Tags Posts tagged with "Jeffrey Sanzel"

Jeffrey Sanzel

Comedy fundraiser

Chris Roach will join the group on Nov. 3.

Long Island Comedy Festival will host a special Stand-Up Comedy fundraiser at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. to help the beloved theater recover from recent flash flood damage. Comedians from around the country will be flooding the Theatre Three stage including Talia Reese, Jamie Gravy, Maria Walsh, Michael Somerville, host Paul Anthony and, just announced, Chris Roach. Tickets are $39 per person. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

 

  • Comedians from around the country will be FLOODING the Theatre Three stage!
  • The audience will experience a WAVE of Laughter & hilarious fun!
  • RUSH IN to get your tickets to this outrageous night of LIVE Stand-Up Comedy!

 

by -
0 354
The cover of Dineen's novel

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In his novel, “Suburban Gangsters,” Michael P. Dineen paints a bleak picture of the drug dealing/criminal culture on Long Island, spanning the 1980s right through the War on Drugs of the 2000s. And while Dineen is dealing with a difficult and often ugly story, he has managed to create an engaging and occasionally darkly humorous chronicle.  

Clearly, the book is a fictional account of his own life, told first person through Huntington resident Patrick Hunter. While Hunter was born in New York City, he was raised on Long Island. And while his experience focuses mainly on the drug dealing issues that were faced locally, he tells a universal story.

Hunter is the son of a cold and demanding Army vet and New York City firefighter. He starts off as an athlete but strays from the path. He can trace the turning point to his father refusing to co-sign a car loan for him. “Had my conversation gone differently with my father in the spring of 1985, I may have never become a criminal.” By his junior year, it is this deep-seated anger with his father that turns this jock into a burnout and juvenile delinquent.  

The cover of Dineen’s novel

A combination of intense training and steroids also fuel his rage and anti-social behavior. He and his friends “trained like animals” in this hybrid martial art called American Combat Karate. His change in personality draws him to like-minded and like-feeling young people. He begins using cocaine and then successfully selling it. “I had no clue that we had just opened Pandora’s box.” This metaphor points to the perils that follow. 

Dealing out of his home, Hunter could clear $5,000 to $10,000 a week. “For being average kids from the suburbs, that was serious dough. And we were just starting to scratch the surface of this modern-day gold rush.”

It’s not long before the enterprise begins to grow: “Settling into a nice routine, we began expanding the scope of our business. In addition to selling cocaine, we were now selling steroids, pain pills, other pharmaceuticals, and even small amounts of marijuana. And we also began some small loan sharking.”

Hunter gives an unflinching description of the toll that cocaine and crack cocaine have taken on the community. Throughout the book, there are devastating reports of destruction — both of people and property. (A wilding incident secures his gang’s creed but also called them to the police’s attention.) It is a brutal world where the anger and danger manifest in violent and senseless brawling. The only loyalty in this cutthroat existence is to money. There are many stories here of drug users that involve beatings and worse.  

His life is populated with equally damaged souls. When he falls in love, drugs predictably complicate his life. His girlfriend (and later wife), Vanessa, is a cocaine user and later addicted to pain pills. He shows that there is no emotional security when dealing with an addict. Love may blur the problems but it won’t make them go away. His partner, Jake, is a study in contrast. Jake is a high risk-taker and that causes a much earlier fall than Hunter. Even those who are committed to him in their own way are a liability in this hard society.  

The first shift is when dealers begin making deals with the police and FBI. As they begin to roll over, it becomes an era defined by survival. The narrative refrain is to “trust no one” as the likelihood is betrayal. His life alternates between dealing and partying and hiding and running.

Throughout the narrative, Hunter addresses issues of karma. The fact that he is the one who hooks Vanessa on Percodan (and eventually she goes back to cocaine) is just as much his fault as hers. There is the overall ruin that visits all who are involved. “When you are caught up in the hustle game making easy money, it’s almost impossible to voluntarily stop. It’s just as hard to stop dealing drugs, as it is to stop using drugs. Making that money becomes just as addictive.”

In addition to the drug world, there is theft. A gang called the Crash and Carry Gang are featured throughout. A highly dangerous crew that steals and fences, the intersection of Hunter and these men only furthers his twisted existence.

After a number of years, Hunter shifts his dealing to only selling marijuana and becoming a police informant. This gives both security and the ability to rat out the competition. He and his second partner, Big Ray, make a fortune while serving as police informants:

“We just finished a two-year run of basically being able to deal drugs with police protection. Our involvement with them and setting up that huge bust allowed us to operate while they looked the other way. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. Had you told me back in 1985 that seven years later I would still be dealing, only acting as a double agent by being a federal informant, I would have said you were nuts. But that is the insanity of this lifestyle. If you weren’t smart enough to roll with the changing times, you would have the life expectancy of a housefly.”

