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Steve Ayle

By Heidi Sutton

From Mainstage productions to children’s theater, to concerts and film screenings, comedy shows and improv, Theatre Three always has a lot to offer. However, it is the Festival of One-Act Plays that many look forward to each year with eager anticipation. 

Showcasing six original works selected from 425 submissions, the 22nd annual festival opened last weekend for a nine-performance run in the intimate setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the second stage. 

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, each short play is exciting; some dark, some funny, some sad, with lots of twists and turns. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar that makes it all so entertaining to watch. 

The show kicks off with Tom Slot’s “Playlist to Have a Crisis To.” Teenager Alexis (Nicole Bianco) has just hit a burglar dressed in a Santa Claus suit (Stephen T. Wangner) with an encyclopedia and he’s on the floor unconscious. She calls her girlfriend Tanya (Michelle LaBozzetta)to come over to wait for the police to arrive. When the man wakes up he claims to be the real Santa Claus. He knows things only Santa would know, but everyone knows he’s only a legend, right? And if he is real, will Alexis always be known as the girl who beat up Father Christmas?

Next up is “For a Moment in the Darkness, We Wait” by Libby Leonard, the touching story of two gay men, the older Bernard (Douglas Quattrock) and teenager Connie (Ryan Schaefer) struggling to hide their sexual identity in New York City the 1940s. You feel their pain, their frustration and their sadness in this emotional performance. 

The mood lightens greatly with “Perfectly Normal” by J. Joseph Cox, a hilarious look at the changing workplace. Antoine Jones, Suzie Dunn, Steve Wagner, Nicole Bianco and Ginger Dalton star in this delightful comedy. There’s a new boss in town and we hear of the workplace changes from breakroom gossip. “He swept in here like the Gestapo!” Employees are disappearing, Human Resources is boarded up, cavity searches are being conducted, and the final blow, coffee has been replaced by tea. This is normal?

“Family by Numbers” by Arianna Rose is the heartbreaking story of a family that loses a son in a hiking accident. Beautifully written, it  begins when the parents first meet, get married, raise three boys and then struggle with their tragic loss and one less number. Powerful performances all around by Steve Ayle, Linda May, Dylan Robert Poulos, Steven Uihlein and Ryan Schaefer.

After intermission, Rich Orloff’s “The Unforgivable Sin of Forgiveness” takes the stage. A wife (TracyLynn Conner) confesses to her husband (Antoine Jones) that she has been having an affair for three years. His response? “I know.” Taken aback, the wife turns the tables and demands to know why he hasn’t let on that he knew all this time. “You lied to your wife when all these years I’ve been faithful six days out of seven?” she exclaims in disbelief.

The final and longest act, “The Making of Medea’s Medea” by Chas Belov, is where the production of Medea’s modern-day retelling of her own story of revenge is played out on Theatre Three’s Mainstage while being turned into a documentary. We meet Medea, Jason, the actors that play them, the actors that play the part of the employees at Theatre Three, psychologists, Greek playwrights and more. The entire cast takes part with special mention to Linda May as the heartbroken and vengeful Medea.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get yourself a ticket before they sell out.

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present the 22nd annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 5. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

The cast of ‘12 Angry Men’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

For a play that takes place in a single room, “12 Angry Men” has had quite a ride. Written by Reginald Rose after he served as a juror on a manslaughter case, it was turned into a made-for-television movie and broadcast live on the CBS program Studio One in 1954. 

The success of the television production resulted in a film adaptation in 1957. Starring Henry Fonda and Jack Klugman, the movie is consistently ranked as one of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time and was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 2007 for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

From left, Michael Mingoia, John McNamara, Steven Uihlein, Jack Green, Gene Durney, Steve Ayle and Michael Newman.

And significant it is. Over 60 years later, the behind-closed-doors look at the American legal system continues to make an impact in community theaters all around the world. This month, it makes its way to the Mainstage of Theatre Three, a stark contrast to its last production, “Nunsense,” and is more relevant than ever.

Twelve men from different backgrounds sit on a jury where the accused has been charged with murder in the first degree … premeditated homicide. They are tasked with deliberating the guilty or innocent verdict beyond a reasonable doubt of a teenage boy who is accused of stabbing his father with a switchblade. If found guilty, he could face the electric chair. The judge orders the jury to “separate the facts from the fancy” and the deliberations begin.

Jim Pearsall, Michael Newman, Michael Mingoia and Gene Durney.

