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Matthew Chan in front of the magnetic ball track. Photo from Angeline Judex

Matthew Chan, a Comsewogue High School senior and Boy Scout in Troop 354, has volunteered at the Long Island Explorium since seventh grade. Now in his last year of high school, he took his help one step further when he constructed a magnetic ball track for the Port Jefferson nonprofit.

Boy Scouts looking to gain their Eagle Scout recognition often provide a service to the community, whether it’s reconstructing fences, planting trees, building benches or painting old buildings. 

The Comsewogue High School senior took it a step further and constructed a magnetic ball run at the Long Island Explorium. It allows children to create their own looping track where they can send a small marble careening down a path of their own design.

“I thought about how I could make my project very hands on,” Chan said.

In order for a Boy Scout to make the rank of Eagle Scout, he first has to perform a service project in the community. The Port Jefferson Station resident used his Eagle Scout project as an opportunity to aid the explorium even further. Three years ago, the explorium underwent renovations, including installing two large steel sheets on one of the walls. This was all part of an idea hatched by Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium, and Chan to create this ball run.

A young kid creates his own track for a marble to run through. Photo from Angeline Judex

“The Explorium is always pleased to work with Boys and Girls Scouts to help them develop skills and experience to become leaders of the future,” said Judex. “Matt’s project added tremendous value to the Explorium. The giant magnetic ball run helps promote STEM learning in a fun and engaging manner that is enjoyed by visitors of all ages.”

The project took quite a bit of time to come about. While Chan proposed the project initially in November of 2017, it took until May 2018 for him to gather all the materials together. In June of that year, he gathered around 15 other Boy Scouts to help him construct the track. The Scouts drilled holes in planks of wood where they could affix the magnets, then drilled holes in PVC pipe, some pieces cut horizontally in half. When it was all installed by late 2018, Chan got to witness firsthand children using, playing and learning with his creation.

“I think it encourages a lot of creativity,” he said. “It trains kids to think for themselves and create their own solutions.”

Troopmaster of troop 354 Bob Pearsall said he was proud of what Chan was able to do at the Explorium.

“His eighteenth birthday is March 22, and he has to finish up his paperwork and hand it in before then to make the Eagle Scout rank official, and we will make sure he does that,” Pearsall said.

Chans court of honor will come up in the next few months, with a date and time still to be determined.

The senior is expecting to graduate come June. From there he is looking forward to attending The College at Brockport where he will enroll in its nursing program.

“The Boy Scouts has a lot to do with first aid and life saving,” the Eagle Scout said. “I was a lifeguard, and I used to be very interested in first aid and health. I thought helping people through nursing would be a very good career path for me.”

Port Jefferson graduate and Tony Award-nominated director Rebecca Taichman. Photo from Taichman

When Rebecca Taichman was a student at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, starting in 1984, she felt lost. With a reputation since elementary school of being a bit of an oddball, she found it difficult, and unappealing, to fit in with the rest of the pack.

She was an outsider, she said, until her senior year when she took  an acting class offered by Robert Krusemark, an English teacher at the time.

“I burst to life,” Taichman said in a phone interview. She was recently nominated for a Tony Award in the category of Best Direction of a Play for the critically lauded Broadway production, “Indecent.” The show is also nominated in the Best Play category. “I loved it [and] I really found myself there. Mr. Krusemark had a huge impact on me; he suggested that I apply to go to this Yale School of Drama summer program and because of him and that class, I did that.”

From that class, in which she recited monologues by playwrights like George Bernard Shaw, Taichman began her journey that has since seen her direct dozens of New York-based and regional plays, operas, and musicals. She has taught theater arts at NYU, MIT, and Yale and is among just five nominees in her category at the 71st Annual Tony Awards this Sunday, June 11, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

“It’s amazing and I’m really proud of her,” one of Taichman’s closest friends Cynthia Lee, a classmate in the Port Jefferson School District from first through 12th grade, said in a phone interview.

Laughing that she and Taichman felt like the offbeat kids in John Hughes’ movies while in high school, Lee recalled her friend’s sudden foray into theater.