The fact is, by this time, everyone was either being caught or flipping. Everyone with whom Hunter had been involved was either cooperating or in jail.

Through all of this, glimmers of Hunter’s humanity come through. There is a poignant account of the death of a friend to heroin overdose (one of many in his journey).  

His love for the daughter he has by Vanessa and his fear for her safety is also very honest. The devastating loss of his karate mentor coincides with the dissolution of his marriage.

And in 1998, Hunter gets hooked on painkillers. The final portion of the book, entitled “To Hell and Back,” is the ultimate karmic payback. He begins the section with an unflinching assessment of the opioid and heroin crises: 

“The painful truth is no one seemed to care when heroin was devastating the inner city minority neighborhoods. Now that Little Johnny and Suzy from the bourgeoisie started dying, people finally started taking notice. That is politics for you. … For years, my fellow criminals and I cashed in on the suffering and unquenchable desire of a population that demanded drugs. It was almost like taking candy from a baby, it was so easy. But now the universe was about to flip the script and teach me a punishing lesson, you reap what you sow.”

While he began with a pill addiction, like so many, Hunter shifted to heroin because it was both cheaper and more accessible. His own downfall is inevitable:

“[H]eroin became the new love of my life. It was a total obsession for me. My habit became enormous overnight. Within a few weeks, I was sniffing twenty bags or two bundles a day. This continued for about three months until [his dealer] just up and disappeared. Now unable to get it, I began to panic. Withdrawal began creeping in and I was miserable.”

What ensues is a circle of detox, followed by relapse, methadone clinics, jail, homelessness … There is a harrowing observation that after 9/11, dopers thoughts were only how would they get their fix? And, of course, the question of how did he get here haunts him: He went from a million dollar drug business to being a junkie with nothing to his name. It is not until 2008 that Hunter is finally drug free and has his life on track.

In the beginning, Dineen writes with wonder at his often good luck … and later is accepting of his ultimate fate. In the end, he reaches both a sense of self and responsibility. His final thought is an important warning:

“So let this be a cautionary tale to anyone who is thinking about embarking on a life of crime or being involved with narcotics. There is no riding off into the sunset, no Hollywood endings when it comes to drug and crime. You will be lucky to escape with your freedom, and most importantly, your life!”

“Suburban Gangsters” by Michael P. Dineen is available online at Amazon.com or from its distributor AT www.dorrancepublishing.com.

JAZZ HANDS The cast of 'A Kooky Spooky Halloween'

By Heidi Sutton

With Halloween just around the corner, Theatre Three has all the bases covered. While mature audiences enjoy a creepy and spooky “The Addams Family,” young theatergoers can have fun as well with an adorable show titled “A Kooky Spooky Halloween.” The original musical written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy returns to the theater for the second year in a row through Oct. 27.

A scene from the show

The story centers around a friendly ghost named Abner (Steven Uihlein) who has just graduated from Haunting High School and is given a medallion of invisibility. Abner is immediately assigned to haunt Aberdeen’s Boarding House, famously known for being the most haunted house in Harrison County U.S.A and for serving the best toast. There are only two rules he has to follow — he can only haunt at night and he can’t lose the medallion or he’ll be seen by the living.

But Abner has a secret — he is afraid of the dark, which is “like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!” according to his best friend Lavinda the Witch (Michelle LaBozzetta). She promptly gives him a night-light to wear and promises to help him with his haunting duties.

When Abner and Lavinda arrive at the boarding house, they find Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her boarders, Kit Garret (Nicole Bianco) and the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Andrew Lenahan), his wife Penelope (Chrysovalantou Tsoumpelis) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes), whose alliterations using words that start with the letter P are positively perplexing, in the kitchen getting ready for Halloween.

When Pip puts on a pumpkin pullover and starts to tell pumpkin jokes (okay I’ll stop), Abner puts a speed spell on the group, making them stuff Halloween goodie bags, do jumping jacks, quack like a duck, sing and dance in fast motion. He then casts a spell to make them get stuck to each other.

Abner casts a speed spell

In a sudden twist of events, fellow graduate and ghost with a grudge Dora Pike (Beth Ladd) shows up and steals Abner’s night-light and medallion of invisibility and hides them in Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world (where it’s really, really dark). Now visible, Abner must try to convince the boarders, who are still stuck to each other, to help him and Lavinda get his property back. Will they help him? And will Abner be able to overcome his fear of the dark?

Directed by Sanzel, the eight-member adult cast delivers an energetic performance that touches on the power of friendship and the importance of helping others.

Accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are terrific, especially “Into the World I Go” by Abner, the downright creepy “It Will All Fade to Black” by Dora, the sweet “A Witch Is a Person” by Lavinda and the fun group number, “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast.”

