Authors Posts by Michael Tessler

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Photo courtesy of Three Village School District

By Michael Tessler

Throughout our brief but impactful history, America’s protesters have accomplished quite a bit. From the Sons of Liberty dumping nearly $1.7 million worth of English tea into Boston Harbor (talk about destruction of property) to Dr. King sharing his dream during the March on Washington. Protests, petitions, walkouts and other acts of civil disobedience certainly have earned their chapter in the American story, not always for good reasons, unfortunately.

My first protest was back in 1999 at Scraggy Hill Elementary in Port Jefferson. Things, as you may remember, were a bit simpler back then. Before the advent of social media, before digital petitions and fake news blogs we were forced to have conversations with one another.

Esther Fusco, my former principal, had an office tucked away behind the school’s reception area. Inside she had an old-fashioned metal candy dispenser that only accepted pennies. Whenever you were called into her office, she made sure you got to crank out a handful of M&Ms. Between that and her famed “Star Assemblies,” there was a lot to love as a student.

Unfortunately, for reasons beyond the comprehension of a six-year-old, Dr. Fusco had her assignment changed by the school board and was no longer working in the school. When I heard she was gone, I went home and asked quite innocently, “Where’s Dr. Fusco?” That unknowingly became the rallying call for the first protest I ever participated in.

My mom, an impassioned activist for early childhood education, organized with other community members to picket, protest and attend meetings. This was an extraordinary lesson in civics for a little boy and one that I treasure to this day. You can imagine my excitement when almost 20 years later I hear about petitions circulating through Ward Melville High School. Young people were speaking up about an issue they were passionate about.

The new cap and gown style at Ward Melville High School. Photo from Three Village School District

To provide a bit of context, Ward Melville’s principal introduced a new uniformed graduation gown that combines the school’s signature green and gold. In the past, they had been separated by gender. However, with the school’s growing transgender and gender-fluid population, they wanted to adjust with the times. Naturally, there was pushback as it was altering a 50-year tradition.

What should have followed was a debate on the BEST method to preserve tradition while accommodating changing times and the needs of the student body. What actually transpired was unfortunately quite the opposite. Petitions began to grow and with them hateful comments about transgender and gay/lesbian individuals.

During a student walkout, several students held up signs saying “STRAIGHT LIVES MATTER” and imagery often associated with the former Confederate States. There’s a fundamental difference between fighting for tradition and using the guise of tradition as a means of marginalizing another group.

Here’s the unfortunate reality: 41 percent of transgender youth and 20 percent of gay/lesbian/bisexual youth will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Just for perspective, 4.6 percent of the general population will attempt suicide. Words matter, and if you’re wondering how those numbers got to be so staggering, look no further than the comments on some of these petitions.

If someone is willing to keep something like that a secret for their whole life, if the pain of that secret is enough cause for them to take their own life, then who the heck am I to question who they are and why? We were not born wearing blue or pink. We were born human beings and being human isn’t always easy so let’s stop making it harder on each other.

Nonviolence and peaceful demonstrations remain the second greatest force of change in this country next to democracy itself. To my young friends at Ward Melville, on all sides, keep fighting for what you believe in. Do so however, while showing respect and civility. You are stewards not just of your own rights, but those of all Americans. Just remember, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

Seriously though, where is Dr. Fusco? If anyone sees her, please tell her Michael Tessler sends his regards. I’m 18 years overdue for some M&Ms!

The cast of ‘Respect,’ from left, Jessica Contino, Amanda-Camille, Lori Beth Belkin and Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

By Michael Tessler

Let me start by saying that I don’t think I was the show’s intended audience. That being said, this became one of my favorite shows in recent memory. Theatre Three’s “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women,” a jukebox musical by Dorothy Marcic that opened this weekend, had me laughing, tapping my feet and, on two occasions, holding back tears (alas, to no avail).

Skillfully directed by Mary Powers, this truly powerful production tells not just the story of one woman or one era — but rather represents in so many ways the diversity and difficult journey toward equality experienced by all women.

Clockwise from left, Amanda-Camile, Jessica Contino, Lori Beth Belkin, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc

Music, as I was often reminded growing up, is a reflection of our souls and in many ways a caricature of how we view ourselves. This piece takes the most popular music of the last century and uses it to form an evocative narrative that demonstrates just how powerful music can be.

Music in its most righteous form can be used as a tool for liberation and in its worst used to reinforce oppression. Its impact, especially in American culture, has very much defined the national consciousness.

This show delves into that concept as we meet the protagonist, presumably the show’s playwright. She is a widow and entering a stage in her life where she desperately wishes to better understand herself and the women in her family. She takes it upon herself to research the most popular music of the previous century, beginning a powerful journey of self-discovery and liberation.