“I was kind of surprised…I didn’t realize she had that bug in her and that was something she was going to pursue, [but] then she took off with it in college,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

After graduating high school in 1988, Taichman became absorbed by all things theater, recognizing the art form as her true language.

“I can’t imagine her not going down that path.”

— Cynthia Lee

“I knew it was my vocabulary, that was very clear, I’m still not sure exactly why, but it was clearly my way of thinking,” she said.

It was at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada that she first dabbled outside of acting, taking part in casting, literary management, dramaturgy and eventually directing, cutting her teeth with a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”

“It was clear I was a better director than I was at any of the other things,” she said. “I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me. That’s where I found my talent lay.”

Five years later, she ventured back to the Yale School of Drama, this time to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing.

Back at Yale, she discovered “The God of Vengeance,” a Yiddish play written by Sholem Asch in 1906, which would become the inspiration for “Indecent.” Taichman’s production is about the events surrounding the early Broadway productions of Asch’s controversial and landmark drama which depicts a brothel owner whose daughter falls in love with one of his prostitutes.

During the original run of Asch’s play in 1923, which featured the first kiss between two women on a Broadway stage, Taichman explained, most of the cast and crew were indicted and thrown in jail for “indecency” and “obscenity.”

“It took my breath away,” Taichman said of the original play by Asch, which she’d adapted as her thesis at Yale and been actively trying to do something more with since 1997.

“I was not a very good actor and as soon as I started directing, it was so clear I never would’ve cast me.”

— Rebecca Taichman

She eventually met and pitched the idea to Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel about seven years ago, and Vogel quickly got on board. Finding its legs at the Vineyard Theater in Union Square before racking up awards on Broadway, “Indecent” is a music-and-dance-filled yet powerful stroll through the decades as a group of actors perform “The God of Vengeance.”

“[It’s] ultimately a love letter to the theater and the power of making art in increasingly dangerous times…it’s an extremely important story, one about homophobia and anti-immigration, similar to what we’re experiencing now,” she said. “It’s quite special to be recognized for this particular piece, having thought about it for decades. People can apparently feel how deeply my heart is in it.”

Taichman’s sister Laura tried to put the Tony nomination into perspective.

“It’s so exciting and totally well-deserved — she has worked so hard, this play has been her baby for 20 years and it’s a heartening experience to watch this happen,” she said. “For the reception to be a Tony Award nomination rather than a conviction for obscenity feels just.”

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A golfer lines up his shot at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo from Paul Muto

The sports are simulated, but the uniqueness of this new Hauppauge business is very much real.

Simplay, located at 180 Commerce Drive, opened its doors back in November in the heart of the Hauppauge Industrial Park as Long Island’s largest simulated sports arena, but its offerings go much further than just virtual driving ranges. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Wyllie, who opened Simplay alongside co-owner Chuck Merritt, said his business has wide appeal to the full gamut of people in the greater Smithtown community, acting as place to blow off steam in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, kids’ birthday parties, baby showers, corporate events and more.

“Chuck and I shared a vision of bringing an unprecedented simulated sports and indoor country club offering to the Long Island community,” Wyllie said. “We’ve worked hard and built the stadium, so to speak, and are confident the players will want to come.”

Simplay is a 15,000-square-foot space filled with simulators that customers can rent on an hourly basis either in-store or online. But when they are not golfing, patrons can also kick back in front of any of the 14 high definition televisions throughout the facility, or hit the fully stocked bar near the front entrance.

Chris Wyllie plays hockey at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo by Phil Corso
Chris Wyllie plays hockey at Simplay in Hauppauge. Photo by Phil Corso

For the average businessperson spending their time at the industrial park, Simplay serves as a place to blend work and play, Wyllie said. Deals could virtually be brokered over a leisurely game of virtual golf, or over the facility’s indoor putting green.

For the recreational golfer, Simplay boasts its array of 87 different Professional Golfers’ Association courses to hone skills on, whether it’s during a lunch hour or after hours.