The end result is a hauntingly fun afternoon that children and parents will love.

Snacks and beverages are available for purchase during intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged and souvenir cat, pumpkin, vampire and ghost dolls will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission for $5. Meet the cast in the lobby for photos on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” through Oct. 27. Children’s theater continues with “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

by -
0 647
The cover of Pielmeier's latest book

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Everything you think you know about me is a lie.”

This bold claim is made by the author, one James Cook, born Feb. 23, 1860 — the Man Who Will Be Hook. It is an appropriately provocative statement as what follows is an extraordinary account that is so beautifully crafted it rings true. It is an epic, engaging and profound journey.

Taking a famous story and its characters and presenting them from a different perspective is a delicate and difficult task. More often than not, these attempts miss the mark. The exceptions (Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked,” Tom Mula’s “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol”) are few. We can joyously welcome to this short list John Leonard Pielmeier’s remarkably entertaining “Hook’s Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself.”

While honoring J.M. Barrie’s source, “Peter Pan,” this is an entirely unique universe, told eloquently with candor and avoiding the pitfalls of preciousness. The book is both humorous and heart-breaking in turns and results in a portrait of the titular character that is memorably dimensional.

The novel explains how both the captain’s hook and Captain Hook came to be. The narrator begins with a detailed account of his emotionally dark and complicated childhood (shades of David Copperfield), a boy living in the shadow of an absent father and whose mother’s complicated history is gradually brought to light. An unfair expulsion from Eton sets his course, being drugged and impressed into naval service at 14 years old. Cook’s odyssey to Hook begins here.

At the center of the tale is the contrast of the man (Hook) and the child (Pan). It is a sharp account of the consequences of actions and the repercussions of retaliation:

My enemy. I refused to write his name, though it is a name well known, oft-illuminated by the gaudy lights of money-raking theatrical houses, where it is exploited for glamour and gain. Wherever his name is lauded mine is hissed. We are forever linked. The same audiences who pretend to save a supercilious fairy’s life by applause either laugh at me as a piratical clown or sneer at me as the Devil incarnate. Children cast the least popular child to play me in the nursery, while their professional counterparts hire histrionic overachievers to portray me. Heavens, what villainy! And all because of a lying tale told by a dour Scotsman that casts him as Hero and me as the Dastardly Villain who would stop at nothing to see him dead.

And yet, Hook makes clear that before they were enemies, they were friends as devoted as brothers. He knows that Peter is what he is: “I forgave him his childish behavior. He was, after all, my first and closest friend, the very best part of myself.”

The cover of Pielmeier’s latest book

Peter is both so innocent as to not understand what a pocket is and how it works, yet, like a child, capable of terrible cruelty. He is doomed to live in the “now.” This is a very different take on “Peter Pan,” finding the reality of what it means to never grow up: “In deifying youth, the Never-Archipelago frees us from the unknown — how marvelous! ‘You will never grow old’ promises delight; ‘You will never be different’ sounds like a punishment.”

What passes between James and Peter is the driving force of their story leading to Hook’s desire for revenge:

The remarkable thing about revenge is that it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it really is. There’s no false altruism involved, no lessons to be taught, no fortune to be gained, and more often than not, it has terrible consequences for those who seek it out. It’s a complete mystery to me why it is so attractive. Yet it is. I admit it. I was drawn to it as if it were a lovely lady (and it sometimes is).

This extraordinary understanding infuses Cook/Hook with a profundity that further shows how complex and yet accessible Pielmeier’s protagonist is. Hook, the narrator, is bravura and melancholy, struggle and hope.

In this world, there is birth and death and yet the laws of physics, geography, astronomy and even time itself are broken and twisted. “Yesterday” and “tomorrow” have different meanings. It is mind-bending and yet completely logical onto itself.  

In the midst of this, many of the images, ideas and characters inhabiting Barrie’s world are threaded in Pielmeier’s distinctively rich tapestry. Here is the fairy dust (flying sand); shadows lost, found and stolen; and “second star to the right.” Tink the fairy and the Darling family take their places in new and innovative ways. A cast of buccaneers, headed by the kindly Smee (the boy’s first and true shipboard friend and the one who dubs him “Captain”), populate a world that is shared with the mermaid lagoon (signaling the boy’s burgeoning sexuality), wrestling bears and other marvels.  

The young James’ great romance is Tiger Lily, beautiful and brave, noble from a noble tribe, whom he tries to describe but stops short with the simple yet telling “please picture the first love of your life. She was as beautiful as that.” Pielmeier lands gently on these divine truths.

 Like any great pirate yarn, there is a great deal of adventure. A hidden treasure map leads to mutiny “with buckets of sea water mixed with oceans of blood.” There is a secret monster living in a Deep Well and a sea battle that ends with a Viking Burial.

