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Comedy

From left, Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, TracyLynn Conner, Michael Newman, James D. Schultz, Lauren Gobes and Jeremy Hudson star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

By Rita J. Egan

Skip the night of drinks with friends. The musical “First Date,” now playing at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, will provide more laughs than all of your besties’ dating stories combined.

This contemporary romantic comedy, written by Austin Winsberg with music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to today’s dating game. With a huge dose of humor, “First Date” deals with a number of issues that arise in dating — from what to talk about during your first encounter to should you Google your date before meeting to who pays the check at the end of the night. And, while the musical is chock full of amusing moments, it also subtlety touches on the deeper issue of people building walls around their hearts.

Directed by Jordan Hue, “First Date,” through witty dialogue and song, tells the story of serial dater Casey and blind date newbie Aaron meeting for drinks at a New York City restaurant. A helpful waiter, as well as restaurant patrons who double as people in their lives, surround the twosome. During the 90-minute play, the lead characters experience an array of emotions from nervousness and cynicism to attraction and hope.

TracyLynn Conner as Casey perfectly embodies the energy of today’s sophisticated single female. She is strong, edgy and sexy as well as guarded and jaded from years of dating disappointments. Her sister has even called her a relationship assassin due to her experiences. However, as the date unfolds, Conner effortlessly portrays the softening of Casey who starts to realize that maybe she hasn’t always made the best decisions when it comes to the men in her life.

TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue
TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz star in ‘First Date’ at the SCPA. Photo by Jordan Hue

While Conner possesses strong vocals on all her numbers, it’s during the song “Safer” where she truly shines. The actress delivers the song with such great emotion that many women will find themselves connecting with the lyrics and reaching for the tissues.

James D. Schultz as the awkward and nervous Aaron is endearing and lovable. The audience can’t help but root for him as the date progresses. He easily handles the subtle transformation his character experiences as Casey helps him say goodbye to his hope of ever reuniting with his ex-fiancée. During the number “In Love with You,” Schultz gets to show off his singing abilities. What seems at first to be a touching ballad transforms into an edgy upbeat song where the actor really gets to let loose to the delight of the audience.

Michael Newman as the waiter serves up plenty of laughs throughout the musical, and with his song and dance number, “I’d Order Love,” he lightens up the mood after the emotionally charged “Safer” as well as lights up the stage with his charm.

Rounding out the cast are Charles Jacker, Samantha Carroll, Jeremy Hudson and Lauren Gobes who all alternate between restaurant patrons and people in Casey’s and Aaron’s lives, with whom the couple at times has imaginary conversations.

Jacker is hilarious as Casey’s best friend Reggie who keeps calling her to provide her a way out of the date. During the number “Bailout Song,” as well as its reprises, Jacker delivers comedic lines that had everyone in the audience hysterically laughing.

Hudson, as Aaron’s friend Gabe, receives a great deal of laughs, too. As Aaron imagines how his buddy would advise him, Hudson convincingly plays a typical young man giving his friend bad advice all for the sake of getting a one-night stand.

Carroll, who plays Casey’s sister Lauren, is believable as the average suburban wife and mother when Casey pictures what her sibling would say at various moments during the date. However, it’s while playing Aaron’s mother (as he remembers a letter she left him) that Carroll takes center stage as the audience hears her strong soprano during a touching duet with Schultz, “The Things I Never Said.”

Lauren Gobes delivers the emasculating and moody character of Aaron’s ex-fiancée Allison perfectly. During Aaron’s imaginary conversations with her and the number “Allison’s Theme #1,” the actress easily conveys the essence of this woman and why her ex is the way he is when it comes to females.

Another standout number featuring the whole ensemble is “The Girl for You” as Aaron imagines the reaction of his deceased grandmother, played by Carroll, to the fact that Casey isn’t Jewish. Just when the audience thinks the number can’t get any funnier, Jacker, as Aaron’s imaginary future and confused son, joined by Hudson, breaks into a well-delivered rap number.    

Hue has skillfully directed cast members who handle multiple roles seamlessly and deliver comedic lines effortlessly. Whether in a relationship or currently single, theatergoers will leave “First Date” feeling a bit more optimistic about their dating life and maybe even able to laugh about their own romantic failures. Before buying tickets though, parents should be aware that the musical includes adult language, so secure a babysitter for the kids and enjoy a grown-up night out of the house.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” through March 26. Tickets are $35 each. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

James D. Schultz and TracyLynn Conner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The Long Island premiere of the musical “First Date” is set for March 5 at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, and actors TracyLynn Conner and James D. Schultz are thrilled that local theatergoers will get to experience the hilarious production with them.

