Arts & Entertainment

From left, David Conover and Adam Conover pose for a photo on the set of an upcoming episode of ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’ Photo from Adam Conover

Adam Conover never used to ruin anything. More than one year later, that is exactly what Conover will do every Tuesday during “Adam Ruins Everything,” a new show on truTV.

Conover, a Smithtown native who grew up on the North Shore, hosts the comedy show, which blends comedy, history and science to entertain and enlighten viewers about common misconceptions in society. The show touches upon various topics including giving, security, crime scene investigations, childhood, sex and more.

His first episode covers giving and touches upon the history of engagement rings, why shoe companies that give away free shoes are harmful and the reality of food pantries.

But for Conover, creating a show wasn’t something he just set out to do. Everything simply fell into place.

Once Conover reached middle school and high school, he became more interested in drama and theater. His mother, Stony Brook native Margaret Conover, said she remembers her son being a handful as a child, saying that it was hard to keep him focused on a task. But his Shoreham-Wading River High School’s theater program was one of the few things that grabbed and maintained his attention.

Conover got his first acting break after a teacher selected him for one of the star roles in the school’s production of “The Clumsy Custard Horror Show.”

Conover said his overall experience in his high school’s theater program made an impression on him as it gave him a glimpse into working in a performing arts career.

“I think the biggest thing I took out of it was that … it was like a real theater program. We’re not just kids putting on a show,” Conover said in a phone interview. “We are putting on a real show with a real audience that has expectations and the show has to be good.”

Adam Conover’s father, David Conover of Stony Brook, said he remembers his son being in nearly all school plays when he attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Prodell Middle School and the Shoreham-Wading River High School.

“He became very passionate about certain things. Teachers that he loved in high school, he would do all the work for,” David Conover said in a phone interview. “Drama was one of those things he was focused on doing really, really well.”

Margaret Conover also added that the high school’s program helped her son as “the creativity that was fostered and allowed in [high school] really gave him a wake up.”

Comedy was also pushed to the forefront after Adam Conover begged his parents to upgrade their television subscription to include Comedy Central when he was in middle school. Until then, his mother said she wasn’t aware of his interest in comedy.

As a child, Adam Conover always loved learning. He remembered watching science programs like “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” among other programs that fostered his love for acquiring information. Science played a big role in his childhood as his mother and father work in science-based fields and have their Ph.D.s in botany and marine biology, respectively. His younger sister Emily also has her Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

A career in comedy was never the first thing that came to mind for his family. Regardless, his parents were supportive of his dreams even after he quit a web development job to pursue a full-time career in comedy in 2006.

Conover left his job and rejoined friends from his Bard College days — the same group he was with in the early 2000s when Olde English, their sketch comedy, was established. The change left Conover’s parents concerned for their son’s well-being but supportive nonetheless.

“We were concerned about whether or not that was a good way of making a living, but we didn’t attempt to dissuade him from doing so,” his father said. “We always believed that people should follow their passion and if you do oftentimes the rest of everything else works out.”

According to the father, Adam Conover’s work with his sketch comedy group helped him land a job as a staff writer and cast member of CollegeHumor Originals in 2012. And Jon Cohen, one of the “Adam Ruins Everything” producers, said the show was initially released as a web series and received positive feedback from viewers, which encouraged Cohen, Conover and Sam Reich, another executive producer, to produce and pitch the show to television networks.

TruTV picked up the 12 half-hour episodes of the show last October. Cohen said he realized they would work to produce the show after Conover informed him that the coconut water Cohen was drinking was not very healthy.

“He’s obviously playing a heightened version of himself,” Cohen said in a phone interview about Conover. “He truly believes and is passionate about all of the information he has and he just wants to share it with people, not because he wants to be a know-it-all but just because he wants people to know the truth and that’s what’s going to be great about this show.”

“Adam Ruins Everything” will debut on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 10 p.m. on truTV.

While his family never thought Conover would work in the entertainment industry, Margaret, David and Emily Conover agreed that they are proud of Adam and are certainly “not surprised” by his career choice.

“Making this show [was] my life goal, and true mission for me,” Adam Conover said. “This is exactly the kind of comedy I want to do, and is saying things I want to say. I suppose that if I had to think ahead, my goal would be to say those things even more effectively in season two, if we’re lucky enough to get one.”