The crocodile (named “Daisy” for Hook’s mother), well-known in the Peter Pan oeuvre, is so much more, her place in the story revealed in one of the most innovative and creative strokes in a novel full of imaginative flights.

There is a clever and delightful exchange between young James Cook and Peter when they first meet. It is a hilarious dialogue about baptism and the end of time. It is wide-eyed and innocent and yet pointed and shrewd. These charming moments are interspersed in a driving and thrilling narrative that weaves a mystery intertwining the entire company.

The book not only encompasses Barrie’s world but there are nods to history and literature, ranging from explorer James Cook, the murders in Whitechapel and Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.” The references are subtle and enrich the chronicle as no shared incident is without value.

Pielmeier’s writing is visceral. A journey through an underground cave is thrilling and breathtaking in the tradition of great adventure novels. In addition, he has created individuals of great authenticity in a fantastical world. Almost no one is wholly good or bad, but shades of both, often alternating within the same beings.

The conclusion joins all of the pieces in a satisfying, cathartic and touching resolution. 

While this marks Pielmeier’s debut novel, he is a gifted playwright, author of one of the most important and powerful plays of the last 40 years: “Agnes of God.” It is no surprise that he should prove equally successful in this genre. This will certainly be the first of many such works and let us hope for another visit to his unique vision of Neverland and its environs.

“Hook’s Tale” is a remarkable book, one that will sit proudly on the shelf occupied by the original “Peter Pan” itself. “I am stuck with the Truth,” writes Hook, “and the Truth is neither nice, clean, nor simple.” But, in Pielmeier’s hands Hook’s “Truth” is unflinching in its heart and inspiring in its humanity.

‘A Hook’s Tale’ is available online at Simon & Schuster, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. For more information on the author, visit www.johnpielmeier.com.

The cast of 'The Addams Family'. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Heidi Sutton

Halloween is still a few weeks away, but there’s something creepy and kooky and altogether spooky going on at Theatre Three that’s not to be missed.

The theater opens its 49th season with the musical comedy “The Addams Family,” a nostalgic trip down memory lane for fans of this atypical clan, and judging by the packed house on opening night, that amounts to quite a few.

Created by Charles Addams, the lovable, albeit macabre, family first appeared in a New Yorker comic strip in 1938 but truly came to life in the 1960s ABC television series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones as Gomez and Morticia. The two film versions in the 1990s paved the way for the Broadway musical in 2010 starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.

The cast of ‘The Addams Family’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Last Saturday’s opening performance began as it should, with the audience snapping their fingers or clapping their hands to the iconic theme song, and suddenly they appeared — all the familiar, eccentric characters we have all come to love — Gomez (Matt Senese), Morticia (TracyLynn Conner), Uncle Fester (Rick Grossman), Grandma (Ginger Dalton), Wednesday (Jessica Murphy), Pugsley (Max Venezia), Lurch (James Taffurelli) and Thing and Cousin Itt (both played by Cameron Turner). What followed was a fun, wonderful evening of live theater.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the show opens, most fittingly, in the family cemetery (“Oh the intoxicating smell of the graveyard!”) as the family lets their ancestors out of a mausoleum to celebrate what it is to be an Addams. It is here that we see the first of many “Thriller”-inspired musical numbers, expertly choreographed by Nicole Bianco, that dominate the show.

The storyline revolves around Wednesday who is all grown up and has fallen in love with a “normal boy,” Lucas Beineke (Matt Paredi) from Ohio (“the swing state!”), and wants to bring him and his parents, straight arrow Mal (Steve Ayle) and the perfectly rhyming Alice (Linda May), over for one “normal night.” She confides in her father that she wants to marry Lucas and makes him promise not to tell her mother yet, putting Gomez in several hilarious sticky situations and leading up to his solo, “Trapped (like a corpse in the ground).”

Matt Senese as Gomez and Jessica Murphy as Wednesday. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Uncle Fester, on the other hand, recruits the ancestors to find out if this is really true love, and if so, to help it along. Dressed in ghostly white costumes, they float in and out of every scene as they spy on the family’s affairs.

As the Beineke family arrive, they are invited to take part in the family game, Full Disclosure, during which everyone takes a sip from a sacred chalice and reveals something they’ve never told anyone. When Pugsley steals a magical potion from Grandma (“One swig of that and Mary Poppins turns into Madea!”) and pours it in the chalice, the evening takes a dark and eventful turn.

Accompanied by an outstanding eight-member band led by Jeffrey Hoffman, the 20 musical numbers perfectly tie the storyline together.   The costumes by Chakira Doherty are wonderful, especially for the ghoulish ancestors, and the Gothic set, cleverly designed by Randall Parsons includes panels that swivel and rotate to reveal different scenery. As the actors sing their solo or duet, they move toward the edge of the stage as the curtain closes, allowing the set to be quickly changed for the next scene.