“There are only a few places on Long Island with golf simulators, but nobody has the multi-sport applications that we do,” Merritt said. “We hope to be that go-to destination on Long Island.”

For the family, there is even more up for grabs, Wyllie said. In an attempt to keep the young ones occupied while the “grown-ups” work on their strokes, simulators could be transformed into virtual hockey arenas, football games or even zombie dodgeball bouts.

“It’s a big deal to people to know that we are very serious about golfing,” Wyllie said. “But all these others things we offer are important because they take this out of seasonality and allow anyone to let loose.”

In the back of Simplay, Wyllie and his partner Merritt crafted two VIP rooms and a 4,000-square-foot venue room they said was ideal for business meetings and corporate functions. It’s enough options to make someone’s head spin, but the co-owners said that was the goal, because their facility was multifaceted for different uses.

And to keep the community ties strong, Simplay has already reached out to various golf teams based out of Smithtown schools as a potential place to host practices and team events, Wyllie said. Such things, he said, could lead to more collaborative plans like golf leagues and more to attract patrons from not only Smithtown, but greater Long Island.

“There is a tremendous need for something like this in this community, we believe,” he said. “We haven’t even tapped into 50 percent of what we can offer since opening yet. There’s more to come.”

Eric Schell and Faith Ahmed in a scene from ‘West Side Story’ at the SCPA. Photo from the SCPA

By Charles J. Morgan

About an eon ago your scribe was watching a TV talk show on the family’s round screen box on which a participant referred to “West Side Story” as a “slice of New York life.” Another participant, the great Robert Morley, snorted, “Ectually, old boy, it’s Romeo and Juliet.” Morley was right, and the Playbill at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Art’s opening really was the Bard’s opus with full credit put to music, and not just music but Broadway music and dance.

With a team featuring Arthur Laurent’s book, Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and Jerome Robbins’ choreography, success was all but secure. In SCPA’s effort it was secured in Smithtown.

Direction was by Jordan Hue who, facing the challenge of a massive cast, showed his craftsmanship in blocking and interpretation. Each Jet and each Shark were real tangible creatures thanks to Hue’s disciplined creativity.

The show is practically all choreography, and thanks to the genius of the indefatigable Melissa Rapelje, excellently performed execution was the armature of the show. She faced the off-beat accents, the dissonances and the diversity of rhythms undaunted. Her skills with interpretive, modern, Latin and even ballet were never more displayed.

Coalescing with the dancing and singing was the superb live music led by Melissa Coyle on keyboard with conductor Craig Coyle on piano. Jim Waddell was outstanding on drums. The number “Cool it!,” performed by the Jets, was accompanied by Waddell using only the sizzling hi-hats. Craig Lindsey and Bob Dalpiaz handled extremely competent reeds. Jill Boardman was on violin and Russ Brown’s bass anchored all the intricate changes of rhythm easily. Finally, Joe Boardman’s trumpet reached aesthetically ethereal heights … as usual.

The two “star-crossed lovers” were Eric Schell as Tony and Faith Ahmed as Maria. Schell’s tenor and Ahmed’s soprano melded smoothly in both duet and solo. In the “balcony” (fire escape) scene their “Tonight” was a truly velvet love song while Schell’s rendition of  “Maria” was lovingly rendered. Ahmed also exhibited obvious talent in “I Feel Pretty.”

In a choreographed dream sequence Courtney Braun sang a solo “Somewhere There’s a Place” with both charm and power delightfully linked. Justin Albinder stood out as the doomed Bernardo. As “Action” Bobby Montaniz leads the Jets in a hilarious mockery of the sadistic Officer Krupke. Some of the lines are quite dated: (“…my mother pushes tea…), yet Montaniz is the key to the humor of it all.

In addition to choreographer, Rapelje also played the role of the second lead, Anita. Her drive, verve and singing while leading the girls all keyed to a spicy rendition of “Puerto Rico” like a dish of asopao jibaro.

Add the intricate lighting by Chris Creevy, the massive, flexible set design by Timothy Golebiewski and the wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III and you have a wonderful evening of live theater.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “West Side Story” through Aug. 30. Tickets are $35. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

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