Directed by Bradlee Bing, the seasoned cast does a terrific job conveying the sense of grave responsibility. As the jurors are led into the deliberating room, the security guard (Alan Schelp) locks them in, giving the sense of being held hostage until a decision is made. 

The actors also effectively convey the temperature in the room by taking turns to fix the “broken” air conditioner, taking off their jackets, taking a sip of water and wiping their foreheads and back of necks. The audience feels the heat, which adds to the volatile environment that envelops the room.

The odds are stacked against the teenager. There are three witnesses, there’s a motive (his father beat him regularly), his alibi is shaky and the murder weapon belongs to him, “But sometimes the facts staring you in the face are wrong.”

A preliminary vote results in 11 guilty, one not guilty — Juror #8, played by Steve Ayle. “Boy, oh boy, there’s always one!” The majority of the jury just want to get out of there and get on with their lives. One has tickets to a baseball game, another wants to get back to running his business and so on. 

Foreground, from left, Mihcael Mingoia, Jack Green, Jules Jacobs, Steven Uihlein; background, from left, David Altman, Joseph Cavagnet and Leonard DeLorenzo

But Juror #8 has doubts and he’s not ready to give in to peer pressure. “A man’s life is on the line …” He asks to see the murder weapon again, to see the layout of one of the witness’ apartment, always questioning and pointing out inconsistencies as the other jurors change their vote one by one.

The characters and plot and suspense develop slowly and that’s the beauty of it. From “You couldn’t change my mind if you talked for a hundred years” and “We don’t owe this kid a thing” to “Maybe we should talk about it” and “We have a job to do, let’s do it” to the final “Let him live,” the emotional progression is an incredible thing to watch.

The end result is a powerful and thought-provoking evening at the theater. The endless clapping at the end of the first act and the standing ovation at the end of Saturday’s opening night performance was most well deserved.

The cast: Joseph Cavagnet, Leonard DeLorenzo, Jack Green, John McNamara, Steven Uihlein, Jim Pearsall, Michael Newman, Steve Ayle, Jules Jacobs, Gene Durney, David Altman, Michael Mingoia and Alan Schelp

Sponsored by Bridgehampton National Bank for the third year in a row, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “12 Angry Men” through May 5. Running time is two hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. The Mainstage season closes with the musical comedy whodunit “Curtains” from May 19 to June 23. 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 Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Steve McCoy as John Barrymore and Dylan Robert Poulos as Andrew in a scene from 'I Hate Hamlet'. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Fresh on the heels of “A Christmas Carol,” Paul Rudnick’s delightful comedy “I Hate Hamlet” rings in the New Year at Theatre Three with a touch of Shakespeare, a friendly ghost and loads of laughs, all the while examining the age-old debate about the art of live theater versus the fame of television and film.

Directed by Mary Powers, the story centers around Andrew Rally (Dylan Robert Poulos), a successful television actor on the sitcom “L.A. Medical” and the star in a series of commercials peddling breakfast cereal. When the show is suddenly canceled, Andrew moves from California to New York City to try his hand at live theater and is offered the lead role in the Central Park stage production of the tragic masterpiece, “Hamlet: Prince of Denmark.”

Above, the cast of ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From all outward appearances, Andrew is living the good life: a beautiful girlfriend, the perfect apartment just off Washington Square and the chance to hone in on his craft by performing the works of the Bard. However, inside he is lacking confidence, his girlfriend of five months, 29-year-old Deirdre McDavey (Jessica Contino), is keeping a firm grip on her chastity leaving him frustrated, his new digs appears to be haunted and, for some reason, he just hates “Hamlet.”

When his agent Lillian Troy (Marci Bing) informs Andrew he is living in the same apartment once occupied by John Barrymore, whose portrayal of Hamlet led to him being called the “greatest living American tragedian,” Deirdre and real estate broker Felicia Dantine (Linda May) find the whole scenario too coincidental to pass up and the four conduct a séance to conjure up the dead actor. Shortly thereafter, Barrymore’s specter (Steve McCoy) appears in the apartment dressed as Hamlet and sets out to convince the insecure actor that he can and should take the part. Only visible to Andrew, producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Steve Ayle) and Lillian, Barrymore’s ghost cannot leave until opening night and utilizes his time teaching Andrew how to duel and to appreciate the poetry that is “Hamlet.”

When Gary offers Andrew a new role in a television pilot with the promise of millions of dollars and fame, the actor must decide between Shakespeare in the Park or commercial success. Which will he choose? That is the question.