With exceptional vocals, the entire cast become fully immersed in their individual character. The chemistry between Gomez and Morticia is as alive as ever. Morticia: “I feel darkness and grief and unspeakable sorrow.” Gomez: “I love it when you speak sexy, Cara Mia.” 

Matt Senese as Gomez and TracyLynn Conner as Morticia. Photo by Peter Lanscombe

Although she’s in love, Wednesday’s inner darkness makes several appearances, and Uncle Fester is as lovable as ever (yes, he is still in love with the moon.) Pugsley secretly loves to be tortured (electrocuted to be precise) by his big sister, Grandma is still wacky and Lurch is still grunting; but in the end they are just one big family that has to deal with every day issues just like everyone else.

In his director’s notes, Sanzel sums it up perfectly. “The ultimate message of ‘The Addams Family’ musical is to find out who you are so you can be true to yourself. Whether vacationing in the sewers of Paris, starting out in a new marriage or finding the spark in an old one, or flying to your true love (‘To the moon, Alice!’), the Addams Family and ‘The Addams Family’ remind us to ‘live before we die.’”

Go see this wonderful show. You’ll find much to cherish.

Stay after the performance for a photo with the cast on stage if you wish — the $5 donation goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students and $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in a scene from ‘Operation Finale’. Photo courtesy of MGM Pictures

By Jeffrey Sanzel

“Operation Finale” depicts the Israeli secret agents who extracted notorious S.S. Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires. Directed by Chris Weitz, with a screenplay by Matthew Orton, this is a taut historical thriller using Mossad agent Peter Malkin’s book, “Eichmann in My Hands,” for its source.

Eichmann was considered the architect of the Final Solution. It was he who masterminded the transportation logistics that brought millions of innocent Jews to their deaths in concentration camps across Europe. In writing of Eichmann, Hannah Arendt referred to “the banality of evil” — an “ordinary” man who expressed neither remorse nor responsibility for his hideous actions, the epitome of “just following orders.” He has been represented in books, plays and films throughout the latter half of the twentieth and well into the twenty-first century.

Mossad agent Isser Harel’s The House on Girabaldi Street(1975) was turned into a television movie in 1979.  The Man Who Captured Eichmann(also using Eichmann in My Hands) explores much of the same territory.  Robert Shaw’s playThe Man in the Glass Booth(and subsequent film) were inspired by Eichmann’s trial.  Eichmann has been portrayed by Robert Duvall, Stanley Tucci, Donald Pleasance, Maximillian Schell, Werner Klemperer, and Alfred Burke.

Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann in a scene from ‘Operation Finale’. Photo courtesy of MGM Pictures

In “Operation Finale” the year is 1960 and the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is given information that points to Eichmann having escaped to Buenos Aires where he now lives under the alias Ricardo Klement. The film follows the covert mission of a small band of agents as they confirm, capture and finally transport Eichmann to Jerusalem to stand trial.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (in a strong cameo by Simon Russel Beale) imparts the importance of the mission: “Our memory reaches back through recorded history. The book of memory still lies open. And you here now are the hand that holds the pen. If you succeed, for the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner. And we will warn off any who wishes to follow his example. If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg you. Do not fail.”

It is a delicate balance to blend a Holocaust drama with a thriller. It is a fine and often dangerous line when representing anything that touches on this topic. While the movie does not take place during the Holocaust, it is clearly part of its aftermath and therefore must be approached as carefully and as honestly as possible. For the most part, the film succeeds, working best when the two leads engage.

Oscar Isaac plays Mossad agent Peter Malkin, while Ben Kingsley is Eichmann, his emotionally manipulative arch-nemesis. These are two masterful actors delivering powerful, understated performances. It is their scenes that resonate most strongly.

Isaac displays the conflict of the character’s desire for revenge (his sister and her children, murdered in Lublin, are represented in visions that haunt him throughout) weighed against the need to bring Eichmann to justice on the world stage. His struggle is both painful and vivid.  Kingsley — who has portrayed Holocaust survivors Itzhak Stern in “Schindler’s List” and Otto Frank in “Anne Frank: The Whole Story” — delivers a disturbingly subtle and emotionally complicated Eichmann in an unnervingly nuanced performance.

There are moments that are chilling in their simplicity: watching Eichmann counting train cars with his very young son as the agents spy on them; Malkin shaving Eichmann with a straight razor; Eichmann’s casual question, “Who did we take from you, Peter? Who did you lose?”; a sleeve revealing a blue tattoo.  