The band Half Step, from left, Scott Bardolf, Joe Chirco, Matt Iselin, Cindy Lopez, Tom San Filippo and Craig Privett. Photo by Joel Werner

By Stacy Santini

“Walk me out in the mornin’ dew, my honey, Walk me out in the mornin’ dew today…….,” the ethereal voice rises and silence falls upon the crowd. A kinetic energy begins to weave itself into the scores of bodies riddled with goosebumps that sway from side to side; the forlorn melody coming from the stage reinforces a brotherhood that this community of listeners knows all too well. Fortunately for Grateful Dead-lovers this is not a recollection of an endearing concert moment, observing Jerry Garcia chant the song, “Morning Dew.” It is an accurate and recent depiction of the infamous voice of Long Islander Tom San Filippo and the band Half Step.

Half Step will be participating this weekend in another Rich Rivkin event on The Great Lawn at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport called Grateful Fest. Rivkin is the dynamic promoter of all things Grateful Dead on our island. He is an environmental consultant who soaked up the desire and need to keep up the 1960s peace, love and music movement. Many years ago, he passionately started to create “gatherings” at public parks for people to come, be together and enjoy local bands. Today, he is known as a cultural attaché for thousands of Long Island Deadheads, fusing art with live music, and holds full blown festivals at wondrous locations like The Vanderbilt.

On Sunday, bands such as Half Step will be joined by other Grateful Dead song masters like The Electrix, Reckoning and Unbroken Chain and play to droves of Dead aficionados. Perched on a hill, overlooking Northport Bay and the Long Island Sound, up to thirty visual artists will join them.

From the time San Filippo was a boy, growing up in an Italian family in Levittown, peering into the windows of the music store on the corner at the guitars for sale, he was drawn to all things artistic. Although an accomplished graphic artist today, it was music that grabbed his soul for good at an early age, and by seven, he had picked up his first guitar. Although his parents were traditional, they embraced the Beatles, and for Tom, that band’s influence would remain a mainstay throughout his prolific career. His first band, Galaxy, was formed with schoolmate Dave Diamond, of Zen Tricksters fame. In Dave’s basement, they would rehearse Beatles songs until their fingers bled. Tom recalls this time with childlike excitement, “There was no Internet, no digital anything, so in order to practice, we would have to play the record and slow it down by hand. It was a discovery of music, discovering this art form in a very pure way.”

In the infancy of San Filippo’s journey, he was a bass player, and not until Galaxy eventually morphed into The Mighty Underdogs did Tom take the lead with guitar and vocals. There was much discovery along the way and as musicians, San Filippo and his bandmates certainly paid their dues. He remembers how excited they were to play “Fun Day” at McDonald’s for free hamburgers. As they became more well known amongst their peers, they expanded their song repertoire from pure Beatles to include the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and popular Grateful Dead tunes like “Truckin’” and were unofficially the house band for all community events.

There is no doubt that San Filippo enjoyed the notoriety and still does, he openly admits this, but his ear-to-ear grin when confessing is so warm and welcoming that it does not, in any way, come off as egocentric. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Tom San Filippo has a way of drawing people in; he is outrageously funny and has a rare sense of humility. He is impassioned about his career choice and the music that carries his daily routine and simply just wants to share it with the world. It is impossible not to like the guy.

“Songwriting flows through me. Notes and rifts effortlessly come to me; the lyrics take a little longer,” he says, when discussing his song writing, which began at age nine. There have been numerous bends in the road for San Filippo and the bands he was so fundamental in creating, and moments that certainly made time stand still for him. All part of his migration towards Half Step. Today, as Half Step plays to adoring crowds, he can still remember the moment while on tour as the opening act for Debbie Gibson, when the stage crew permitted The Underdogs to jam on the stage of an empty Radio City Music Hall prior to their sold-out Gibson show. “It was surreal to say the least. I looked around as we belted out songs like Bertha and said to myself, this is it, this is where I belong. I really believed that.”

After moving to Amityville with his soulmate and extremely supportive wife, Rose, band members in Half Step, reached out to Tom asking him to join, as proximity was now a friend. By this time, San Filippo was finally embracing Jerry Garcia’s style, something that had been attributed to him over and over again throughout the years. “I just got Jerry’s style and music; he has a very melodic approach and embraces the whole scale. It comes naturally to me.” To this day, he spends a good portion of his time studying Grateful Dead archives and all things Jerry, including his gear.