With musical direction by Steve McCoy, this show’s small but dynamic cast is genuinely empowering. Their harmonies are beautiful and ever-changing as the show travels through the decades. They belt out the classics and remind you of a few forgotten treasures. No matter what your taste, this show has something for you, from the mesmerizing harmonies of “Mr. Sandman” to the fierce “I Will Survive.” Lori Beth Belkin, Elizabeth Ann Castrogiovanni, Jessica Contino and Amanda-Camille shine in their performances from heartfelt soul to rock and roll.

Sari Feldman’s choreography evolves with the production, masterfully adapting with each new era. You’ll get a taste of nearly every decade, from the Charleston to the more contemporary dance moves of Britney Spears and everything in-between.

The show’s set and lighting design by Randall Parsons and Robert W. Henderson Jr. doesn’t overly complicate itself but rather compliments the cast perfectly, featuring impressive light installations that provide ample mood lighting and a screen that provides historical visuals and points of reference throughout the show — great embellishments to an already great performance.

“Respect” is an incredible spectacle that transports the viewer through time using the power of music. Theatre Three’s matinee audience was the most lively I’ve ever seen. Viewers young and old found themselves clapping and resisting the urge to sing along.

All of Athena Hall was captivated by nostalgia and the beautiful sounds produced by this enormously talented cast and on-stage pit. Personalities of the past returned to life with brief flashes of Rosa Parks, Robert Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, Scarlett O’Hara and so many others.

This musical shouldn’t just be watched by those who find comfort in the nostalgic sounds of their youth, but by the men and women of today who will leave the theater with a new found appreciation for all the progress we’ve made and the work still left to do. This show is empowering, humbling, emotional, hysterical and wonderfully refreshing. For me, it was the surprise treat of the season!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women” on the Mainstage through March 25. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Wednesday matinee $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

My great-grandfather Louis arrived at Ellis Island at the onset of the Great War. He grew up in the predominantly Jewish community of Sighet. This small region of Hungary (now Romania) had been occupied and reoccupied by many countries throughout the 20th century. Sighet, however, remained largely the same. Its tight Jewish community maintained its traditions, history and, most importantly, faith.

Louis’ family sent him away in fear he would be drafted into the brewing conflict. So with what money he had, he traveled 1,000 miles from Hungary to the bustling port of Hamburg in Germany. One can only imagine how dangerous that trip must have been — navigating Europe as it began to rip at the seams. He survived though and boarded a ship destined for the promised land of America.

Like so many before him he arrived in New York City. Even as I write this, I smile at the thought of his first gaze upon the Statue of Liberty. At the time, just another face among the huddled masses … to me, the very reason I exist.

Assimilation wasn’t easy. He ended up marrying a woman from the same village and they started a family together. Their child Sam was a tremendous source of brightness in an otherwise unforgiving city.

Above, back row, from left, Pauline, Irene, Louis; front row, from left, Melvin and Max, circa 1929. Photo courtesy of the Tessler family

Louis’ family kept him going. He worked long and painful hours for a fur company in Manhattan. Before unions, before labor laws and before regulations — he inhaled dangerous chemicals daily as he dyed the fur, leaving him with chronic health problems.

His American Dream devolved quickly though as his home was consumed by a fire and with it his wife and only child. One can only imagine his dread. Thousands upon thousands of miles away from his only remaining family, he committed himself to rebuilding his life, and by extension, creating mine.

Louis remarried and had two children with my great-grandmother ­— my grandpa, Melvin Tessler and his brother Max. They grew up on Riverside Drive, both lovers of the city’s growing jazz scene.

Through an unfortunate reality, my great-grandfather wasn’t wanted in this country. Many anti-Semites peddled Jewish conspiracies, believing them to be an enormous danger to American society. When my grandfather was a little boy, Louis took him to work at the fur factory so his son could see what he did. His boss, however, hated the Jews and made a point of humiliating my great-grandfather in front of his son. He never took him to the factory again.

Though Louis was sent to America to be saved from joining a global conflict, it was a painful irony that both his sons were drafted into the army and became American soldiers in World War II.

Mel Tessler while serving in the US Army during WWII. Photo courtesy of the Tessler family

My grandfather Mel served proudly in Europe, where he developed trench foot, almost losing his feet to rot. Around his neck he wore the Star of David, his dog tags and a pillbox containing cyanide tablets in the event he was captured by the Nazis, knowing full well he’d be tortured for information if they knew of his Jewish ancestry. His brother Max served in North Africa where he contracted a malaria type disease. These young boys, the sons of refugee immigrants, served a nation that just a generation prior had not welcomed their father.