The tension and conflict among the captors themselves, who each bring varied points of view, highlights their humanity, and lends further texture to the film. In addition, this is a dangerous Argentina, with a harrowing scene depicting a gathering of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. There is a clear sense that the government is more than complicit in its protection of these murderers. These elements enrich the world in which it is set.

The film is brisk and focused and the performances are uniformly strong. In supporting roles, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov and Mélanie Laurent (all part of the Mossad team) are particularly noteworthy. While occasionally exchanging depth for dramatic tension, overall, “Operation Finale” is an engaging and often disquieting account of a very important historical event.

From left, The March Hare, The Dormouse and The Mad Hatter invite Alice to a Mad Tea Party in a scene from the show.

By Heidi Sutton

Alice and the Cheshire Cat

Oh my ears and whiskers! For too short a time, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre will present the musical “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland,” a modern twist on the Lewis Carroll classic novel of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and has a most peculiar experience. Although the story is over 150 years old, it has remarkable staying power and is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Kevin F. Story, the show opens on a rainy day at Camp Lackaday Woods. The campers are bored and the lodge counselor tries to keep them entertained indoors with a sing-along. One of the campers named Alice (Meg Bush) sees a white rabbit (Heather Kuhn) appear and follows it, only to fall down a rabbit hole and meet The Cheshire Cat (Mark Jackett). “Which way should I go?“ she asks him. “It matters not where you go. When you get there you’ll find yourself here,” is the grinning reply, setting the tone for what’s to follow — a mind-bending production that’s simply delightful.

Alice meets The Caterpillar in a scene from the show.

During her “unusual adventures” Alice takes part in a “What’s Your Name” contest with The Caterpillar (Nicole Bianco); has a tea party with The Mad Hatter (Steven Uihlein), The March Hare (Kayla Jones) and The Dormouse (Julianna Bellas); hitches a ride with The White Knight (Matt Hoffman); meets Tweedledee (Jones) and Tweedledum (Hoffman); and is invited to a game of croquet by The Queen of Hearts (Ginger Dalton). When the kingdom’s tarts go missing, Alice is accused of stealing and must stand trial. Will she be found guilty by the queen and lose her head?

Of course, a show like this would not be possible without the supporting cast — members of the theater’s Preteen and Advanced Preteen summer acting workshop who play numerous roles including a deck of cards, flowers and contestants in a game show. The entire cast does a fantastic job.

Alice meets the Queen of Hearts.

Directed by Sanzel, the script is filled with riddles and jokes and the musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock, are terrific, especially “Tea!” by Uihlein (“We’re all mad here!”) and “Off With Their Heads” by Dalton (“Nothing cheers me up like a good clean chop!”).

Yes, the play is lots of nonsense, as Alice would say, but it sure is fun to watch. Don’t even try to figure it all out. It’s time to throw logic out the window and just sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

Buy a snack or beverage during intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present three more performances of “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” on Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 11 at 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. 

Children’s Theatre continues with “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27 and “Barnaby Saves Christmas” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“Hi, it’s me – Shellbee!” Thus begins “Shellbee’s Story,” a tale of a dog (no pun intended) as told by the dog and “recorded” by her “Mommy,” Port Jefferson resident Jennifer Flynn-Campbell. “My story,” continues Shellbee in the first lines, “has been put into words so humans see the world through my eyes, hear the sounds of emotions, and come to understand the purpose behind the adventures of my life.”

Related in a series of almost three dozen letters, Shellbee tells her own story from pup to forever home and beyond. It is funny and touching, clever and honest. In this unusual journey, Flynn-Campbell has chosen to endow the black Lab with extraordinary insight; by the end, she has artfully convinced us that it is Shellbee relating her life’s story.

The author with her mom, Jennifer Flynn-Campbell

The book — a hybrid of memoir and fiction and something all its own — is not just for dog lovers but for anyone who has ever been touched by a pet (and, this would most likely encompass just about everyone). Shellbee makes us reflect on ourselves as keepers of these innocent souls — the pleasures and the joys of companionship but also the deeper responsibility. It is about unconditional love on both sides or, in Shellbee’s words, it is “the story of my heartfelt love festival on earth.”

From the get-go, the “Hi, it’s me — Shellbee” that opens each letter captures the voice we imagine our canine companions to have. It celebrates the “it’s-me-it’s-you-I’m-so-glad-your-here” enthusiasm that dogs project.

We are treated to her earliest memories and the routines that root her life. Everything — from parties to pools and canoeing on the lake to staying in hotels — is described in childlike wonderment and appreciation. Shellbee compares country life with city living and ponders with puzzlement her first snow. She vividly relates the terror of getting lost and the relief of being found. 

And, of course, at the heart of her thoughts is food, food and food. Food, needless to say, is the focus and center of Shellbee’s life, but it is presented in a manner both humorous and believable. (Even the success of a wedding is measured by how much food is dropped on the ground.)  