San Filippo joined a stellar group of extremely talented musicians when he acquiesced to be the front man for Half Step. “Playing and listening to the Dead is like having an extra chromosome, a special musical vocabulary — either you get it or you don’t,” Tom states. “And you want to be around people who speak the same language. With Half Step, I found that.”

Joining Scott Bardolf, Cindy Lopez, Craig Privett, Matt Iselin and Joe Chirco on stage would be an honor for any musician. They are all individually accomplished and when they come together, pure magic happens. Founding member, Scott Bardolf on rhythm guitar, willingly embraces the Bob Weir role and is sublime as his fingers meander across the fret board. Cindy Lopez beautifully spins jazz and blues around the Dead vocals when she sings and as a twenty-year veteran on the Long Island music scene, she complements her fellow band members perfectly. A natural bass player, Craig Privett gives credence to his instrument that would make Phil Lesh smile.

Having the opportunity to share the stage with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, keyboardist Matt Iselin has been playing piano since he was a small child, and his musical ability is apparent with every string vibration. Joe Chirco has manifested his current role as drummer from as early on as he can remember. Once the drummer for the Donna Jean Godchaux Band, the diversity of his percussion skill set is vast and his love for Grateful Dead music reigns supreme; his joy at being a part of Half Step is evident to all who see him play.

It is crucial to note that referring to Half Step as a cover band would be highly insulting. Often compared to Dark Star Orchestra, a hugely popular national band that also plays the music of The Grateful Dead, Half Step channels music from a legendary group and is integral to keeping that music alive. The quality of their musicianship can sometimes challenge even the actual work of the Grateful Dead themselves. There are so many layers to Dead music that there is plenty of room for bands like Half Step to delve deeper and deeper into its complexity.

There’s a reason people flock to Half Step venues, one you just might want to discover yourself. Half Step at The Vanderbilt Museum,this Sunday — be there.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will host the 4th annual Grateful Fest on Sunday, Sept. 27 from noon to 6:30 p.m. Rain date is Oct. 4. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnic lunches. Tickets are $25 adults online, $35 at the door; $10 children ages 5 to 15; children under 5 free. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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Steve McCoy and Suzanne Mason in a scene from ‘Sweeney Todd’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Sari Feldman, Franklin Inc.

By Stacy Santini

To experience “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” the musical currently running at Theater Three in Port Jefferson, is to once again enter the clever imagination of Creative Director Jeff Sanzel. It is bold, it is daring, it is courageous and it is uncomfortable, as it should be. With productions such as “Les Misérables” and “Oliver” in his repertoire, Sanzel is no stranger to challenging and enormous projects, and Sweeney Todd is no exception. He brings the darkness of this satire to light and as we watch, as grievous as the subject matter may be, we are entertained.

Although there have been numerous publications attempting to give honesty to the story with references to actual people, Sweeney Todd is an urban legend. The story is based on a vengeful London Fleet Street Barber in 1785 who slits the throats of his customers. Mrs. Lovett is his pie-making accomplice, and together they join forces to make mincemeat out of his victims, literally. The pies become all the rage and cannibalism commonplace to Lovett’s naïve patrons. Opening at New York’s Uris Theater in 1979, the musical has consistently won numerous Tonys, including Angela Lansbury for Best Actress and Len Cariou for Best Actor. The infamous Stephen Sondheim is responsible for the award-winning score.

As is always the case with Theater Three, the performances are astonishing, but there were several other stars in the room the evening of the premier that were not on stage. This production is visual perfection. From the set to the lighting to sound to the choreography, the team Sanzel assembled for this production created a true optic masterpiece. Scenic Designer, Randall Parsons; Lighting Designer, Robert W. Henderson Jr.; Sound Designer, Peter Casdia and Choreographer, Sari Feldman took this show to soaring heights. Whether it was the actors running up and falling down in the aisles or witnessing victims slide off the barber chair and down into morbid eternity, the viewers were captivated by the imagery.

The costumes, as created by Ronald Green III, are sublime. Green’s vision of black and gray hues with pops of white serves the energy of this production well. They were a marvel to look at. The haunting score is handled well by the orchestra and under the musical direction of Jack Kohl, complements the shocking scenes on stage.

