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Matt Senese

By Heidi Sutton

What is art and what is not? Ultimately art is in the eye of the beholder, yes? But what if your two best friends don’t agree with you? Which is more important? Friendship or art? These are just a few of the questions explored in Theatre Three’s latest offering, “Art” by Yasmina Reza (“God of Carnage”). The one-act drama runs on the Main stage through Feb. 2.

From left, Antoine Jones, Matt Senese and Steve Kyle in a scene from ‘Art’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

The French play premiered in Paris in 1994. Translated by Christopher Hampton, it opened in London’s West End in 1996, and then headed to Broadway two years later for a 600 performance run. The original New York cast featured Alan Alda, Victor Garber and Alfred Molina. By the time the show closed in 1999, it had garnered many awards including a Tony for Best Play and the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Comedy.

Serge (Steve Ayle), Marc (Antoine Jones) and Yvan (Matt Senese) have been best friends for the last 15 years. A dermatologist by profession, Serge decides to start collecting art and purchases a contemporary painting for $50,000. The modern artwork is 3 feet by 4 feet and has a white background with “fine white diagonal lines” (if you look closely —— very closely). 

He is eager to show it off when Marc comes over, handling it ever so carefully as he brings it out for air.  At first Marc tries to be polite and says nothing as Serge has him look at the painting from different angles but finally can’t control himself. “You paid $50,000 for this white s—?” Marc asks in disbelief and their friendship takes a dark turn.

When Yvan is shown the painting, he is rather ambivalent about it. “I didn’t like the painting … but I didn’t actually hate it,” he reports back to Marc. “Well, of course not, You can’t hate what’s invisible! You can’t hate nothing!” exclaims Marc, who is getting more agitated by the minute. 

The cast of ‘Art’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Although he has more pressing things to worry about like planning a wedding with his fiancé turned “bridezilla,” Yvan finds himself playing referee and trying to diffuse the situation. In the end, however, the argument is not really about a painting but about friendship, its boundaries and how we should treat and speak to each other. 

Director Linda May has assembled the crème de la crème of actors to relate this comedy. Steve Ayle (“12 Angry Men,” “I Hate Hamlet” ) is the quintessential Serge, Antoine Jones (Festival of One-Act Plays, “A Chrismas Carol”) is exemplary  in the role of Marc while Matt Senese (‘The Addams Family”) is hilarious as Yvan. The three work perfectly together to produce a wonderful evening of live theater. 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Art” on the Mainstage through Feb. 2. Running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Contains adult language. The season continues with the musical “Nine” from Feb. 23 to March 23 and “The Miracle Worker” from April 6 to 28. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.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.

The cast of ‘Curtains’

By Heidi Sutton

Theatre Three closes out its 48th season with a rousing revival of the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains.” The show, which opened on the Mainstage last Saturday night, will keep the audience guessing, and laughing, right up to until the very end.

With book by Rupert Holmes and music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb (both of “Chicago” and “Cabaret” fame), the eight-time Tony-nominated show had a successful Broadway run starring David Hyde Pierce (who won a Tony for his performance) from 2007 to 2008. Now the hilarious musical comes to Port Jefferson and does not disappoint.

A scene from ‘Curtains’

The play takes place at the Colonial Theater in Boston in 1959. A theater troupe is performing a new cowboy musical “Robbin’ Hood!” (think “Oklahoma!”) on opening night. As the ensemble performs the final act, “Wide Open Spaces,” it is clear that the star of the show, Jessica Cranshaw (Meg Bush) is a complete mess — singing out of tune, missing dance steps and flubbing her lines. (“I was distracted all night by a man waving his hands at me,” she laments. “That was the conductor,” the director mutters.) 

A few minutes after the final curtain Cranshaw collapses and is rushed to the hospital. It is later discovered that she has been murdered. “Now she has a conflict — she’s dead.”

Lt. Frank Cioffi (Steve McCoy) of the Boston Police Department, a homicide detective who happens to be a musical theater buff, is assigned to the case. The entire company is suspect, so he immediately places them on lockdown, barring them from leaving the theater until the case is solved.

The reviews are in!

The reviews come pouring in and they are brutal, especially from the Boston Globe. The producers decide to invite the newspaper’s critic, Daryl Grady (Andrew Gasparini), back when the show has been revamped.

The crew immediately starts reworking the songs and improving the scenes, with more than the occasional input from Detective Cioffi. “I’ve done a little community theater,” he admits modestly. “In ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ my Bottom was very well-received.” He is also distracted by one of the actresses, Niki (Jenna Kavaler) and their blossoming relationship is fun to watch.

In the meantime, a second victim, co-producer Sidney Bernstein (Lon Shomer) is found hanging from the rafters, Bernstein’s wife, Carmen (Mary Ellin Kurtz) is shot at and Cioffi is pushed off a catwalk and narrowly survives. The plot thickens.