The Labrador retriever details her training (most notably under the person she refers to as “Dogman”). She does have concern that she wants to maintain her individuality and not become a “Stepford Dog” (which she most certainly does not). She frames the “training” as “companion connection” and “obedience” as “comfort connection.” Shellbee (Flynn-Campbell) has clear ideas about how dogs should live and be educated. She even does work as a therapy dog, here described from her appropriately simple perspective.

The cover of Shelbee’s book

Shellbee imparts her responses to all of the creatures she comes across — both human and animal, viewing them as one world — all her “littermates.” She even assigns humans to different dog breeds, categorizing them on looks and personality including a hilarious description of her first visit to Santa: “The first time I saw him I was creeped out: a big, fluffy, hairy-faced human yelping, ‘Ho Ho Ho!’” It is an accurate assessment from an outside point of view.  

Shellbee also likes galleries because she has “plenty of room to wag [her] tail while viewing the artwork.”  

Flynn-Campbell also introduces some interesting references to studies that have been done — most notably about “declarative memories” and how and why dogs remember the people with whom they’ve crossed paths. In addition, she writes about scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s work on “morphic resonance,” which explains how dogs are aware when their people are coming home. These small digressions further enhance an overall perspective on what it is to have these dogs so present in our lives.

The book deals with serious health issues — both of Shellbee’s as well as both of her human parents. How they support each other in these difficult times is related in tender and touching passages, showing the pain and emotional confusion, and the pure happiness of being reunited. Furthermore, the important topic of animal abuse and the responsibility we have to end it, is highlighted briefly but pointedly: “Humans put a lot of work into helping heal animals who have been hurt on earth.” It is a statement, but, more importantly, a reminder.  

There are many photos of Shellbee with her family in various places. They are not portraits but snapshots that capture her in all her day-to-day adventures. Credited to Ariana Boroumand, they make a welcome addition to the narrative.  

Shellbee continually comes back to the fact that love will conquer all. Ultimately, it comes down to family. “Knowing you can trust someone is a wonderful feeling.” The book builds to a powerful and inevitable conclusion. While you know it is coming, you cannot help but be moved. Shades of the Rainbow Bridge and spiritual connections are present but are neither saccharine nor maudlin: They are a celebration of all Shellbee was. The ending is one that transmutes grief to hope, loss to recovery.  

In the final letter, the sole written by the humans, there is genuine expression of complete appreciation: “Your presence in our lives enriched us in ways that only Shellbee Ann Campbell’s unique soul could. You found a way to break through the struggles we face as humans. Somehow, you always knew just the right thing to do to bring smiles and comfort to everyone you met. Your gift to make tears stop flowing and erase fears from hearts seemed to come naturally to you. You faced each day with effortless happiness, excited for any and all possibilities.”

“Shellbee’s Story” gives a true and poignant meaning to “a dog’s life.”

“Shellbee’s Story” has been featured in Modern Dog magazine as one of its picks for Best Reads and is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Shellbee posthumously appears weekly in her own blog: www.doggyletters.com and has a popular Twitter account, Facebook page as well as an Instagram account.

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

By Heidi Sutton

Now through Aug. 9, Theatre Three’s Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon.” With book by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by Douglas J. Quattrock, the show combines magic, music, dance and a clever script to create an original fairy tale that is simply delightful.

It’s Princess Abigail’s 21st birthday, and her mother, the absent minded Queen Marjorie, has sent out birthday party invitations to everyone in the kingdom (including all eligible bachelors) — everyone except a wicked witch named Wicked Faery. 

The cast of ‘The Princess Who Saved a Dragon’

When the witch realizes she’s been left out of the festivities, she feels slighted and, after calling 1-800-Dragon, summons a fire-breathing serpent to wreak havoc on the land. The queen decrees that whoever slays the dragon may marry the princess. Will a brave knight come forth to save the day?

Directed by Sanzel, the seven-member cast does a wonderful job portraying the story, all the while emphasizing the importance of “just be who you are.” Michaela Catapano (Princess Abigail) gives us a modern version of a warrior princess, confident and brave and not in a rush to get married. Ginger Dalton (Queen Marjorie) is terrific as her forgetful mother, Nicole Bianco is perfectly cast as the Wicked Faery and Steven Uihlein draws the most laughs in the role of the scaly dragon who has a penchant for flowers. (“I’m a gardener, not a fighter.”) 

Andrew Lenahan as Knight Night, the dragon slayer, and Matt Hoffman as his squire, Julius Pleasant, make a great tag team; and jack-of-all-trades Aria Saltini plays over seven supporting roles throughout the show with ease.

Accompanied on piano by Quattrock and choreographed by Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fresh and exciting, especially Lenahan and Hoffman’s duet “The Night Knight Night Came to Be,” Catapano and Uihlein’s duet,“To Be Me” and the fun hip-hop/rap “Spell to Raise a Dragon” by Bianco.