My Grandpa Mel would go on to become the head of the English Department at Port Jefferson High School and married my Grandma Sally, a teacher at Scraggy Hill Elementary. No doubt some of my readers had them as teachers.

In his class, he’d have the students read the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, a celebrated Holocaust survivor who dedicated his life to serving humanity. Several years ago I had the great fortune of being invited to the United Nations, where I heard Mr. Wiesel speak. In the halls of the General Assembly his voice echoed “never again.” It was more than just a phrase but a perpetual call to action, one that we are all responsible to heed. I’ve taken that to heart.

What I did not know at the time was that Elie Wiesel and I shared something in common. He too was from Sighet, my ancestral home. In 1944, the Third Reich occupied Hungary and decimated its Jewish population, first by forcing them into ghettos and then eventually to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Whatever family remained perished there during the Final Solution.

Whether by gas chamber in Auschwitz or by sniper fire in Aleppo … murder is still murder and is equal in the eyes of God. No man is greater than the other just because of their faith or any more deserving of our compassion. No civilized society, especially one built on the principles of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” can remain ignorant of the world at large. To do so undermines not just our nation’s values but the essence of our humanity itself.

We cannot forget that our complacency, and more precisely, our fear, allowed countless innocents to die as waves of Jewish refugees were turned away from the United States. We must show bravery like those who risked their lives to hide Jewish families in their basements. If we are so scared that we are unable to help, then we have already lost, for without humanity we are nothing.

Had America not welcomed in my great-grandfather all those years ago, he too would be in the huddled masses lying dead outside Auschwitz. Do not forget, history has its eyes on you.

By Michael Tessler

During the 2016 vice presidential debate, then Governor Mike Pence said “…the old Russian bear doesn’t die, he just hibernates.” This would-be proverb struck a chord with me and led me on a several month research expedition to further understand the collapse of the Soviet Union. How could a global superpower disappear from the Earth with just a few strokes of a pen?

Today, I’m reminded of another hibernating bear — California. Though sparsely mentioned in our textbooks, there were 25 days in 1846 when a sovereign Republic of California existed. Like-minded Californians rose up against Mexico in what is known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Their state flag to this day still proudly waves a grizzly bear above the words “California Republic.” Shortly thereafter they were annexed by the United States and became an integral part of our country.

How does this relate? Well, on Dec. 26, 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved. Its centralized government oversaw 15 Soviet republics that were partially self-governed, not so dissimilar from the function of our state governments. People thought it impossible, but the massive Soviet superpower was toppled (with relative ease) and was replaced with 15 sovereign nations. It raises the terrifying prospect: If it happened there, could it happen here? That brings us back to the other sleeping bear.

Hypothetically, if California were an independent republic, it would have the world’s sixth-largest economy. Its population is greater than that of neighboring Canada. Its agriculture industry surpasses that of any other American state. Its national guardsmen and women are composed of 18,000 soldiers and 4,900 air force personnel. In addition there are over 190,100 Californians enlisted in the United States military and reserves, which is roughly the size of the United Kingdom’s standing military.

There is a growing #CalExit movement that would grant California its autonomy following a voting referendum in 2018. Just three weeks into the Trump Administration, and one out of three Californians are in favor of secession according to a recent poll. This number is alarming, to say the least. In an age when populism rules, when the United Kingdom could exit the European Union and the United States could elect Donald Trump … the prospect is not just hypothetical but a reality we must address.

Californians, like many Americans, are feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the current administration and the congressional gerrymandering that has occurred nationwide. For the second time in 16 years, the winner of the popular vote, the winner in the State of California, was not selected president.

For years, California, unlike many states, has given more tax dollars to the federal government than it has received in return. Fundamentally bankrolling other states and paying for military campaigns are things Californians are staunchly against. Whether or not their grievances are justifiable is a determination for you, the reader. They should, however, be taken seriously, just as Brexit should have been and all populist movements of the past.

Without California, the United States as we know it would fall into disarray. Its electoral votes and ample congressional seats maintain the Democratic Party’s ability to remain competitive. To my Republican and/or conservative readers, I’m sure that sounds wonderful, but we must consider the larger picture. Without competition, our federal government becomes dangerously lopsided. No matter who the supermajority, accountability decreases and entire segments of our society would feel underrepresented. Political isolation has never ended well for any country, look no further than the Soviet Union for that lesson.

Just because we are the United States does not mean we are immune to collapse. Our nation’s bond was forged in the fires of wars. To each man his colony was his country. It took leadership, it took George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to unify us and maintain our nation. Today one can’t help but feel we’ve grown very far apart. How we can we pledge our lives and property to one another if we’re unwilling to show at minimum decency and respect?

