obesity but understanding why and how I got to that point in the first place.

Losing 54 pounds, going on daily walks/runs and showing myself that I could truly change my lifestyle, I made a big decision. After consulting with my doctors, I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to permanently maintain this weight loss would be with the assistance of bariatric surgery. This would be a tool and not a solution to help me maintain my healthy lifestyle. 

It has required constant vigilance and a commitment to health and transparency — but as of March 5 I’ve lost a total of 140 pounds and, thanks to little Lilly, am finally living the life I deserve. My dreams and life are no longer sedentary as I hike in the hills of Hollywood. So to whoever you are and whatever your struggle, keep moving forward! Don’t wait for tomorrow to start living your life.

Catch Open Mike on a monthly basis in TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles.

132 pounds lost, a new life gained - Michael Tessler in a before and after photo

By Michael Tessler

We’ve got quite a bit to catch up on. It has been over a year since I published what I thought was the last Open Mike column. In that time I’ve lived what feels like a dozen lives. 

I’ve moved across the country twice; hosted a radio program; attended the premiere of our first feature film at the prestigious Stony Brook University Staller Center; helped produced an underwater television special starring Sir Richard Branson and the grandson of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau; successfully filmed several historic short films taking place in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries; and was brought on as a ghostwriter for a compelling biography for a fitness guru/entrepreneur in Atlanta. 

Shortly thereafter I began developing an online school for emotional intelligence and am in the process of writing a corresponding children’s book. Interspersed between all that I founded my own production company, announced my candidacy for a local councilman position and, perhaps most importantly, lost 132 pounds in my effort to live a healthier and happier life.

It has been a long, hard and wonderful year riddled with obstacles and seemingly insurmountable odds. Reflecting back on it all, it doesn’t quite feel real. I’m writing all this because I’m exhausted and a little frustrated at the pace of things lately. Sometimes we as people have to force ourselves to look at our progress rather than just our mistakes or perceived failures. Don’t worry, I make plenty of mistakes too and have been the proud beneficiary of a practical education of failed efforts and misguided attempts.

Presently, I’m at home sitting in a very comfortable leather chair several blocks south from the Hollywood sign. Internally, I’m making the most difficult Los Angeles decision a person can make: protein shake or grilled chicken with avocado? God, what I’d do for a New York bagel.

Being a New Yorker in Los Angeles is a lucrative thing. You’ve got the hustle, honesty and helium-like ego required to keep up and in some cases rise above the fast-paced, self-obsessed world of glamour, fame and film. I’ve been here just three months so far. It truly feels like a lifetime. 

This city is quite a change of pace from Orlando where I lived for nine months after my dad’s fourth brain surgery. Being so far away from family during such a difficult time just didn’t settle right. I’m blessed I was able to pick up my life and move down south. After a whirlwind of a time in Florida that included some serious self-reflection and losing 132 lb (a column for another time), a very scary experience with internal bleeding and lots of personal development, my family finally said it was time for me to pursue my dreams and to stop sleeping on their couch.

From my rooftop you’ve got an ideal view of the Hollywood sign and the massive Netflix building. Sometimes I swear these monuments stare me down — as if to taunt with motivation. These two icons represent the new and old of an ever-evolving industry. Every decision I make must be done to create not just forward professional momentum in the film/television industry that is, but also upward professional propulsion toward the film/television that will be. This can be frustrating and conflicting at times.

My apartment complex is brand new. Since my roommate is from Texas, neither of us were able to visit the place before signing the lease. It is a competitive process to find the right location and price. “Adulting” is hard. Up until the moment my car pulled up, I was not entirely convinced the place was real. Was half-expecting we’d find an abandoned auto body shop or sketchy cash-only “jewelry” store. Thankfully, my internal optimist prevailed.

It’s a nice place, almost too nice — always imagined my first place in Hollywood would have at least some kind of varmint living in the walls. Nothing yet, just very annoying ice cream trucks and the occasional scream in the distance — we live near a high school so it’s hard to tell whether it is an excitable soccer mom or a murder most foul. Gotta love city living. Now that I’m a pseudo-grownup, all of our furniture matches one style instead of the typical postcollegiate hodgepodge of couches and chairs acquired curbside on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. This is progress, people.