As the show progresses, Cioffi starts peeling away the layers of this “family” to uncover romantic relationships, jealousy, blackmail, rocky family dynamics and infidelity. Will he be able to solve the crime in time or will the entire company be picked off one by one?

A scene from ‘Curtains’

Singing, dancing and clever humor abound in this production that showcases a cast of 23 uber-talented actors directed by Jeffrey Sanzel. The high-energy performances, choreographed by Whitney Stone, are exhausting to watch but the cast pulls them off with ease. The musical numbers, accompanied by a live orchestra led by Jeffrey Hoffman, are a nice blend of show tunes and love songs. The costumes and wigs designed by Chakira Dohertyn are fun, especially the cowboy and cowgirl outfits; and the Western-themed set, designed by Randall Parson, ties the whole show together nicely. 

The incredible cast also features Nicole Bianco, Christopher M. Fretto, Dylan Robert Poulos, James Taffurelli, James Schultz, Tracylynn Conner, Matt Senese, Melanie Acampora, Eric J. Hughes, Lindsay DeFranco, Kyle Breitenbach, Cassidy O’Brien, Steven Uihlein, Alex Esquivel, Jeffrey Pangurn and Kiernan Urso.

If you’re looking for a fun night out, don’t miss “Curtains.” Griswold’s Cafe, located on the lower level of the theater, will be open before the show and during intermission for a snack or beverage, and take a chance on a 50/50 raffle. You may win big! Running time is two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Curtains” through June 23. Contains mature content. After a brief hiatus, the 2018-19 Mainstage season will open with “The Addams Family” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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

By Michael Tessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

Armed with hockey-grade shin and knee guards, Patchogue resident Matt Senese is ready to hit, not the ice, but the stage as Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s upcoming Mainstage production of “Shrek the Musical.”

For those who may not be familiar with the 2001 DreamWorks movie or 2009 Broadway musical, Lord Farquaad is the diminutive archenemy of Shrek and friends. Senese, who jokes that he is “5 feet 7 inches with a lot of sleep,” will play the role on his knees in order for the audience to get the full effect of just how small his royal nuisance is. The shin and knee guards under his costume protect his lower legs from injuries.

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The seasoned actor, who is also a fourth-grade teacher at Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School in Islip, has appeared in over 300 local productions as well as regional theater outside of New York. Recently, Senese took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his participation in the upcoming production.

How did you feel when you learned that you got the part?
I was very excited! Jeff (Sanzel), the artistic director, cast me before it was even announced. He asked me about it last year. So, I’ve known for a year that I was going to be doing it which gave me time to … learn it and kind of get used to dancing on my knees.

How are rehearsals going?
They’re great. I think it’s going to be a wonderful show. It’s a very hard working group.

Do you have a favorite number in the musical?
The favorite thing that I do is a song called “What’s Up, Duloc” where it’s kind of a … Las Vegas number, so it’s got back-up singers and dancers. But, I’m doing it on my knees with these tiny legs so it’s very funny. I think my favorite song in the show though is one that I’m not in, and it’s called “Freak Flag.” It’s a song about just being yourself — everyone is different; nobody is perfect. So just let your freak flag fly.

For you is that the main message of ‘Shrek’?
Absolutely. It’s a great musical to bring the whole family to because it’s a musical that celebrates differences. Also, the wonderful thing about this story is it’s not your typical fairy tale. Usually the princess kisses the frog, and the frog turns into a handsome prince. It’s a musical about an ogre who falls in love with a princess and at the end of the story, she turns into an ogress. They’re both ogres at the end of the show, and happy to be ogres because it’s not about looks, it’s about love.

Do you have plans after the musical ends at Theatre Three?
No, I don’t. I’m just going to take it easy. I think after “Shrek” I’m going to rest up and enjoy myself, and then in the fall, look for something to do.

Do you have anything to share with locals who want to act?
I think people who live on Long Island are very lucky in the fact that there are so many theaters. We’re lucky. There are other places you go to, and they really don’t have any kind of local theater and they have to wait until tours come through. We live in a place that really has a lot of art. I think if that’s your passion, then there is a lot opportunity for it on Long Island.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this production of “Shrek the Musical”?
First and foremost, I hope they’ll be entertained. I hope they’ll leave whistling a tune from the show because I think the score is really wonderful. Sometimes you go to see a show and you really can’t whistle any of the tunes. This show you can take so much of that with you. The music is very catchy; it’s very inspirational.
And, I hope that they just get the message. The message of “Shrek” is to just be yourself. There’s no such thing as perfection in the world. We’re led to believe…as children we’re taught these fairy tales, but really nothing in life is a fairy tale, and that is what I think “Shrek” shows. It’s about love. It’s about love and accepting who you are and accepting everyone else for who they are.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Shrek the Musical” from May 21 to June 25. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

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