Our federal government should strive to make separation an unjustifiable cause. To accomplish that requires patriotism over partisanship, rights over might, leadership not power plays and genuine liberty and justice for all. Disagreements are a natural and healthy part of democracy, but will get us nowhere if we treat compromise as a cuss word. No matter who maintains the majority, the views of the minority must be heard and represented.

President Trump is in a unique position to mend the wounds of a divided land. To cement a legacy far superior than that of any great wall or golden tower. He is the leader of a fractured state, one in which so easily the political majority could enforce its rule upon the minority. He must show himself to be humbled and practice civility and respect with his opposition. In return, they must learn to do the same. They must be brought to the table rather than fired for sharing opposing views.

That’s what separates an American president from a Soviet premier. His actions moving forward are paramount to ensuring the survival of the union as we know it.

No child should ever ask: “What was it like to grow up in the former United States?”

For an audio version of this article, see above.

Whether you love him or hate him, take a moment to reflect

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

This piece is not an evaluation of the president’s legislative accomplishments or failures. or even his politics — but rather a reflection of the very personal impact the 44th president had on one 15-year-old boy from Port Jefferson.

It was 2008 and I was just coming of age. Then I saw him on television, delivering his iconic “Yes We Can” speech. In that moment Barack Obama instilled in me a genuine sense of hope, a firm belief that in the course of human history it is possible to make a lasting difference. His words transformed my perception of our Constitution. No longer was it a thing of antiquity, but rather something tangible, something alive, and worthy of any sacrifice to protect.

My sense of purpose and my role in our democracy cemented itself in those early days of 2008. At 15 I found myself going to school in a blazer adorned with Obama/Biden ’08 and button sporting an Afro worthy of the Jackson 5. My teachers were endlessly amused at the sight. Some of my skeptical peers would ask me: “If you’re not old enough to vote, why do you care?”

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008, at 15 (and a half) I hurried back from Drama Club rehearsal with my best friend Jonathan to watch the poll results come in. This was the first election I had ever volunteered for. My family huddled around our television, my

anxieties and nerves were relentless, and then they called it — “Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States of America.” Despite having not yet lived through a full decade, tears streamed from my eyes. My country, our country, the greatest country on Earth, had just elected its first African-American president.

In that moment I saw the unending potential of America that our founders envisioned so long ago in Philadelphia. During his inaugural address, his tone changed. Like every commander-in-chief he was inheriting the weight of the most powerful office in the world. So he called upon me, as he did all Americans, to not become complacent in the future of our union — and so my work began.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had established what would later become known as the International Youth Congress — an organization whose aim it was to answer that question: “If you’re not old enough to vote, why do you care?”

No generation chooses to inherit the world, we just do. Despite not having a vote, our voices were no less diminished. For six years our organization grew: helping passing legislation, providing education and resources for young people around the world and eventually building a network of youth leaders from six different continents and over 20 separate countries. We were making that great hypothetical “change” possible. From as far as Rwanda, to Pakistan and Spain we gathered together to chart a common vision for the future based on our shared sense of humanity.

In these past eight years we’ve all grown up and have taken it upon ourselves to serve our communities, nation and world — whether working for the United Nations, Foundation of Economic Education, United States Senate, European Youth Parliament, International Labour Organization, the White House or this very publication. That spark would have never been lit had it not been for a certain presidential candidate with a funny name and big ears.

No legislative accomplishment or disagreement will ever measure up to the enormous inspiration Barack Hussein Obama delivered not just to me but to millions of young people around the world. His time in office has come to its constitutional conclusion, but for those whom he has inspired … we’re just getting started.

Though as I grow older my politics have changed and evolved, and we don’t always see eye to eye, I will always be grateful for that timeless creed bestowed upon a generation raised in a weary era of uncertainty — Yes We Can. Thank you Mr. President, wishing you and your family nothing but happiness in the many years ahead.

Above, from left, Brittany Lacey as Syliva and Steve Ayle as Greg. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

There are few bonds greater than between a man and his dog, and sometimes there are few bonds stranger! Theatre Three begins the new year with the wonderfully clever off-Broadway comedy, “Sylvia,” written by A.R. Gurney.

This light-hearted romp introduces us to Greg, a man midway into his midlife crisis. He’s had it all: a happy family, a stable corporate job, even a great apartment in the heart of Manhattan … but now with an empty nest, retirement just around the bend and a fading flame of a marriage, he does what any sane person would do — he adopts a stray puppy from the park!