While I’ve always loved the IDEA of being an adult — this notion that my workday would end with a copy of the Wall Street Journal in my hands, Bing Crosby on the record player and myself looking dapper in tweed jacket with elbow patches is quite different than the reality. Just yesterday I found myself alternating between opening bills and handwashing a massive stack of dishes that were so dirty even the dishwasher quit. This of course occurred while I was blasting SpongeBob reruns on my television. I’m 25 years old and I’ll defend SpongeBob till the day I die.

In all the many changes this year brought, I’m often reminded of where it came from. Part of why I’m bringing Open Mike back is because it was this community that raised me. You paid the taxes that paid for my schooling — you might as well see some return benefit in the form of my column.

Heidi, our amazing leisure editor is going to throw a fit when she sees how long this so let me wrap it up.

What story do you leave behind in a city of stars and storytellers? For some it’d be the Oscars or Emmy perhaps. For me? I’d like to do something to make my hometown proud. Something worthy of a plaque on the Hall of Fame at Port Jeff High School. I know that sounds silly, but where you come from and never allowing distance or success to make you forget — that is what I strive for. All of my good fortune, my confidence and dreams began because of the place and people who raised me. So I give my everlasting thanks and gratitude to you. Home is always home, so yes, Hooray for Hollywood … but most importantly, GO ROYALS!

Catch Open Mike on a monthly basis in TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles.

This dragoon coat, worn by actor Seth Numrich in AMC’s ‘TURN’ series, will be one of the items auctioned off on May 19. Photo courtesy of AMC

UPDATE:

I-Spy TURN Auction & Spy Themed Event for May 19 has been canceled
Due to the excessive rain and water on the property this week and with the prediction of additional rain over the weekend, the Three Village Historical Society feels it is in the best interest of guests and volunteers to postpone the event.  “We will reschedule I-Spy for a date in the future when we can provide the best experience for all. Cancelling this event was a hard decision to make and we apologize for any inconvenience,” said the Society.

By Michael Tessler

The Three Villages is home to a remarkable Revolutionary history that for over a century remained elusive to the American people … all except in Setauket where local lore and legend preserved a tale of spies, lies, petticoats and the exceptional bravery of everyday citizens who risked everything to liberate their homes and loved ones from tyranny.

General George Washington established the Culper Spy Ring in 1778 by recruiting Benjamin Tallmadge, a would-be lieutenant colonel and future congressman who called the quaint village of Setauket home. He recruited friends and schoolmates to establish a secret network, eluding the mighty British Empire that had been occupying Long Island since August 1776. Their efforts turned the tides of war in favor of the Continental Army and forever altered the course of history.

It wasn’t until 1939, when amateur historian Morton Pennypacker began to decipher secret aliases and uncover the true identities of the Culper spies. In 2014, the legend of the Culper Spy Ring finally entered the public zeitgeist with the premiere of AMC’s television drama series “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” a historical fiction piece that chronicled the Culper Spy Ring. 

“If it weren’t for Setauket, we would have lost the war,” declared Three Village Historical Society President Steve Healy. “If Washington had been caught, he would have been hanged. They stopped that, they saved the [American] Revolution.” And just as the Culper spies saved the fledgling United States, the Three Village Historical Society has made it its mission to keep the Culper Spy Ring and the local history of this community alive.

When “TURN” ended last August, the Three Village Historical Society reached out to the show and received a very special donation: props, costumes and other memorabilia actually featured on the show during the series’ four-season run. On Saturday, May 19, the public will have the opportunity to own these pieces of history during a silent auction fundraiser on the society’s front lawn starting at noon. Bidding closes at 4:15 p.m.

According to TVHS board members Cathy White and Janet McCauley, the most sought after item of the day will be a dragoon (18th century cavalry) coat worn by the actor who played Benjamin Tallmadge, Seth Numrich. “It’ll be fun to see where it ends up,” said McCauley. “Either way, it is a wonderful tool to educate our community about the area that they live in.” 