The one-act play takes an amusing look at the trials and tribulations of today’s dating world when two people meet for a blind date at a restaurant in New York City. Conner, who plays serial-dater Casey, describes “First Date” as funny, witty and very current when it comes to today’s dating climate.

Schultz, who plays dating newbie Aaron, said the play is filled with great musical numbers, perfect comedic timing and sight gags yet doesn’t veer from its main purpose. “At the heart of all that is the relationship between Aaron and Casey,” the actor said.

While the two have shared the stage in productions in the past, such as “The Farnsworth Invention,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Man of la Mancha,” this is the first time they will be performing together as romantic leads. In addition to acting together, the two have been friends for years, and Conner is Schlutz’s vocal coach. The actors said they are having a great time working together and discovering their characters. 

“My character Casey has been on many, many, many dates. And James’ character, Aaron, this is his very first blind date in his whole life,” Conner said.

Schultz explained that his character has just gotten out of a relationship and has a lot of personal baggage. “When he meets Casey for the first time, he’s not entirely sure how it’s going to work out because she’s so different from him. He’s neurotic and conservative, and she’s very edgy and very fly by your seat, very artsy. And basically, they both awaken something in each other, and they find what makes the other person stronger, at least in that first date and the first time they meet each other,” the actor said.

Both are also excited to be working with director Jordan Hue and their fellow cast mates, Jeremy Hudson, Samm Carroll, Charles Jacker, Lauren V. Gobes and Michael Newman. Conner explained the rest of the actors play multiple roles, either in the restaurant or as past lovers, best friends or sisters in their imaginations.

“It’s a well-seasoned cast that knows exactly how to deliver a comedic line,” Conner said. She admitted that at times the cast can’t stop laughing in rehearsals.

Schultz agreed that they’re all having a great time. “We all mesh well which is what you hope for in a show.”

The actors are thrilled that the Smithtown run is the Long Island premiere of “First Date,” too, and they are confident audiences will like it. “While it’s rather new, it’s also something modern, something sweet, something that I think whether you’re young or old, you’ll be able to enjoy, and because it’s a quick show, you’ll come and have a nice evening at theater and feel something,” Schultz said.

Conner, who is currently single, pointed out that among the hilarity in the musical there are also touching, poignant moments. She said her song “Safer” will be hard to get through without her crying. “It’s just a really touching song, and I think any woman who has been in the dating world will hear this song and say ‘yes, that’s me’,” the actress said.

Schultz hopes that audiences will connect with the characters too and feel like they are watching a couple on a date. “What we’re striving for is trying to create a slice of life [with] the audience looking at these two people basically finding each other.” Conner added, “You see two people standing on the edge of something great if they let themselves see it.”

Off stage, standing on the edge of something great is a concept both actors are familiar with. While audiences will find out the fate of Casey and Aaron by the end of the play, Conner’s and Schultz’s futures are both continuing tales. The actors, who have performed extensively on Long Island, are auditioning and open to a variety of acting roles including for stage, commercials, television and film.

“I want to put myself out there for whatever is out there, whatever piques my interest,” Schultz said.

Conner agrees to being open to it all. “When you have a passion to do this, I feel like there are some shows I would do in a cardboard box just to be able to play that role.”

For now, Conner’s and Schultz’s calendars are booked up with 14 nights of first dates at the theater in Smithtown, and they invite local musical lovers to join them.

“It’s a great show for a date night out. Get the babysitter and just have a night out and possibly remember what your first date was like with your significant other,” Conner said.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown, will present “First Date” March 5 through March 26. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

From left, Nancy Lemenager, Mickey Solis, Alet Taylor and Chris Kipiniak in a scene from ‘God of Carnage’ at the Engeman. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

By Charles J. Morgan

Four highly skilled Equity members starred equally in Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater’s production of “God of Carnage” that opened Friday, Jan. 21. This tightly written effort was written by Yasmina Reza in French and translated to English by Christopher Hampton. Direction was by Richard T. Dolce, who is also producing artistic director of the Engeman.

On a gleaming geometrical set with little depth and one, little used exit, the four characters — two sets of parents — meet to discuss in a calm, adult, logical manner the fact that the son of one of the couples had clobbered the other’s son with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth. The concessive discussion gradually escalates into a full-scale riot of threats, name-calling, replete with blistering vulgarities, physical assaults and, amid slugs of Puerto Rican rum and (let’s admit it), a technically pointedly directed vomiting scene right down stage center! At the height of it husband goes after wife to make it an eight-way free-for-all.