There is no actor in the Theater Three family of thespians more suited for the role of Sweeney Todd than Steve McCoy. His initial appearance on stage is chilling and the connection to the character Hannibal Lector in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” is uncanny. Right before our eyes, McCoy creates a monster on stage, a singing, maniacal murdering monster with a heart. Only McCoy can do that and he does.

Outside of McCoy, Suzanne Mason as Mrs. Lovett commands our attention every moment she is on stage, which is often. Mason plays this unsavory character with such likability that we completely forget that she is not only a murderer’s accomplice, but his manipulative business partner as well. She is charming almost to a fault, from her brilliant cockney accent to her empathetic gestures to her completely sociopathic consciousness, we are enthralled with her. Once again, Sanzel’s intuition when it comes to selecting actors is right on point.

Amanda Geraci plays Johanna, reinforcing that her superior vocal range can take on any role she assumes. Her ethereal voice is a welcome distraction to the comedic yet gloomy story line. Bryan Elsesser as her paramour, Anthony Hope, is delightful; his version of the song “Johanna” is standing ovation-worthy. John Hudson as the Baz Luhrman-type character, Italian Barber Pirelli, is also a surprise and perfectly apprehended. Robert Butterley gives new meaning to word “chauvinist,” as he plays the very dislikable Judge Turpin and, as always, veteran Linda May is the ultimate forlorn Beggar Woman. Honorable mention must be made of Andrew Gasparini as simpleton Tobias who does more than justice to this sympathy-invoking role.

Sweeney Todd might not be considered a musical for everyone, the subject matter coarse and offensive, but the irony is that, that is exactly the reason to see it. When a theater embraces a musical like Sweeney Todd in such a manner that it is enjoyable and appealing, purchasing a ticket should be instinctive. The value lies not so much in the story line, but in the performances and depiction of complex characters, which is done so well here.

There is an old saying that if you hang around the barber shop long enough, you will eventually get your haircut, in this case — your throat slit. Not sure you want to hang around Sweeney Todd too long, but it is sure worth a visit.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” through Oct. 24. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Come Oct. 9, Heckscher Park in Huntington will transform into a hub of fall festivity.

The 22nd annual Long Island Fall Festival, which will run until Oct. 12, throughout Columbus Day weekend, will fill the park with fun, featuring vendors, music, food and more. The event is hosted by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and Huntington Town.

According to the festival’s website, “This community event highlights the best Huntington has to offer — from its civic-minded businesses, cultural institutions and service organizations, to its restaurants, pubs and retailers.”

More than 300 craft, promotional, retail and non-for-profit vendors will line Prime and Madison streets, adjacent to Heckscher Park, as well as within the grounds of the park.

A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza
A scene from last year’s Long Island Fall Festival. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Much like previous years, the festival will have a number of returning vendors, but there will be some new faces, according to Ellen O’Brien, executive director of the chamber. Those include vendors who make birdhouses, sea glass jewelry and more. And for the first time in many years, the festival will feature a farmers’ market.

“It’s always changing,” she said in an August phone interview. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”

Some of the main attractions include four stages of live entertainment, a beer and wine tent, a world-class carnival, two international food courts, a Sunday main stage dedicated to youth talent and more.

O’Brien said that tens of thousands of people frequent the fall festival each day. She also said she’s heard that the festival’s grossed 200,000 park-goers in one weekend.

The chamber’s always on the hunt for new vendors, but space does fill up fast. People learn about the festival through different venues, O’Brien said.

“I think it’s word-of-mouth,” she said. “I think it’s got a mind of its own at this point.”

Those interested in attending the festival can take the Long Island Rail Road to Huntington. There’s free parking at the LIRR train station during that weekend, and round-trip shuttles will run all day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., for $1, on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

The festival begins Friday, Oct. 9, 5 to 9 p.m., and that night will feature a carnival, food court and music on stage. The fun will continue Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and that day will include vendors, music and shows, a food court and a carnival.

The same activities will be available the following day, Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. And Monday, the festival wraps up from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and to get involved in this year’s festival, call (631) 423-6100 or visit www.lifallfestival.com.

Photos by Mark D’Angio and Victoria Espinoza

Cow Harbor Weekend kicked off this past Saturday, Sept. 19 in Northport with the Great Cow Harbor 10K Race. Hundreds participated, some dressed in costumes. The festivities continued on Sunday, Sept. 20 with the Cow Harbor Day Parade. Many floats included congratulations to Northport Village Police Chief Ric Bruckenthal, who is retiring on Sept. 26. Northport residents came out in large numbers, with many dogs in attendance as well, to celebrate Cow Harbor Day.

Society hosts 25th annual wine event

Huntington Historical Society Trustee Paul Warburg, right, presents Huntington Hospital Executive Director Dr. Gerard Brogan, left, with a plaque commemorating the hospital’s nearly 100 years of operation. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

The Huntington Historical Society hosted its 25th annual “Evening of Wine Under The Stars” event on Friday night.

Huntington residents celebrated the town’s more than 350 years of history with a night of drinking, dancing and dining on dishes from local restaurants.

The historical society also honored Huntington Hospital, which will celebrate its 100-year anniversary next year. Hospital Executive Director Dr. Gerard Brogan was presented with a plaque commemorating the hospital’s work.

Robert “Toby” Kissam, the historical society’s president, compared the hospital’s founding to that of the society’s, saying that both were founded by groups of concerned citizens.

According to an article written by Huntington Town Historian Robert Hughes, the hospital began to take shape as early as 1904 when Huntington residents were frustrated with their lack of a dedicated hospital. In 1911, citizens launched a fundraising campaign to build their own hospital, which was eventually completed by Christmas 1915.

Historical Society Trustee Paul Warburg presented the plaque to Dr. Gerard Brogan, the executive director of Huntington Hospital.

Brogan said the hospital’s staff was honored to be recognized.

“I speak for the entire staff at Huntington Hospital when I say we see it as a privilege and big responsibility to take care of you,” he said.

Join the Port Jefferson Free Library on Sunday, Sept. 20, for a discussion of Harper Lee, the author of one of the most popular books that deal with race relations in the United States, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The southerner recently released her second book, “Go Set a Watchman,” 55 years after her first was published. The story, like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and returns the protagonist and hero Atticus Finch, Scout’s father. The books are set in the fictional Maycomb, Ala., the first in the 1930s and the second in the 1950s.

Both books are loosely based on the hometown and life experiences of Lee.

In the library program “Harper Lee: A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma,” Stony Brook University professor emeritus Michael Edelson will present an illustrated talk of Lee’s life and work, including unpublished writings. Edelson will use interviews, film clips and photos analyzing both books and the Oscar-winning 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird” starring Gregory Peck as Atticus.

Copies of each book will be available for those who attend the program, which starts at 2 p.m.

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Festivalgoers enjoy a pickle on a stick at last year’s event. Photo from Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Society

Calling all pickle lovers! The Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association will hold its 36th annual Pickle Festival at the John Gardiner Farm, 900 Park Ave., Greenlawn, this Saturday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (rain date Sept. 20). Sponsored by Astoria Bank, the event will feature many wonderful activities for families including  a corn maze, hay rides and a kids potato dig. The main attraction will be rides on the  beautifully restored Lollipop Farm Train.

Come hungry as there will be many types of specialty pickles on a stick, roasted corn, pies, cakes and cookies along with hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn and Kutztown Birch Beer. Peruse the antique cars and trucks on display and shop at the new farmers market. There is a $5 suggested donation for adults. Children under 12 are free. For more information, call 631-754-1180 or visit www.greenlawncenterporthistorical.org.

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A scene from ‘The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor.’ Photo from PJDC

The arrival of cooler weather signals the start of a perennial favorite, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.

Supported by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Suffolk County Film Commission, the PJDS begins its 22nd season on Monday, Sept. 21, at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. The fall series, which will run through Oct. 27, marks the program’s 11th anniversary and the 22nd season of documentaries.

“We are very, very excited,” Lyn Boland, co-director of the film committee that has arranged the documentary series since 2005, said in a recent phone interview. Along with Boland, the committee — nicknamed the Film Ladies — includes co-director Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross and Lorie Rothstein.

Seven award-winning documentaries will be featured this season, each complemented by a guest speaker who will answer questions at the end of the screening. This year’s selections will explore topics such as genocide, drug cartels, the online black market, art, tradition, cartoons and government cover-ups.

The process of choosing the documentaries is labor-intensive.“[The volunteer committee] gathers the movies from several different sources,” Boland explained. The members go to film festivals like the Hamptons International Film Festival and “try to personally grab one of the directors from one of those films. … We did that with ‘Meet the Patels,’ which was at the Hamptons last fall, and we showed it in the spring and it’s opening in theaters in September. So that’s like the dream sequence.”

‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC
‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,’ Photo from PJDC

Other festivals they regularly attend include the Tribeca Film Festival, the Stony Brook Film Festival and the American Film Institute’s festival in Washington, D.C. “So we try to go to festivals, we keep an eye on what’s going on in the news and we keep an eye long distance on the big festivals like Toronto, Sundance,” Boland added. “We also get a lot of emails from documentary organizations.”

The committee aims to screen films that people could not easily find elsewhere, so they avoid films that are streaming on services like Amazon or on television, for example.

When selecting the films, “We look for a great story that needs to be told,” Boland said. “We look for a film that’s well made because we really want to keep the standards up. We look for a subject that we haven’t shown too much of; something that’s new. We look for balance in the season. We also have to worry about our budget, being sure that we can afford the speaker and afford the distribution fee.”

Boland is most excited about the screening of the action-drama “Cartel Land.” She called the film — whose credits include executive producer Kathryn Bigelow, who directed “The Hurt Locker” and “Point Break”  — “an amazing story.”

“For a documentary to come out and be picked up by somebody who is as famous as she is and who is a feature director, it’s just an additional testament to how amazing this film is.”

The first five documentaries will be screened on Mondays at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 7 p.m. The last two will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center on the Stony Brook University campus at 6 p.m., also on Mondays. Doors open one half-hour before showtime. Tickets for all films are $7 and will be sold at the door. Admission is free for undergraduate students at the Stony Brook screenings.

The group is always looking for volunteers of all ages to help out at the event.

“We want this to go on beyond us and it would be great to have enough volunteers to have a continuing staff that keeps renewing itself,” Boland said.

For more information or to volunteer, call 631-473-5220 or visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film schedule
• The fall season will kick off at Theatre Three with “Deep Web” on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. The documentary reveals the inside story of Ross William Ulbricht, the convicted 30-year-old entrepreneur accused of being the “Dread Pirate Roberts,” creator and operator of the online black market Silk Road. Winner of Best International Feature at the Global Visions Festival, the film explores “how the brightest minds and thought leaders behind the deep web are now caught in the crosshairs of the battle for control of a future inextricably linked to technology, with our digital rights hanging in the balance.” Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the guest speaker will be director Alex Winter, who played Bill S. Preston, Esq. alongside Reeves in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC
An image from ‘Love Marriage in Kabul.’ Photo from PJDC

• The second film in the series, “Very Semi-Serious” by Leah Wolchock, to be screened on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, delves into the history of The New Yorker magazine’s cartoons and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the cartoon department. Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff provides “revealing access to his weekly pitch meetings where aspiring and established cartoonists present their work, and where pride is left behind, as hundreds of submitted cartoons get rejected.” It is the winner of the best Bay Area documentary feature at the Golden Gate Awards following the San Francisco International Film Festival. Guest speaker will be New Yorker cartoonist and former Stony Brook resident George Booth, who is featured in the film.

“Cartel Land,” to be screened on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. at Theatre Three, focues on the Mexican drug war, especially vigilante groups fighting Mexican drug cartels. The film focuses on Tim “Nailer” Foley, the leader of volunteer border patrol group Arizona Border Recon, and Dr. José Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who leads the Autodefensas, one of the vigilante groups. Matthew Heineman won the Best Director Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography for the film in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The guest speaker will be producer Tom Yellin.

The fourth film, titled “The Russian Woodpecker,” will be screened at Theatre Three on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. The documentary follows Ukranian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, who believes the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 was an elaborate government cover-up designed to mask a failed 8-billion-ruble antenna, known as the “Russian Woodpecker,” intended to interfere with Western radio frequencies and located near the radioactive site. Rich with Soviet history and the stories of the area’s former residents, this documentary chronicles the history of one of the most chilling events of our time as well as Alexandrovich’s attempts to spread the word of his theory. Winner of the World Documentary Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Director Chad Gracia will be the guest speaker of the evening.

• The series continues on Oct. 19 with a screening of “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict” at Theatre Three at 7 p.m. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland uses recently unearthed audio recordings from 1978-79 of the art collector’s last interviews and archival photos to create a portrait of one of the most powerful women in the history of the art world. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring. Guest speakers will be producers Dan Braun and David Koh. Gallery North in Setauket is co-sponsoring the event.