Other items in the auction include a reproduction of a 1730 Dublin Castle Long Land (1st Model) Brown Bess musket; autographed sheet music; a portrait of King George II, c. 1730, reproduction on canvas; as well as maps, letters and artifacts such as an astrolab, horn bowls, British army drumsticks, pewter pitchers, posters, an uncut sheet of Continental currency and more.

In addition to the silent auction, there is a flurry of activities scheduled throughout the day. From noon to 4 p.m. community educator Donna Smith, portraying Anna Smith Strong, will hold invisible ink demonstrations while noted children’s author Selene Castrovilla will be selling and signing copies of her books. Visitors will also have the opportunity to meet Benjamin Tallmadge, portrayed by TVHS past president and trustee Art Billadello. The historical society’s two exhibits, SPIES: How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, and gift shop will be open as well. 

At noon, historian Margo Arceri will lead a Tri-Spy Walking Tour, which starts at the post office next to Frank Melville Memorial Park, 101 Main St. in Setauket. Historian Beverly C. Tyler will give a Walk Through History with Farmer and Spy, Abraham Woodhull, guided tour at 2 p.m. starting at the front parking lot of the Caroline Church of Brookhaven, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. 

From 3 to 5 p.m., “Wine and cheese will be served while we have Colonial music performed by Natalie Kress and Kevin Devine of the Three Village Chamber Players,” said Sandy White, TVHS office manager, adding, “We want to create a dialogue about our community’s history. ‘TURN’ helped start that conversation. We’d like to continue it.” 

The Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket will host an I-Spy “Turn” Auction fundraiser on May 19 from noon to 5 p.m. (rain date May 20). Tickets, which are $25 adults, $5 for children age 14 and younger, cover participation in all of the day’s events, including both walking tours. To order, please visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig star as a husband and wife who consider shrinking themselves in order to simplify their lives. Photo courtesy of Venice Film Festival

By Michael Tessler

Several months ago I stumbled upon the trailer for “Downsizing” and its concept really struck me as something special. In an era of reboots and sequels it was so refreshing to hear an idea I’d never heard before. Judging from the trailer, the film appeared to be a fun-sized science fiction comedy perfect for families during the holiday season. What was delivered, however, was something entirely different for better or worse, I’m still not quite sure, and it’s definitely not kid friendly.

Here’s what you need to know: With the global population swelling, scientists in Norway discover a formula that shrinks people to miniature size. In the years that follow, communities begin popping up around the world that allow “downsized” individuals to live like kings in idealistic domed neighborhoods. Since everything is smaller, it is significantly cheaper … allowing people who’d otherwise be poor or in the middle class to enjoy life in massive mansions with the most expensive foods and goods at their pint-sized disposal.

Udo Kier, Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz in a scene from ‘Downsizing’

Directed by Alexander Payne, the story follows occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), your generic middle-class man who is forced to live in his childhood home after his mother gets sick. He and his wife, played by SNL alumni Kristen Wiig, attend a high school reunion where they discover that two of their old friends have downsized. After having them over for dinner, they make a trip to visit one of these pint-sized communities. Ultimately the couple decides to move forward with being downsized, selling their home, possessions, and planning to enjoy life as millionaires in the idealistic Leisureland Estates.

Separated by gender, Damon’s character undergoes the procedure first. It hilariously involves the shaving of his eyebrows and facial hair, among other things. He awakes as a small person, about 6 inches tall, and is shocked to discover that his wife has backed out at the very last minute, leaving him alone in a small, small world.

From there the story flashes forward and takes a few unexpected turns as we are introduced to eccentric millionaire Dusan Mirkovic, played by the enormously talented and multifaceted Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Bastards,” “Django Unchained”) and, among the most unanticipated turns, the introduction of Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese civil rights activist who gets downsized by her government as punishment for staging a series of protests. In the process she loses her leg and lives in the slums outside Leisureland working as a maid. Portrayed by the lovable Hong Chau, this character adds an exciting dimension to the story.

The cast also includes brief but memorable appearances by the likes of Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney and Neil Patrick Harris.

Visually, this film is stunning, especially in its ability to make you thoroughly believe in these downsized communities. Where this film flops is its inability to figure out what it wants to be and accomplish. “Downsizing” has the perfect cast to get the job done, but the screenplay doesn’t quite deliver. It has some very funny moments though, to the point where belly aching laughter was heard throughout the theater on various occasions. It also has some serious undertones about purpose and conserving the world we live in. By the end of the film, however, I didn’t quite feel the story was neatly tied up … and the writer’s vision fell a little flat.