Chris Kipiniak and Alet Taylor play the first couple, Alan and Annette. The “offended” pair are played by Nancy Lemenager and Mickey Solis as Veronica and Michael. The two couples are equally combative, each with their own strategies.

But what are the strategies? Reza wants to bring out the inner rage that is in us all exemplified by the four battlers. They appear to be happily married upper-middle-class types, but this is a veneer. The furnaces of hate, vindictiveness and self-righteousness not too gradually come to the surface, shattering the patina of class politeness and sociability. This tsunami of ill will is made out to be what is truly natural, all else being a glaze of neighborliness under which lies not a madeleine but deadly nightshade.

It is a compelling play as a vehicle for getting inside the head and heart of the audience. And this it accomplishes piercingly. The intra and the inter of family squabbling is not exactly the story line. Reza uses more than a scalpel to surgically excise and reveal to the light the inner workings of the human psyche … she wields a meat cleaver.

If it would be productive to prescind from criticizing the show and talk about the acting, let’s proceed with vigor! The quartet performed as a theatrical exemplar. Kipiniak as Alan, an attorney, is wrapped up in one thing only … his cellphone. Taylor, as his wife Annette, starts off as a loving monument to marriage and motherhood. Lemenager as Veronica and Solis as Michael have careers; she an art loving crusader for the unfortunates of Darfur, he a toilet bowl salesman. All deserve high praise for their acting skills especially in the manner in which they gradually get at each others’ throats. This invaluable skill even prevented the whole thing from degenerating unto pie-in-the-face slapstick.

Your scribe would not say that Dolce had an easy task in this no-intermission show. He had to infuse real life into all four, and to block them accordingly, a result he achieved masterfully not only with aplomb but with art.   

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “God of Carnage” through March 6. Tickets range from $59 to $64. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Three of the nation’s top comics to appear on Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

The Smithtown Fire Department is planning a comedy night to raise money for truck repairs. File photo

The Smithtown Fire Department will hold its third annual Bulldog Restoration Comedy Show to benefit the restoration of the department’s 1935 Mack Hook and Ladder truck.

The restoration of a historic piece of Smithtown and the Fire Department’s history is being totally paid for by the generosity of firefighters and donors. No taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the project.

Appearing at the 8 p.m. show are three fan favorite comedians. On the schedule are Dion Flynn, the face and voice of Barack Obama on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” Seth Herzog, comic, actor and warm-up act to get the audience going each night on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and the great Gilbert Gottfried, beloved stand-up comedian, actor and voice artist.

Tickets are priced at $60 each and include the show, an open beer, soda and wine bar and intermission snacks.

To purchase tickets online visit the Smithtown Fire Department website at www.smithtownfd.org or call 631-486-0958.

By Julianne Cuba

Peaches Rodriguez, a break dancing pioneer, stand-up comedian and East Northport resident who broke into stardom after her role in the 1984 film, “Beat Street,” is the unlikely doppelgänger of a well-known French politician.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Peaches Rodriguez
Comic and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Rodriguez

After a break dancing competition in Queens last month, Abdel Karim, who is a hip-hop choreographer and a friend of a friend of Rodriguez on Facebook, created a video meme of Rodriguez break dancing with the suggestion that it was actually Marine Le Pen, the popular nationalistic politician, dancing just after local elections in France.

Because of its extreme absurdity, the video went viral in France, with nearly 300,000 views on Facebook. That video, along with a second video of Rodriguez and a few other break-dancers, also went viral in the United States, with more than 100,000 hits.

“It’s always good to get exposure no matter how you get it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview this week. “You can’t control something that goes viral. And you have to take it as it comes. It’s almost so random you just have to roll with it and enjoy it as it happens … the views are continuing to go up.”

It’s as if there was a video of a Hillary Clinton look-alike break dancing after an election, Rodriguez suggested for comparison — because that’s exactly what happened, she said.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license
A video of Peaches Rodriguez has gone viral, due to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license

In the 1980s, after moving from Connecticut to New York with the hopes of beginning a career in comedy, Rodriguez said she got into break dancing after realizing how good she actually was at that style of dance.

Today, Rodriguez still does both — stand-up comedy and break dancing. But her main job is a traveling comedian in the tristate area, she said.

“I break-dance part time, they have battles and events,” she said. “It’s a cool underground scene.”

Rodriguez also spends her time mentoring young, novice dancers in the industry.

Due to her new intercontinental fame, Rodriguez said she has a few gigs already lined up in the U.S.
Rodriguez added that if Clinton wins the 2016 presidential election, she would not hesitate to dress up like the former U.S. secretary of state and bust a move or two.

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