Brittany Lacey and Steve Ayle in a scene from ‘Sylvia’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Directed by Bradlee E. Bing, this performance offers more than laughs; it is a philosophical journey through the complexities of aging and relationships. One can’t help but become emotionally invested in Bing’s incredibly talented cast of actors. His production never wastes a beat. Even as dialogue happens on one side of the stage, Bing cleverly places subtle action on the other, giving way to a truly immersive performance.

Peter Casdia, the stage manager, runs a tight and efficient shift backstage. The show’s set, designed by Randall Parsons, is simple but very effective. Alternating between an apartment, local park and office, you’ll easily keep track of where you are from location to location. Robert W. Henderson Jr.’s lighting design is subtle but quite efficacious.

This show’s quick-wit script and sublime cast doesn’t require the usual pomp and circumstance when it comes to the show’s lighting or set. Its simplicity is its strength, letting the audience dive head first into this character-centric performance.

Steve Ayle, who portrays Greg, is perfectly cast. His ability to transcend both comedy and drama give him a unique ability as a performer. Many actors on stage tend to become victims of overacting, a desperate need to evoke a reaction from the audience. Ayle, as testament to his ability as actor, does just the opposite. His authentic humor is a delight and is so genuinely played that you will in earnest believe him in all of his actions. When watching his performance you’ll find yourself asking:“Why the heck isn’t this guy on TV? He’s great!”

From left, Kate (Linda May) and Sylvia face off in a jealous rage in a scene from ‘Sylvia.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Theatre Three veteran Linda May plays Greg’s wife Kate, a witty English teacher who has dedicated her life to educating underprivileged youth in the works of William Shakespeare. With her children off at college, Kate delves into her work, turning a new leaf in her professional career. Things are turned upside down when her husband of several decades finds himself with a rather unhealthy attachment to his new dog, the eponymous Sylvia.

In one of my favorite exchanges, Kate finds herself on the floor facing off with Sylvia in jealous rage. The act of one woman and one dog, going nose to nose over the affection and love of their shared man is strikingly comical and brilliantly performed.

Brittany Lacey, the star of Theatre Three’s wonderful performance of “Legally Blonde,” is back and is nothing short of a real (dog) treat! Her versatility as an actress shines as she takes on the show’s titular four-legged character, Sylvia, a bouncy, frisky poodle mix. Lacey wastes no time in establishing believability, capturing and personifying perfectly the internal dialogue of a dog. Her physicality during the show is tremendously funny and her dialogue is delivered with refreshing gusto. Lacey’s profanity-laced rant about cats is perhaps the show’s greatest sequence, saying what we’ve all felt about cats at one time or another!

Sylvia’s sensuous romp with neighborhood dog Bowser gives way to some incredible comedic material. You’ll find yourself desperate for air during her barrel of fun performance. When paired with her owner, Greg, you get the opportunity to see two incredibly talented actors really delve into their craft. Their scenes together are some of the best in the show and really capture the unique love between a man and his dog.

Matt Senese in a scene from ‘Sylvia’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Last but certainly not least is the show’s everyman (and woman) Matt Senese. Though I don’t want to spoil all the fun, this multifaceted actor delivers huge laughs playing three separate supporting roles as both a man and a woman. For his explosively funny performance alone, go see this show!

Theatre Three’s Athena Hall is looking more beautiful as ever. The cozy, elegant and historical theater is the perfect venue in which to escape reality. Now offering accessibility with an elevator lift and a refurbished wheelchair-friendly bathroom, the theater remains a sanctuary for all those with a love of the arts. Oh, and the ushers are the best around! All in all, “Sylvia” is a perfect way to start the new year. Light, funny and endearing, this show’s short run doesn’t stop it from being big fun!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Sylvia” on the Mainstage through Feb. 4. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 not permitted. Wednesday matinee is $20. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) encounters the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for the first time. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions., Inc.
Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions., Inc.

Though the holidays are usually filled with joy, they’re certainly not without their own special breed of stress, which seems to melt away as Theatre Three gifts our community with a profound and magical experience that allows us to escape into the marvelous imaginative world of the late, great Charles Dickens. Theatre Three provides more than just a distraction — it provides unparalleled delights that will stir up the best childlike emotions in each of us.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, faces the unique challenge of annually reimagining “A Christmas Carol.” He seamlessly completes this task with his usual grace and confidence. For over 30 years the show has been a must-see tradition for Long Island families and visitors. Sanzel’s vision shines brighter than ever as he masterfully directs his cast. While the story remains the same, its characters are all the more captivating because of the great direction he provides.

What’s most impressive is that not only does Sanzel direct, but he also stars in the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. For those unfamiliar with the classic Dickens novel, Scrooge is a man whose greed supersedes his humanity. One night he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley (Steven Uihlein) who informs him that hell awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. This propels him on an unlikely journey of self-reflection and change.

Sanzel plays not only an older Scrooge, but a younger more lively version of himself. His ability to change physicality and characters instantly is one of his most impressive qualities, and there are plenty!

Douglas J. Quattrock as Bob Cratchit & Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Douglas J. Quattrock as Bob Cratchit & Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Bob Cratchit, played by the ever-so-gentle Douglas Quattrock, is beyond endearing. There’s a righteousness and goodness about this man that can be felt genuinely by the audience. Cratchit, who works as a clerk for the elderly Mr. Scrooge, endures considerable workplace trauma to make sure his family is fed and taken care of. Despite his hard work, his youngest son, Tiny Tim, remains at the precipice of death. Quattrock will have you grinning cheek to cheek as he embraces his wife played with love by Suzie Dunn and the rest of the family.

Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past in a scene from 'A Christmas Carol'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.
Jeffrey Sanzel as Scrooge & Jessica Contino as Ghost of Christmas Past in a scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Alongside Cratchit is the kind-hearted and abandoned nephew of Scrooge, Fred Halliwell. There’s a certain glee in Dylan Poulos’ performance. He’s almost infused with the spirit of Christmas itself, which I suppose would make sense as he also plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! Halliwell seeks nothing more than to rekindle a relationship with his past by getting to know his only living relative, dear Uncle Scrooge. What he doesn’t realize is that his eyes are the same eyes as his departed mother, a painful reminder for old Ebenezer. Fan Scrooge Halliwell (Megan Bush/Sophia Knapp) lives and breathes in certain sequences, and perfectly portrays the love between two close siblings.

Among my favorite cast members is the larger-than-life Fezziwig, played with great fervor by George Liberman. He’s joined alongside his stage wife, played by Ginger Dalton. These two form a comedic pair that will have you smiling as wide as the horizon! There’s something so whimsical about watching Fezziwig’s ball unfold on-stage: the dancing, the singing, everything. Watching you can’t help but feel that you’re up there with them. My favorite part of this sequence is watching the curmudgeon Scrooge transform into a spruce young man who woos and proposes to Fezziwig’s daughter, Belle, played by a belle of extraordinary talent, Emily Gates.

Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) with a very ‘cheeky’ Ghost of Christmas Present (Bobby Montaniz).
Scrooge (Jeffrey Sanzel) with a very ‘cheeky’ Ghost of Christmas Present (Bobby Montaniz). Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

All three spirits are truly splendid. Jessica Contino shines as the Ghost of Christmas Past, bringing Scrooge on a journey that forces him to reconcile many of the mistakes and heartbreaks a long life will bring. Bobby Montaniz nails perfectly the essence of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and while he’s not a giant, his impressive voice certainly sounds like he is! His deep laughter will echo in your belly all through the evening!

Finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come may be the most visually impressive puppetry I’ve seen at Theatre Three yet (and they pulled out an actual dragon for “Shrek!”). This massive and haunting figure must be at least 15 feet tall and is adorned in a black tattered cloak and hood and is perfectly embellished by the brilliant lighting layout by Robert Henderson.

In addition to an incredible cast and superb lighting, this is one of the most beautiful sets I’ve ever seen. There’s a craftsmanship that far exceeds your usual stage show, and not only does it show but genuinely adds to the ambiance of the production. I’ve got nothing but praise for Randall Parsons, the show’s production designer and his costume counterpart Bonnie Vidal.

There are many additional names in the cast and crew who are deserving of praise, especially the incredibly talented children who alternate each night and demonstrate a professionalism and talent well beyond their years. Give yourself and your loved ones a gift that is truly made of magic. Go see “A Christmas Carol.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 31. All tickets are $20 in November and range from $20 to $35 in December. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Stock photo

By Michael Tessler

America at its finest has always been a series of contradictions. We are a democracy, but not directly. We are a republic, but not entirely. We are capitalists, but not wholly. We are free, but not always. America has never been an absolute anything and I think with good reason.

All one must do is look toward the grand and gleaming white rotunda of our Capitol Building, adorned with a bronze statue of Freedom, to see the irony of our union. Though an uncomfortable truth, the epicenter of freedom and democracy in the world was built by those who were not free. Slavery is a stain on our nation. Some would rather ignore its uncomfortable truths, refuse to acknowledge its lasting impacts, and remain blind to the errors of our past. Others choose to let its singularity define us.

In the modern era (and in most eras), there are those who comfortably hide behind our flag. They refuse to acknowledge its shortcomings, believing that somehow our imperfections make us weak and/or dilute the idea of America itself. Others have given up on the idea of our nation altogether and have subscribed to the self-deprecating belief that America is a sham, that our misdeeds are too plentiful to salvage our republic.

One question, in particular, uncomfortably encapsulates this whole concept and in a lot of ways the modern American conflict: Can George Washington still be considered a great man if he owned slaves?

This is an unsettling question for some. Personally, I have always viewed him as an almost God-like figure. Who against all odds led an army of ragtags to victory over the world’s greatest superpower? Who had the opportunity to rule for life and establish a monarchy but rather ensured the peaceful transition of power and secured the blessings of liberty for generations to come? Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew he owned slaves. That was a fact I wanted to ignore. More than anything I didn’t want to second guess the pureness of my personal hero, our nation’s first president, a man I had placed on a pedestal of great renown.

Yet, we are doing our country a disservice if we remain blind to uncomfortable truths: George Washington owned more slaves than any other American president — 318 slaves at the time of his death. For perspective, that is roughly the same population as the freshman, sophomore and junior classes of Port Jefferson High School combined.

“Everyone had slaves back then!” is an argument I’ve often heard. You don’t need to look any further than to John Adams or Alexander Hamilton to know there were mainstream abolitionist. Many recognized that slavery was a misdeed, a criminal act even. This fact is a source of great contention among Americans, but I think both sides are the missing the point.

The greatest accomplishment of our nation’s forefathers was their creation of a system of government that would allow future Americans to correct their sins. Using their model, we have successfully abolished slavery and Jim Crow laws, given women and African Americans the right to vote, landed a man on the moon, defeated the Third Reich, created the most professional and well-trained military, built great cities, and fostered the education of the world’s most renowned thinkers, inventors and dreamers.

Our Capitol Building, while built by slaves, is the very same building in which their freedom was finally granted. Progress isn’t always easy, and the work of it is never truly done. In a nation that abhors absolutes, it strikes me as a great misstep to allow absolutists to define us.

George Washington means many things to many people, his entire existence perhaps symbolic of the American story. After his death, he had granted his slaves their most basic right to freedom. After his death, the system of government he helped create would forever grant slaves their basic right to freedom.

Like many, President Washington feared that the abolition of slavery would rip our young country apart. Those fears were not ill founded, as our country did tear apart during the brutal American Civil War. We as individuals must come to our own conclusion, but to reduce our complex history to a series of absolutes strikes me as an injustice to history itself.

America’s genius was not crafted in a single summer day in Philadelphia. It was earned through trial and error, war and bloodshed, broken bloodied chains and crackled whips and the tireless debate and civil discourse of the American people.

We are a dynamic and ever-changing people. Our sins do not define us, but that does not absolve us of them either. We must face the repercussions of our actions as a collective. Abraham Lincoln fought the war George Washington could not, just as we today are forced to confront the conflicts our fathers and forefathers could not.

We did not want to inherit these struggles, no generation does, but how we choose to move forward is what truly makes us American. Our ability to embrace our imperfections and strive ever forward in spite of them, with the endless dream of achieving a more perfect union. Now that is America the Beautiful.

On Nov. 8, please honor our servicemen and women by casting your ballot. Feel free to share your thoughts with me at MJT@TBRNewspapers.com.

Michael Tessler, far left, at the Icon Oscars at Walt Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. Photo from Michael Tessler

Transcript:

[Movie trailer voice] In a world, on an island … a long island, there is a man, a curly-haired man, on a bold and courageous journey to create the best column ever written. Will this Jonah-Hill-looking fellow overcome his childhood lisp, will he make audiences laugh, find out in the next exciting chapter of OPEN MIKE: The Column.

To quote the late great Robin Williams, “I do voices.”  What does that even mean? [Yoda voice] Ermm, master of voices I am, make you laugh I shall [Yoda laugh]. This fascination of mine first manifested itself at the young age of 5, shortly after my youngest sister was born, leaving me with a horrendous case of middle child syndrome. My parents literally learned to tune out my voice, leaving me with no option but to invent and discover new ones.

My first real character voice was an impersonation of my Uncle Jean Pierre. His thick Parisian accent was like nothing I had ever heard before. So I began to replicate it. Weeks later and after a few thousand attempts, I figured it out. My face scrunched upward, my nose lunged toward the sky, and his voice came out of mouth — (in heavy French accent) [French laughter] “Bonjour my name Jean Pierre, and I am proud Frenchman!” this caricature version of my uncle became a hit at family parties.

From then on my range of voices grew 10-fold. Every movie I watched, every video game I played, every foreign accent I heard, I absorbed and replicated. Character voices became an outlet for this otherwise socially awkward child. There’s no better feeling than brightening a room and having the power to produce laughter. No matter your age there’s no way not to laugh at the dueling Michael Myers characters Shrek/Fat Bastard bursting into a room shouting: “Get in my belly, you stupid fat donkey!”

Voices weren’t always for an audience though. Most of the time they were just for me. One year while re-watching the  “Muppet’s Christmas Carol” (arguably the greatest film ever made), I became obsessed with learning the Muppet voices — starting with Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and inevitably Miss Piggy. Learning Miss Piggy was the first time I ever made the connection between voices and voice actors. Frank Oz, who famously gave life to Master Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back” also played the sassy frog-loving pig we know and loathe. [In Yoda voice, then Miss Piggy voice] “Ermm, pigs, pigs lead to pork, pork leads to bacon, and bacon leads to the dark side, Kermie, don’t you love mwah?” How stunning, to hear how the voices connect to one another.

  But truthfully with time and practice anybody can do a line or two. What distinguishes professionals from amateurs is the ability to carry out any kind of dialogue, conveying any kind of emotions, and being able to do so without a second thought. Rehearsing this looks like pure insanity but is beyond rewarding. My favorite example is of Andy Serkis, who played the dual personalities of Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” “Frodo’s our friend! Yes Yes! GOLLUM! GOLLUM! Stupid fat Hobbit(es)!” After hearing his voice, I knew I needed to up my game.

There’s literally voice recordings on my phone of every character you can possibly imagine, communicating with one another! That’s my favorite part honesty, having great historical figures and pop culture icons interacting with one another. For example:

Richard Nixon: I don’t know Bill, that wife Hillary of yours strikes me as a real crook.

Bill Clinton: Oh Rich Nixon you are so funny. If candidates were metaphorical fast food items, my wife Hillary would be a Big Mac.

Jack Kennedy: Do you mind if I chime in here? Rich you look like you sweating again.

Richard Nixon: I bet you think you’re SO hysterical Jack Kennedy.

Fozzie Bear: Wakka Wakka!

Richard Nixon: Why is there a Muppet in this scene!

Kermit: Sorry about that everybody, wrong sketch! Although while we’re here, I’d lobby you about an issue I’m passionate about, it’s not easy green!

Bernie Sanders: Hello, adorable green frog. My name Senator Bernard Senators and the top 1 percent of mammals are being treated better than 99% percent of all amphibians. I like to wave my arms in the air like an inflatable tube man at a used car dealership.

… scene!

In my life I’ve been blessed to have performed in front of thousands of people. One of the most rewarding experiences was performing a musical parody of Disney characters on a stage once graced by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, The Joker), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian, Harvey Dent), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), Warwick Davis (Wicket, Professor Flitwick) and so many other vocal greats. There is nothing more magical than the look in a child’s eyes when they hear their favorite character speak to them, calling them by name. One can only hope it inspires them the same way my [in accent] French Uncle Jean Pierre did!

So, as my former employer Mickey Mouse would always say, “Thanks folks, see ya real soon! Buh-bye!”

TBR Interactive: This column is the first in our interactive series. Hear the column come to life by scanning the QR code or use the link featured below.

Members of the Third NY Regiment, 22nd Regiment of Foot, and the cast of ‘A Tale of Gold’. Photo by Jameson Wessels

By Ed Randolph

It was a hot but beautiful afternoon when a regiment of British soldiers and loyalists arrived to harass Coram local and former patriot minuteman, Gold Smith Davis. Spectators stood in surprise and suspense awaiting his fate as the infamous “Long Island Lobsterback” and members of the 22nd Regiment of Foot tied Mr. Davis to a wooden column on the porch, beating him with the butt end of a musket and stabbing him with a disjointed bayonet.

Though blood was splattered on Mrs. Davis’s pristine white porch, Mr. Davis survived the ordeal and was rescued by Setauket local and hometown hero Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge. Accompanied by members of the Third NY Regiment, he surrounded the British forces in a tactical ambush.

Musket fire was exchanged between the rivaling forces. Outgunned and cornered, the lobsterbacks were forced to retreat in haste as the patriots secured an unlikely victory in the heart of Long Island. Other eyewitness reports suggest Mr. Davis was hung upside down over a well, but these claims remain unconfirmed. Both reports suggest he was reunited with his wife Elizabeth.

Unsuspecting visitors found themselves thrust into the middle of an 18th-century reenactment battlefield as a volley of musket fire echoed through the crisp summer air. After the spectacle, those in attendance enjoyed the Davis Meeting House Society’s outdoor Yard Sale and Craft Fair. Numerous vendors and visitors were in attendance and enjoyed the splendid sound of fife and drum. This event was hosted by the Davis Meeting House Society on Sept. 10 and was made possible by the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation.

For more information on Gold Smith Davis visit www.davistownmeetinghouse.org.

For more information on becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor visit www.3rdny.com.

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