Jessica Contino as Deidre and Steve McCoy as John Barrymore in a scene from ‘I Hate Hamlet’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Costumes are wonderful, especially the Shakespearian garb, and the set is most impressive indeed. In the first act, the two-level apartment, complete with fireplace, long staircase and balcony, is in disarray, with moving boxes scattered about, a rolled-up carpet and couches wrapped in plastic. As the lights go up in the second act, the apartment has been beautifully transformed to Barrymore’s heyday of the 1920s, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the interior of a Gothic castle.

With a stellar cast, top-notch performances and terrific script, “I Hate Hamlet” promises a lovely evening at the theater. Whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or it’s not your cup of tea, either way you’re in for a wonderful treat. Don’t miss this one.

Enjoy a drink at Griswold’s Café on the lower level of the theater and take a chance at 50/50 during intermission. Proceeds will help upgrade and maintain the historic building.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “I Hate Hamlet” through Feb. 3. Contains adult subject matter; parental discretion is advised. The Mainstage season continues with the musical comedy “Nunsense” from Feb. 24 to March 24 and the courtroom drama “12 Angry Men” from April 7 to May 5. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and seniors, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

By Kyle Barr

 

In the conflict between cynical realism and colorful idealism, “Man of La Mancha” is fully in support of the latter even while being so close to giving into the former. It is a production that teeters on this line even in the most silly of circumstances, and it is this fine line that requires quite a lot from everyone involved from music to set design to acting so that the meaning does not get confused.

It is good then that the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is up to the challenge.

Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While classic productions like “Man of La Mancha” (a 1960s Broadway production ran for over 2,000 performances) give local theaters the opportunity to perform something familiar, these shows can have the side effect of giving the impression that it is “amateur hour.” However, the SPAC, even on its opening night, not only manages to have a show with great performances on every level, but it also manages to capture the depth and heart of the play.

The story first centers upon the “bad poet and idealist” Miguel de Cervantes who, along with his manservant, is arrested by the Spanish Inquisition under the charge of foreclosing on a church. In prison, all their possessions are taken by the other inmates, including the tough yet sympathetic “Governor,” who declares they will put on a mock trial for Cervantes and that if he is found guilty everything including his precious manuscript will be taken or burned.

The aging gentleman declares he wishes to present his trial in the form of a play about a man named Alonso Quijana, who has become so fed up with the evil of the world and has spent so much time around books on ancient chivalry that he goes insane, dons a breastplate and helmet and makes himself a knight errant named Don Quixote. He has the other inmates act out characters throughout his defense, all while time is ticking down before he must meet his real trial in front of the Inquisition.

The cast of ‘Man of La Mancha’. Photo by Courtney Braun

What is remarkable about the production, and what director Kenneth J. Washington and the other folks at the SPAC have managed to convey, is how well the theme and meaning builds over time. At first the audience must agree with the inmates, thinking Cervantes is an idiot idealist who has little excuse for his actions. Slowly it is clear through the obtuse silliness of Don Quixote that Cervantes might have a point, and eventually it is clear the production is a metanarrative about theater and fiction itself.

It is a theme expressed even by the set design, headed by resident designer Tim Golebiewski. At first the set seems well designed, with good work on the foreground and the paintings of stonework that seems truly lifelike. But it all seems a little dull and gray, easily blending into each other.

However, this works to the play’s themes. The audience is there inside this dungeon, and just like the inmates the place is dull and harrowing. Once Don Quixote is on stage, running around with broken lance and bent sword, both inmates and audience imagine a more colorful scene much in the way that Quixote seems to imagine it. It is all enhanced by lighting designer Chris Creevy who does a fine job on the subtle hints of lighting to fit the scene.

Of course, this setup would not work at all unless the actors convey that they too are being transported into Cervantes’ world, and on opening night last Saturday the entire cast went above and beyond what was expected.

Stephen Treglia as Sancho Panza and Michael Bertolini as Don Quixote’ in a scene from ‘Man of La Mancha’ Photo by Courtney Braun

While actors are often expected to play multiple parts on the stage throughout a play, lead Michael Bertolini has the harder job of switching between Cervantes, Quixote and Quijana often in the middle of a scene. Nevertheless, he manages it flawlessly, with each character having a distinct presence on stage. Cervantes is composed and gentlemanly, while Quixote is loud, boisterous while cripplingly old. It was a joy to watch Bertolini put on makeup right on stage, quickly transforming himself into another character in a scene only usually reserved for behind the stage.

SPAC veteran Brianne Boyd, who plays Alonsa, the kitchen wench of the local inn, fills her roll with a great melancholy that is pitch perfect, not to mention her voice that captures that loneliness and hopelessness especially in her song “It’s All the Same,” which musical director Melissa Coyle and choreographer Danielle Nigro must have spent countless hours getting just right. The song stands out as the most memorable and affecting number of the entire production.

The other standouts of the cast are easily Stephen Treglia as the manservant Sancho Panza, the unflappable sidekick to both Cervantes and Quixote, and Steve Ayle, his first time at the SPAC, as both the Duke and Dr. Carrasco, who has a stern face when talking of the merits of cynicism and realism over idealism.

If you have never seen “Man of La Mancha,” then SPAC’s production is a great introduction to the magnificent story. If you have seen La Mancha before, then this is a good way to remember why you loved it so much.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Man of La Mancha” through Oct. 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $32 seniors, $20 students with valid ID. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

From left, Phyllis March, Maryellen Molfetta and Ginger Dalton in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By Michael Tessler

Theatre Three’s latest production “Where There’$ a Will,” opened last Saturday night to an intrigued audience. Originally produced in 1985 by an eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Sanzel, this wonderful piece of theater is such a hidden treasure that I’m glad it resurfaced just in time for me to review!

Our story begins as the late millionaire Hiram Cedricson, a self-proclaimed “Potato King,” has assembled his widow (and fourth wife), her not-so-new lover and a slapdash theater crew of washouts, has-beens and could-bes to hear his last will and testament be read aloud by a uniquely unqualified lawyer.

Phyllis March and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from the show. Photo by Brian Hoerger

Hilarity ensues as the lawyer reveals that prior to Cedricson’s death he wrote an original play … with no prior experience in theater, with a title so funny that I’m unable to print it. His dying wish is for this cast and crew of misfits to perform the show verbatim, in a decrepit theater he purchased just before his death … in two weeks. If they can accomplish this, they each receive $500,000. If they fail, the snarky widow and her lover get all the money.

So despite quarrels and some seriously conflicting personalities, the group agrees to the terms. What none of them realize is that Hiram Cedricson was the furthest thing from a writer and that his show would be an accidental comedy of epic proportions! The result is as Cedricson so eloquently puts it — “wonderfug.” What’s best is that the ghost of Cedricson and two of his former wives (one dead, one divorced) get to enjoy the chaos as casual spectators from the balcony, bickering among themselves through the process.

Ginger Dalton in a scene from ‘Where There’$ a Will’. Photo by Brian Hoerger

By every definition this is an all-star cast — immensely talented, perfectly paced, and hilariously human. Expertly directed by Sanzel, each actor takes on a caricature so unique and well-written that it’s impossible not to feel emotionally invested in their success. There is such incredible range in their performances. All of these cast members could have and likely were leads in previous productions.

There are so many familiar faces that at times, and much to my amusement, I felt like I was watching a reunion show of Long Island’s greatest talent. Though I lack the column inches necessary to write in detail about each of these extraordinary actors, I do want to say that this is by far the best ensemble cast I’ve ever seen outside of a Broadway production. They are so much more than just funny — they are uniquely lovable, memorable and multidimensional.

This can be attributed not just to the enormous talent of this cast, but to the show’s ambitious and masterfully crafted script. Somehow, not a single character goes underutilized in both acts of this large-scale comedy.

From left, Phylis March, Jessica Contino and Mary Ellin Kurtz in a scene from Sanzel’s new play. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Though not a musical, there are several musical numbers, all of which will have you grinning cheek to cheek. Throughout the show there is a wonderful score dreamed up by Theatre Three’s Tim Peierls, and Randall Parsons creates a visually striking set, which is complemented perfectly by Robert Henderson’s lighting design. The young but extraordinarily talented Peter Casdia expertly stage manages the production, ensuring a flawless experience. Costume designer Chakira Doherty must have had some fun putting together the most uniquely diverse set of costumes I can remember in recent productions.

Jeffrey Sanzel and his assistant director Andrew Markowitz put on a genuinely charming production, perfect for ringing in the spring season. “Where There’$ a Will” feels like a classic that has been playing forever, and that’s because maybe it should be.

The cast: Steve Ayle, Marci Bing, Michael Butera, Carol Carota, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Susan Emory, Sari Feldman, Jack Howell, Joan Howell, Skyler Quinn Johnson, Mary Ellin Kurtz, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Maryellen Molfetta and Ruthie Pincus

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Where’s There’$ a Will” through May 6 on the Mainstage. Tickets for adults $35; seniors and students $28; children ages 5 to 12 for $20. Children under 5 are not permitted. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 3 with $20 tickets. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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.