“The Killing Fields of  Dr. Haing S. Ngor,” to be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m., is seen through the eyes of one of the most well-known survivors of the Cambodian genocide, Dr. Haing S. Ngor. The film recently won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The guest speaker will be Dr. Ngor’s niece, Sophia Ngor Demetri, who escaped from Cambodia with Dr. Ngor and appears in the film, and his nephew, Wayne Ngor, who narrates the film.

• The final film in the series, “Love Marriage in Kabul,” will be screened at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. The film follows the quest of an Afghan-Australian woman, Mahboba Rawi, as she “passionately negotiates and challenges old traditions” to make a love marriage happen in Kabul. The film provides a rare glimpse into the courtship and marriage customs of Afghanistan. In English and Persian with English subtitles, this film was the winner of the Audience Choice Award at the Sydney Film Festival. The guest speaker, via Skype, will be producer Pat Fiske.

Emily Dowdell and Bobby Peterson star in ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Photo by Tim Pappalardo

By Charles J. Morgan

Hold on to your wallets! The famous bank robbers Bonnie & Clyde are back and they are wreaking havoc at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. The play follows the original plot, with the two of them featured as folk heroes on one level and as public evildoers on another. This twofold approach is what drives CM/PAC’s startling production of this folk opera based on the book by Ivan Menchell, featuring Don Black’s lyrics and Frank Wildhorn’s music.

Bonnie and Clyde do their murderous thieving throughout the southwest in the Depression-torn early thirties. They are characters who awaken in the concupiscible hearts of the non-criminal majority as two who have escaped the dust bowl, the breadlines and outright poverty by doing one thing: taking.

There is balance however. In three different segments, there is a revival meeting in which a fiery evangelical preacher, in maximum decibel, proclaims the Gospel. There is a very slight element of excess here, but what better way for the authors to show that Bonnie and Clyde are criminal outcasts. These revival scenes are among the best in the show. There is even an element of choreography in them.

Bonnie is seen as a celebrity wannabe who even writes poetry. It is doggerel. Yet even as they were on their murdering spree, making headlines, some local newspapers actually published it.

Clyde is a semi-literate, dirt-poor son of a share cropper who shirks all kinds of gainful employment in favor of “taking,” as does his sycophantic brother “Buck.”

Their criminal career was neatly depicted by the set. The indefatigable Patrick Grossman is the set designer and director. Wearing the former hat, he had a system of flats and slats that went from stage right to stage left and were used vertically, there being no need to do any shifting. A vignette of Bonnie and Clyde in bed, or in the act of robbing a bank, as well as the revival scenes would be seen as one or more of the slatted flats were opened and closed — most effective. He also devised a system of projecting flashing contemporary newspapers. Wearing the other hat, Grossman was confronted with the always pressing problem of interpretation and blocking. His talents in this field extend to excellence. He made them real, even down to a consistently applied southwestern accent.

The multi-talented Emily Dowdell played Bonnie Parker, coupling her powerful soprano with coyness, assertion, self-pity and an outcry for love admirably. Clyde Barrow was played by Bobby Peterson with a far-ranging tenor and believable toughness both in solo and duet.

Briggs Houston played the role of Marvin “Buck” Barrow, Clyde’s brother. His voice was a middle-register tenor. His somewhat lumbering attitude and his death scene were done to perfection. Shannon Cunningham was Blanche, Buck’s wife. She had great stage presence coupled with a caressable soprano. She suffused the loyal wife role with high morality for Buck. Her performance was impressively consistent.

Then there was Carl Tese as the revivalist preacher. Talk about power! He shook the rafters with the Decalogue, the Beatitudes and John 3 with the range of heavy artillery. ME Junge was Trish, a small part for the leading choreographer; but she is a trouper.

In the musical numbers, the preacher and “congregation” performed “God’s Arms Are Always Open” with, well, dynamism, and Bonnie and Clyde’s duet in “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” told it all.

Musical direction was handled, as usual, by Matthew W. Surico on piano and a solid pit band that featured Kevin Merkel on synthesizer, Christian Wern on bass, Michael Villarico on drums, Diana Fuller and Lauren Carroll on guitars, John Dumlao on violin and Eric Albinder and Andrew Lenahan on woodwinds. It was the pit band effect Surico always achieves that gave body to the whole show. Kudos to the entire cast for a job well done!

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “Bonnie & Clyde” through Sept. 27. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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