In an effort to achieve too much, “Downsizing” misses the mark. Forgetting its own lesson in the process, that bigger isn’t always better. Though certainly entertaining, I’d give “Downsizing” a generous 6/10.

Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use, “Downsizing” is now playing in local theaters.

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three delivers perhaps one of my most favorite holiday traditions: a classic retelling of Charles Dickens’ most beloved work, “A Christmas Carol,” right in the heart of downtown Port Jefferson. This stage adaptation is so beautifully conceived and has been so well refined over the years that it’d appear Dickens’ 174-year-old novel jumps quite literally from the pages onto the stage in a fashion that can be best described as magical.

This particular production, which is celebrating its 34th year, is nothing short of miraculous, not just for its stunning set design, incredible wardrobe and perfectly planned lighting and sound … but also for the fact that somehow each and every year the show (while familiar) feels brand new.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director and the actor behind the famous literary curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, shuffles the cast, set and various elements of the show, refining it and bringing new life to it each and every season. In the long and impressive shelf life of “A Christmas Carol” there has never, in my opinion, been a better Scrooge than Jeffrey Sanzel. No actor has ever lived and breathed that character for so long and with such passion as Sanzel. Watching his character’s transformation unfold on stage is pure delight.

This year’s show beams with talent. One can’t help but admire the incredible skill of the show’s youngest cast members who perform alongside their adult counterparts as equals both in professionalism and talent. Not for a moment does any actor’s performance take you out of this whimsical Dickensian world Sanzel creates.

Steve Wangner shines as Bob Cratchit, bringing to life all the warmth and love of Scrooge’s least favorite employee. Wangner had big shoes to fill, replacing Douglas Quattrock who has long held the role. No doubt Quattrock should be proud of his successor who masterfully carried Tiny Tim (portrayed jointly by Ryan Becker and Cameron Turner) upon his shoulders. His family dynamic especially with his wife (Suzie Dunn) and children is wonderfully endearing.

My personal favorite of the ensemble cast is Mr. Fezziwig portrayed by the cheerful George Liberman. Though I’ve got the bias of loving his character, this actor’s presence puts an instant smile on your face and reminds you of the wholesome fun of Christmas time. His partner in crime, Mrs. Fezziwig, is portrayed by the wonderful Ginger Dalton who also excels as Mrs. Dilber … the cockney maid of Scrooge whose comedic ability is unparalleled in the two-act show.

Megan Bush brings to life Belle, the first and only love of Scrooge and daughter of Fezziwig. Though her character’s time on stage is brief, she so perfectly captures the innocence of a first love and shows us a side of Scrooge we often forget. Steve McCoy, the wildly talented Theatre Three veteran, brings to life (and death) Scrooge’s late business partner Jacob Marley. His performance is haunting in the best kind of way. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the kind and loving Fan performed both by Heather Kuhn and Sophia Knapp. Her special relationship with young Scrooge (Kiernan Urso and Alexander Yagud-Wolek) encapsulates the special bond reserved just for siblings.

This year the three spirits have outdone themselves — beginning with the stunningly talented Jessica Contino whose Ghost of Christmas Past comes to life in almost angelic form. She is followed by the hysterical and larger-than-life Antoine Jones as the Ghost of Christmas Present, whose epic bellowing laughter echoes through the historic Athena Hall. Last, but certainly not least is the incredible puppetry of Dylan Robert Poulos as the Ghost of Christmas Future who also shows off his talent as an actor in the role of Scrooge’s orphaned nephew Fred Halliwell.

Randall Parsons and Bonnie Vidal bring 19th-century England to Port Jefferson with stunning production design and impeccable costuming. Robert W. Henderson Jr. transports you to the past, present and future with some mesmerizing lighting. This year’s production also welcomed newcomer Melissa Troxler as stage manager who ran the set flawlessly from an audience perspective. Brad Frey provides some wonderful musical direction in addition to the late Ellen Michelmore, whose lasting legacy at Theatre Three can be heard with the beautiful musical conception and sound effects that remain a centerpiece of this production.

Leaving the theater I found my heart filled with a joy and merriment only felt in those special moments when you’re surrounded by family and huddled around a great big Christmas tree. For that wonderful moment, I felt the spirit of Christmas itself … and what a wonderful gift it was to receive from the cast and crew of Theatre Three’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” now through Dec. 30. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. (Children under 5 are not permitted.) To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill in a scene from 'The Bridges of Madison County'

By Michael Tessler

You know you’ve seen an incredible production when you find yourself pondering your own life and place in the universe after exiting the theater. That was the case last Sunday afternoon after attending a production of “The Bridges of Madison County” at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.

TracyLynn Conner and Brian Gill with the cast from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Based on the award-winning novel by Robert James Walker and the beloved film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, this musical adaptation has a score worthy of Broadway, and Theatre Three provides a cast equally deserving of that designation.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, this is an unconventional love story. Not cliched but brutally honest and so refreshingly human.

As not to spoil much, we meet our protagonist Francesca, an Italian refugee fleeing a war-torn Italy and a life she’s ready to leave behind. To accomplish this she marries Bud Johnson, a simple-minded but well-meaning American soldier who left life on the farm to serve his country. Both travel back to the United States where they build a home and a beautiful family. Their son Michael doesn’t want to live the life of a farmer like his father; their daughter Carolyn, however, embraces it as she trains an award-winning steer for the annual state fair.

Francesca, lovingly called Fran by her husband, longs for the life she dreamed of as a little girl. She feels it is far too late to begin anew, and while there is food on the table, there’s no money for her to visit her home in Italy and the life she left behind. So she settles for a life as a farmer’s wife, trying to find contentment packing lunches.

From left, Marissa Girgus, Dennis Creighton, Steve McCoy, TracyLynn Conner, Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts in a scene from ‘The Bridges of Madison County’

Everything changes for Fran when her husband and children take a trip to the state fair. She gets a rare opportunity to breathe and relax. That is until a beat up pickup truck rolls into her driveway and with it the arrival of Robert Kincaid — a professional photographer from National Geographic putting together a photo series on bridges throughout the United States. He’s lost and needs some directions. He’s well-traveled, having just recently visited Italy and having seen every corner of the globe. Fran invites him into her home and, by extension, her life. Thus her world changes forever.

Though I won’t spoil the rest, the show is a real treat. You’ll feel just about every emotion in the book in this two-act musical. Once again Jeffrey Sanzel shines as a director capable of any genre. His unique vision can make a timeless story feel brand new again.

Undoubtedly some lines are picked up directly from the book and film adaptation, but Sanzel’s production takes you for a ride in that worn down pickup truck. You get a glimpse into someone’s world, and that’s a beautiful thing. Sanzel guides his incredibly talented cast, making it impossible not to feel for these characters. I found myself so invested in characters who managed to emote so much in such a short time. Sanzel has no problem setting the bar higher and higher with each passing performance.

This show’s phenomenal cast certainly made his job easier though! Leading the production is the show’s star, TracyLynn Conner who portrays Francesca. First off, her accent is marvelous and never breaks even once. Her voice is one of the finest I’ve ever heard on a stage. Operatic, emotional and just so beautiful to listen to.

Much credit goes to Jeffrey Hoffman who handled the show’s musical direction and turned this small cast into an incredible musical ensemble.

Matthew Rafanelli and Ella Watts

Fran’s husband Bud is played by Dennis Creighton, who really captures the essence of the character and shows his musical tenor in the show’s second act and final number. He’s accompanied by two incredible young actors — Ella Watts as their daughter Carolyn and Matthew Rafanelli as her bookish brother, Michael. I was particularly impressed with Watts. This former star of NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!” has a voice so incredibly refined that you wish she had even more time on stage. Rafanelli really shines in his role and you’ll find yourself constantly rooting for him and his dreams and flashing back to your own childhood sibling drama. No doubt we’ll be seeing both actors on stage many times in the future!

Theatre Three veteran and Bryan Cranston look alike Steve McCoy remains one of my favorite company members. He plays Charlie — the friendly, simpleton neighbor of the Johnsons and provides comic relief throughout some of the show’s tougher moments. His wife Marge provides nonstop laughter followed by some incredibly endearing scenes. She is portrayed by the incredibly talented Amy Wodon Huben.

Brian Gill’s low and powerful voice brings Robert Kincaid, the world traveling photographer to life. His duets with Conner are some of the highlights of the show. His personality is infectious and translates beautifully on stage.

Last, though certainly not least, is the incredibly diversified performances of Marissa Girgus who plays not one but over four roles. She steps into each of them flawlessly, creating performances both touching and comedic. I felt all sorts of emotions during her nothing short of groovy performance of “Another Life.”

Being a smaller cast, you can get a sense that each character was crafted to perfection not just by the actors but by their director. They feel so real and so dynamic, which is exceptional as several actors play multiple roles … something that usually takes you out of an experience but now suddenly enhances it.

Brian Gill and TracyLynn Conner

My favorite part of the show (outside of its cast) was its unique score, which combines two radically different genres to make something genuinely unique. Strings played as though from the Italian countryside, harrowing and haunting — a reminder of an old world, an abandoned life combined with the lively sound of the great American Midwest, and the wholehearted lifestyle of the American farmer. For a brief moment these sounds clash into something unique and unforgettable.

This may be one of the most beautiful sets I’ve seen at Theatre Three. Randall Parsons transports you to the great American Midwest. Robert W. Henderson Jr., the show’s lighting designer, ensures the light breaks through the barn wood in spectacular ways. One can’t help but feel nostalgic when looking at the kitchen they designed as well.

From top to bottom this show is local theater at its finest. Provoking several audible gasps from the audience followed by thunderous rounds of applause, “The Bridges of Madison County” is something you wish you could photograph and treasure forever.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Bridges of Madison County” on the Mainstage through Oct. 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Contains adult subject matter. Parental discretion is advised.

A special event, “Behind the Curtain with ‘The Bridges of Madison County’” will be held on Oct. 22. Join Director Jeffrey Sanzel, musical director Jeffrey Hoffman and actor TracyLynn Conner for a freewheeling exploration of this powerful contemporary musical. The full buffet supper and talk will begin at 5 p.m. $30 per person. The event will be followed by the Mainstage performance of “The Bridges of Madison County” at 7 p.m. Tickets for the performance may be purchased separately.

For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From left, Phyllis March, Maryellen Molfetta and Ginger Dalton in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s latest production “Where There’$ a Will,” opened last Saturday night to an intrigued audience. Originally produced in 1985 by an eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Sanzel, this wonderful piece of theater is such a hidden treasure that I’m glad it resurfaced just in time for me to review!

Our story begins as the late millionaire Hiram Cedricson, a self-proclaimed “Potato King,” has assembled his widow (and fourth wife), her not-so-new lover and a slapdash theater crew of washouts, has-beens and could-bes to hear his last will and testament be read aloud by a uniquely unqualified lawyer.

Phyllis March and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Hilarity ensues as the lawyer reveals that prior to Cedricson’s death he wrote an original play … with no prior experience in theater, with a title so funny that I’m unable to print it. His dying wish is for this cast and crew of misfits to perform the show verbatim, in a decrepit theater he purchased just before his death … in two weeks. If they can accomplish this, they each receive $500,000. If they fail, the snarky widow and her lover get all the money.

So despite quarrels and some seriously conflicting personalities, the group agrees to the terms. What none of them realize is that Hiram Cedricson was the furthest thing from a writer and that his show would be an accidental comedy of epic proportions! The result is as Cedricson so eloquently puts it — “wonderfug.” What’s best is that the ghost of Cedricson and two of his former wives (one dead, one divorced) get to enjoy the chaos as casual spectators from the balcony, bickering among themselves through the process.

Ginger Dalton in a scene from ‘Where There’$ a Will’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By every definition this is an all-star cast — immensely talented, perfectly paced, and hilariously human. Expertly directed by Sanzel, each actor takes on a caricature so unique and well-written that it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested in their success. There is such incredible range in their performances. All of these cast members could have and likely were leads in previous productions.

There are so many familiar faces that at times, and much to my amusement, I felt like I was watching a reunion show of Long Island’s greatest talent. Though I lack the column inches necessary to write in detail about each of these extraordinary actors, I do want to say that this is by far the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen outside of a Broadway production. They are so much more than just funny — they are uniquely lovable, memorable and multidimensional.

This can be attributed not just to the enormous talent of this cast, but to the show’s ambitious and masterfully crafted script. Somehow, not a single character goes underutilized in both acts of this large-scale comedy.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Though not a musical, there are several musical numbers, all of which will have you grinning cheek to cheek. Throughout the show there is a wonderful score dreamed up by Theatre Three’s Tim Peierls, and Randall Parsons creates a visually striking set, which is complemented perfectly by Robert Henderson’s lighting design. The young but extraordinarily talented Peter Casdia expertly stage manages the production, ensuring a flawless experience. Costume designer Chakira Doherty must have had some fun putting together the most uniquely diverse set of costumes I can remember in recent productions.

Jeffrey Sanzel and his assistant director Andrew Markowitz put on a genuinely charming production, perfect for ringing in the spring season. “Where There’$ a Will” feels like a classic that has been playing forever, and that’s because maybe it should be.

The cast: Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Where’s There’$ a Will” through May 6 on the Mainstage. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

How to defeat ISIS, save the economy and reunite the country

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

Historically speaking, the United States economy tends to thrive in wartime. Americans become patriotic when faced with a great foreign menace. In times of crisis, we tend to buy American products. Our star-spangled workforce works harder and innovates quicker. Our domestic political disagreements seem smaller when we tackle something larger than ourselves. In these moments of dire necessity, we find common purpose. Under that pretense our nation was founded and through the centuries has propelled it to unparalleled success.

Thankfully, we do not need another world war to accomplish this spirit of unity. This may all feel impossible as the gap between our political factions has never felt wider. On every issue it seems partisanship dictates idleness and/or delinquency. So how do we bridge that gap? How do we break the ice? Well the answer is simple — by protecting it.

Climate change is the key to a new era of American greatness. Now, even if you don’t believe in climate change, hear me out. Before we can proceed, please remove the term “climate change” from your mind as some abstract scientific concept. Let’s personalize it, treat it in the same fashion we’d treat any great and terrible foreign power or dictator. It helps to imagine it with an evil little mustache. Envisioning it now? Good.

This Blue Scare (yes, as in excess water) threatens our homes, our livelihoods and our way of life. If we lose this literal “Cold” War, our cities and towns could be decimated not by atomic fire but by superstorms, erosion, dust bowls and flooding. Each day we wait, the Blue Menace grows stronger, melting glaciers and capturing our territory, inch by inch.

Let us form an iron curtain around the ozone layer, protect it from further damage and economically punish those who aide in its destruction. We must establish a great coalition of all civilized nations to combat this threat in an act of global unity, all the while strengthening and cementing our role as an international leader.

This Blue Menace has allied itself with our nation’s greatest physical enemy, ISIS. Their terrorist organization wants nothing more than for us to continue to ignore this mighty faceless foe. According to the United States Treasury and Dubai-based energy analysts, ISIS receives nearly $1 to $3 million a day selling oil. Meanwhile, the United States continues to be the global leader in daily oil consumption accounting for 20 percent of all global use each and every day.

By ending our addiction to oil, we could decimate the so-called Islamic Caliphate without dropping a single bomb. Without the money from that precious resource, they would be unable to remain an effective fighting force. Our nation would no longer have to maintain alliances with false friends, who have used their swaths of oil as leverage over our current state of dependence.

Meanwhile, we can commit that all investments in green energy jobs must be American. We can hire every single unemployed American to help build a modern and green infrastructure. We will see the greatest investment in public works since President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. We will create a new generation of energy-producing highways (yes, that’s an actual thing), new energy fueling stations, bullet trains, green appliances and the vehicles of tomorrow.

Industry will boom and the workforce will grow as we upgrade and innovate many existing products and power plants. Regardless of how one views climate change, the economic possibility is real and should not be ignored.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard is how will communities that produce outdated energy sources be impacted? Though the merits of “clean coal” can be debated, it is simply not a renewable resource. Our economy cannot survive or remain competitive in the 21st century using finite resources.

We cannot and will not abandon those who live in coal and oil country either. We will continue to ensure that their communities thrive by transforming them into clean energy economic hubs, providing not just new jobs, but training and tax subsidies to aide in their transition. Their concerns are genuine and have a right to be heard.

As long as the United States can be fundamentally held hostage by oil, we are at-risk. We owe it to all those who have sacrificed, to our children, born and unborn, to the ideals of America itself, to create a country that relies solely on the ingenuity of its people rather than foreign pipelines and the fuel of a bygone century.

So let’s defeat ISIS, let’s grow the economy, let’s reunite our country, let’s do something bold — we have landed a man on the moon, and with that same American tenacity, we can harness the power of the sun.

From left, Brian Smith, Steven Uihlein, Phyllis March and Joan St. Onge in a scene from ‘Lower Education’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Raw, imaginative, thought-provoking and brave. Unafraid to push the envelope and tackle some of society’s most dynamic and difficult issues. At times, irresistibly funny, wildly inappropriate and enormously fun. There are so many ways to describe Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays but ultimately it comes down to this: theater at its absolute finest.

Tucked below the main stage of Theatre Three’s Athena Hall is a black box theater named after the late Ronald F. Peierls. This second stage creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere for the audience and provides a perfect venue for all seven shows.

Since the 1998 to 1999 season, Theatre Three has received an incredible 8,000 one-act play submissions. Of those entries, it has presented 113 world premieres by 79 different playwrights. What you’re seeing really is the best of the best.

Clockwise from left, Antoine Jones, Kate Keating, Joan St. Onge and Jacqueline M. Hughes in a scene from ‘Counting Sheep’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

One-acts, for those who are not familiar, are just that — a single-act show. Often varying in length and subject matter, they are given the flexibility to tackle things playwrights would usually be unable to address with a mainstage production. In my mind, a great one-act is a lot like the center of an Oreo. They skip all the fanfare and get right to the creamy good stuff in the middle. They rely not on orchestra pits, colorful costumes or dynamic sets but rather on vigorous acting, quality writing and superb direction.

“Counting Sheep” by Jae Kramisen, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?” by Patrick Gabridgen, “The Kitchen Fairy” by Scott Gibson, “Lower Education” by Lewis Shilane, “A New Lease” by Tony Foster, “Upset over Nothing” by Robin Doupé and “When Driven” by Melanie Acampora all made their debut last Saturday afternoon. These writers vary in age, gender and at least one was from out-of-state.

Just prior to the premiere I had the opportunity to talk to Theatre Three actress and playwright Melanie Acampora. “I started writing three years ago” delving into the process of creating a one-act. It’s less pressure than acting,” she said. One of the hardest parts of writing a script is seeing how it’ll be adapted. When asked if she was pleased with Theatre Three’s adaption, Acampora replied,“It’s even better than in my head, thanks to Jeff [Sanzel].”

From left, Skyler Quinn Johnson and Brian Smith in a scene from ‘How Does It Feel to Be a Problem.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Sanzel, the festival’s founder and director of all seven shows, proves once again what enormous talent we have right here on Long Island. His skills transcend genre and are wonderfully on display — up close and personal for the whole audience to enjoy. How a person could direct so many shows while finding time to sleep is beyond me!

This emotional roller coaster will have you leaving the theater with a newfound appreciation for playwrights. Unlike the bravado of Broadway, they cannot hide behind the pomp and circumstance of massive musical numbers or high-priced sets (although I do love a good ole’ kickline).

Each show’s success depends almost solely on its craftsmanship and its cast. That being said, there was not a single actor I didn’t love during these seven performances. Many of the actors took on not just one role but several in multiple shows, displaying their incredible capabilities and range as performers.

Whether you are a theater aficionado or a first-time theatergoer, get yourself a ticket before they sell out. This wonderful experience is only on stage for a limited time. To the playwrights, my hat is off to you, brava and bravo. Hoping to see more of your work soon!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present The 20th Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through April 1 at The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage. Tickets are $18 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Please note: Adult content and language. Parental discretion is advised.

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