From left, Nicole Bianco and Michaela Catapano in a scene from the show.

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John hit their mark, from Princess     Abigail’s armor and sword to a shimmering dragon outfit to a purple and black witch costume complete with an impressive set of horns.

Now putting a twist on well-known fairy tales is Sanzel’s forte, but this particular “princess and dragon” scenario is so topsy-turvy that nothing is what it seems and hilarity ensues. Although the tale involves a witch and big flying reptile and is told with the use of stage smoke and flashing lights, there is nothing scary about it.

During last Friday’s opening performance, the children in the audience embraced the new show as giggles and laughter filled the theater. When the dragon, aka Scales, appeared at the end of the first act, the excited youngsters pointed and yelled, “I see it! I see it!” And when the cast made its way up the aisles to the lobby for photos after the show, they were greeted with high fives and hugs, a true testament to the magic of live theater.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon” on July 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28 and Aug. 9 at 11 a.m. and Aug. 3 at 1:30 p.m. Children’s theater continues with “Alice’s Most Decidedly Unusual Adventures in Wonderland” from Aug. 3 to 11 and “Kooky Spooky Halloween” from Oct. 6 to 27. Booster seats are available and costumes are encouraged. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Fred Rogers. Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Make the most of this beautiful film

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a portrait of Fred Rogers, a man of deep faith and principles and unique in the pantheon of television personalities. His show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” is lovingly celebrated in this wholly engaging 93 minutes. It does not attempt to be a full-fledged biography but rather a picture of the man in the context of his work and his mission. There are insights into his personal life (interviews with wife and sons), but it is more the story of the evolution of his vocation and his influence on American culture.  

Fred Rogers with Mr. McFeely (David Newell) the delivery man in a scene from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

The film opens with the iconic entrance of Rogers changing into his sweater while singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and we are immediately transported back to the world he created. With its modest production values and its messages of love and understanding, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” became an integral part of our collective experience.

 

The documentary is simple and delicate, mirroring the show and the show’s creator. There are no bells and whistles. We are treated to an assortment of interviews that give perspective on the span and impact of Rogers’ career. What is common to all is that he was exactly who he presented himself to be. An ordained minister, Fred Rogers deeply believed that “love is at the root of everything” — learning, relationships, understanding. He saw television as a wonderful way to connect with children; a tool to make them better and happier people.  

Fred Rogers poses with the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

His wife (and much of the documentary) posits that, in essence, Rogers was Daniel Striped Tiger, the first of the many puppets he employed. The tamed feline represents Rogers’ doubts but also the ability to listen and learn. Daniel Striped Tiger is the bridge between the real and fantasy worlds that Rogers invented. As a child, he had been plagued by various illnesses and spent a great deal of time in bed; it was here that he began to realize the power of imagination and he used this to inform his work.  

The film also touches on his faith, suggesting that the show was his ministry and he wore a sweater in lieu of a collar. The heart of this ministry, of course, is the power of love — love for each other and love for ourselves. The belief is that everyone is special (incorrectly twisted by some as entitlement) and we all have inherent value. The embodiment of this is his song “It’s You I Like” — a reminder that we grow through acceptance.

Fred Rogers presented himself as the friend every adult should be. He made it clear that his journey was to take care of the myriad of children who watched him. Unlike his own unhappy youth in which he was not allowed to be a child or to show his feelings, he aspired to provide a safe space for all of the country’s children.  

Fred Rogers with King Friday XIII. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Over the years, Rogers tackled everything from racial discrimination to divorce to death (including an episode focusing on grief that dealt with the assassination of Robert Kennedy). After retirement, he returned to do a few short PSAs about 9/11 — the horror of which overwhelmed him. What we take away is that he was unflinching in his desire to be truly honest with children but to always let them be children.

There are a treasure trove of clips, dating back to his pre-Neighborhood television days through his series and later efforts. There is the often-seen but no less-effective testimony that saved funding for public television. Puppets (King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, X the Owl) and regulars (Mr. McFeely, the delivery man; Lady Aberlin; Chef Brockett; Officer Clemmons), songs and guests … the trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Picture-Picture … they are all here. 

Throughout his work, there was always an emphasis on taking time and not allowing the world to speed up. He believed that “slow” space was not “wasted” space. That silence is a gift. The final moments of the picture are perhaps the most memorable.  He often invited people to take a minute to think of the those who have cared for them. One after another, the various people interviewed are shown to do just that. Like Fred Rogers and his work, it is at once so simple and honest and yet so powerful.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a film not just to be seen but to be shared. Find those people that mean the most to you and spend some time remembering the power of love.

Social

9,193FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,124FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe