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Theatre Three

By Heidi Sutton

Every now and then a show comes along that touches your heart and soul so deeply that you walk away at the end promising yourself to do better, be nicer, be kinder. Such is the case with Theatre Three’s latest offering, a revival of Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Driving Miss Daisy.” Directed by Linda May, the show opened last Saturday night and runs through Feb. 1. 

Part of the playwright’s “Atlanta Trilogy,” the storyline was inspired by Uhry’s father, grandmother Lena and Lena’s chauffeur of 25 years and explores the complexity of family, friendships and aging as well as racial and religious tensions in the South over the years.

Set in Atlanta from 1948 to 1973, it follows the lives of Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish widow and retired fifth-grade teacher; her businessman son Boolie; and Daisy’s driver, Hoke Colburn. 

The 72-year-old Daisy has crashed her new car, and her son has decided she should no longer drive. Stubborn and proud (“It was the car’s fault!”), Daisy is not ready to give up her independence; but Boolie prevails and hires Hoke, a black man in his 60s who most recently drove for a Jewish judge. At first, Daisy is not too happy with the arrangement and refuses to even acknowledge Hoke. Over time, however, the two form an unbreakable bond.

Set in a series of short scenes, fans of either the original 1987 play or the 1989 Academy Award-winning film version of “Driving Miss Daisy” will absolutely love what Linda May has created. All of the wonderful moments are there, including the first time Daisy lets Hoke drive her to the Piggly Wiggly and Hoke excitedly calls Boolie to tell him, “I just drove your mama to the market. Only took me six days. Same time it took the Lord to make the world!” and when Daisy accuses Hoke of stealing … a 33-cent can of salmon.

The audience tags along on a visit to the cemetery to visit Daisy’s late husband’s grave and Hoke reveals he can’t read; Christmas at Boolie’s where Daisy gives Hoke a book to help him practice his writing; and on a road trip to Mobile, Alabama to visit relatives, where Hoke pulls over “to make water” against his passenger’s wishes and has to remind Daisy that “colored can’t use the toilet at any service station.”

One of the most emotional scenes is when the temple to which Hoke is driving Daisy is bombed. “Who would do that?” questions Daisy in a state of disbelief. “It’s always the same ones,” answers Hoke sadly and recounts the time his best friend’s father was lynched. 

May has assembled the ultimate dream team to portray this delicate drama. Phyllis March (“Nunsense,” “Where There’s a Will”) plays the opinionated and unfiltered Daisy who softens ever so slightly as the years pass and grows to love and appreciate Hoke and all he does for her. March’s performance is pure perfection, with special mention to the scene where Daisy suffers a memory loss and believes she is still a fifth-grade teacher. Emotional and raw, the scene takes the audience’s breath away. 

In a role his father played on the same stage 25 years ago, Antoine Jones (“Art,” “Festival of One Act Plays”) is absolutely magnificent as the even-tempered Hoke who puts up with the cantankerous Daisy. “Did you have the air-conditioning checked? I told you to have the air-conditioning checked,” says Daisy. “I don’t know what for. You never allow me to turn it on,” is Hoke’s exasperated reply.

Jones brings out the quiet dignity of a man who has dealt with racial discrimination his whole life but sees hope for the future in his daughter. We see Hoke’s relationship gradually evolve with Daisy from employee/employer to best friends. The final scene in the nursing home will have you reaching for the tissues. Antoine, your father would be so proud.

Steve Ayle (“The Addams Family,” “12 Angry Men,” “Art”) is wonderful in the role of Boolie, the dutiful son who puts up with his mother’s prickly personality, especially when she is insulting Boolie’s wife, Florene, who is there in spirit. “You’re a doodle, Mama!” says Boolie often in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Ayle’s facial expressions are spot on in this comedic role.

Incredibly, as the play progresses the actors get older right before our very eyes. The hair goes gray, then white; the walk slows down to a shuffle and it takes a bit longer to get out of a chair. The transformation is extraordinary.

Funny, sad, powerful, moving and brilliantly executed, Theatre Three’s “Driving Miss Daisy” is a wonderful way to kick off the theater’s 50th year. The swift and unanimous standing ovation on opening night was most deserved. Don’t miss this one.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Driving Miss Daisy” through Feb. 1. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 students and $20 for children ages 5 to 12. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.org.

Photos by Brian Hoerger and Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

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Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The classic Grimm fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” heads to Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22 with a sensory sensitive performance on Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.

Amanda Sally Desdemona Estella Barbara Temple, better known as Little Red Riding Hood, takes a thrilling journey through the woods to her grandmother’s house. See what happens when William de Wolf stops at Granny Becket’s for “a bite” and Little Red Riding Hood shows up. Joined by her twin sisters, Blanche and Nora, Little Red Riding Hood learns a big lesson about safety in this modern musical telling.

All seats are $10. To order, call 928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Above, Phyllis March and Antoine Jones in a scene from Theatre Three’s ‘Driving Miss Daisy.' Photo courtesy of Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Melissa Arnold

For many people, it can be challenging to get to know someone of a different culture or background. This was especially true in the decades leading up to the civil rights movement, when expected social roles, biases and assumptions were commonplace. Playwright Alfred Uhry presented this struggle in his classic drama, “Driving Miss Daisy.” The show begins in 1948 in Georgia and chronicles more than 20 years in the life of Hoke Coleburn, a genteel and optimistic black chauffeur, and his client, a standoffish Southern Jewish woman named Daisy Werthan.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is set to open at Theatre Three on Jan. 11. Directed by Linda May, it co-stars Phyllis March as Daisy, Steve Ayle as Daisy’s son Boolie and Antoine Jones as Hoke, a role his father Al Jones played on the same stage 25 years ago.

The 41-year-old actor has enjoyed a successful career in professional theater, following in the footsteps of his siblings and his late father. Since returning to Long Island a few years ago, the Setauket resident has become a familiar presence onstage at the Port Jefferson theater.

When did you first get involved with Theatre Three?

I did my first show for Theatre Three when I was a child -− it was a production of “The Pied Piper” and then when I was a teenager I was in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” 

Did you ever aspire to play Hoke?

Evelyne Lune and Al Jones a scene from ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ in 1995. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three Productions Inc.

I never saw that for myself, no. I am about 20 years too young for the role, and that was a concern. Beyond that, I saw my father perform in this role for two separate productions, and during rehearsals there were moments where I had to stop and consider if I was acting or simply recreating what my father had presented. He was effortless. The character and this part of history were both very special to him as a man that was born in the late 1920s. He knew personally and deeply what “Driving Miss Daisy” was trying to accomplish. To stand on the stage he stood on 25 years later is a singular experience. 

Was it intimidating to step into the role knowing your father also played Hoke?

It would be one thing if this was just a role that my father played, and I waxed and waned between missing him and being sad that I don’t get to see him perform again. But I also have a broad background in African American studies, both from college and just in life, and the continuing relevance of “Driving Miss Daisy” is something I don’t take lightly. And I’m working with two other people that also understand their role. Legendary actors that most people are familiar with have played the role of Hoke, and there is an expectation that you better be able to do it.

How do you like working with the rest of the cast? 

Phyllis March and Steve Ayle both have a long history at Theatre Three. They’ve been there for many years and are really part of the theater’s legacy. We are not the type of people who do theater just to make these sporadic connections that come and go. These are very earnest people with busy lives and jobs − Steve runs his own business. They came to do these roles because it means something to them to commit, do hard work, and give people something they can walk away with that’s more than just entertainment. It’s a gift to work with such hardworking people.

What do you enjoy most about the play?

We’ve spent a lot of time in rehearsals talking about who the characters are and where they’ve come from and how they got here. One of the greatest aspects of the play is that you don’t get the low-hanging fruit. 

Alfred Uhry has written a play that presents complicated people. It reveals a racism that isn’t mean-spirited or easy to identify. These are essentially good people who, whether through nurture, nature or a lack of exposure, are forced to realize that maybe they aren’t quite where they need to be. I think that’s where most of us are, and I think that’s the brilliance of the play. 

Daisy Werthan isn’t a racist, but as far as Hoke is concerned, she’s got a long way to go. Even Hoke himself is a product of structural racism, and he talks about it. He doesn’t like the Creole people because he feels like they don’t strive for education or to move off their land, but he doesn’t understand that they’re just as much victims of racism and the lasting effects of slavery as he is. We talk a lot about that, and the gift is that we get to expose that nuance.

Do you have a favorite scene?

My favorite scene for Hoke is when Daisy learns that her synagogue is bombed. To sympathize with her, Hoke reveals something deeply personal that affected him in a profound way. It’s meaningful because it gives a clue about how Hoke got to where he is now, He’s had a lot of profound experiences that he needs to keep close to the vest, but that isn’t something Daisy has experienced.

Do you identify at all with Hoke’s personality or experiences?

I don’t know that I can identify. One of my problems is that Hoke can’t simply turn around and say, “This is a problem that I’m having, and I want to address what’s going on so I can feel like I’m in a more productive, positive place in the future.” He doesn’t have the words or the power. He isn’t even allowed to be frustrated. The humanity of the play constantly keeps us in check.

What of yourself have you brought to the role?

I don’t know how to answer that, but the director, Linda May, has a very unique perspective because she’s also an actor. She’s able to move us along in a way that is actor logic. She’s put some difficult observations in front of us. One of mine was that my voice would tend to rise in pitch, and she would tell me to bring it down because it didn’t sound grounded. It was like I was a slave-type character with no spine. I have to work very hard in my own mind to not think, “This feels too simple.” Not everything is Shakespeare or has that kind of depth. If you want to see bits of my personality, maybe you’ll find them if you see the show, I don’t know.  

Why do you think ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ has been so successful over the years?

I think part of why Daisy Werthan and Hoke Coleburn are so lovable as characters is because when the show begins, they couldn’t do anything about the circumstances they were in and had been born into. But by the end of the show, both of them have made a tremendous arc that many people in their situations wouldn’t have accomplished. Many Jewish women had black hired help and there was no evolution to their relationships. And someone like Hoke would have never had an opportunity to develop friendships with the people they worked for. 

Daisy and Hoke have a spirit within them − Daisy being hard and inflexible, Hoke being this bundle of positivity that wants to get along − and they managed to change when so much in their world was terrible. They were able to see great things in each other, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. We label each other and put them in categories and we don’t have to think about them again … but through sheer force of will, they overcome.

Why should people come see this show?

Alfred Uhry has written a timeless, celebrated and well-performed 90-minute slice of history. It’s a great writing that shows people don’t have to be perfect as long as they keep trying, and it’s when we stop listening to one another that things get messy. It shows that people are at their best when they listen. 

“Driving Miss Daisy” will run from Jan. 11 through Feb. 1 at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. Tickets range from $20 to $35. To learn more or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.

Photo from Suffolk Federal

In an effort to support the charitable work of local organizations that serve the areas of Suffolk Federal branch locations, the credit union has identified nonprofit organizations to which provide financial support. In Port Jefferson, Branch Sales Director of Retail Banking Micah Schlendorf presented a $1,000 contribution to Theatre Three in December.

“Theatre Three not only brings incredible entertainment to the community, but continues to provide educational opportunities to local students,” said Schlendorf. “We are extremely proud to be able to support their efforts.”

“We’re so thankful to Suffolk Federal for their support and generosity,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “These funds will specifically go towards our educational touring program that we present in schools and community centers across the tri-state area. To date, The Bullying Project: Stand Up! Stand Out!, Class Dismissed and From the Fires: Voices from the Holocaust have brought awareness to thousands of students. This donation will assist the Theatre in continuing these efforts.”

Celebrating its 50th season at the historic Athena Hall in Port Jefferson, Theatre Three has continued to bring Broadway to Main Street and offers the community a robust variety of programming that includes Mainstage, Second Stage, Cabaret, Children’s Academy and workshops. They present a diverse portfolio of both classic and modern revivals all while providing an educational environment to all in the community. 

Pictured from left, Douglas Quattrock, Theatre Three’s director of development and artistic associate; Catherine Rodgers, Suffolk Federal mortgage loan originator and a member of Theatre Three’s Box Office staff; Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s executive artistic director; and Micah Schlendorf, Suffolk Federal branch sales director of retail banking.

Port Jefferson hosted its 24th annual Charles Dickens Festival Dec. 6-8. Photo by Kyle Barr

A silent night Dec. 6 opened up the weekend with Port Jefferson Village’s annual lantern dedications, but as night turned to day, Port Jeff was suddenly filled with characters straight out of a classic 19th century Dickens Classic. For the 24th year in a row, the village was suffused with the sights and sounds of Christmas spirit during the annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Volunteers acted scenes from A Christmas Carole and other Dickens books, such as a live, local musical version of Oliver Twist. Visitors could visit the Village Center for ice skating, the festival of trees or a live reading of A Christmas Carol. A constant supply of marshmallows were up for grabs to roast over a fire, and businesses all shared Christmas and Dickens themed dinners and specials. Over at Theatre Three, A Christmas Carol was acted out Friday through Sunday, and is going on all the way until Dec. 28.

By Heidi Sutton

While Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a transformation on Theatre Three’s Mainstage in “A Christmas Carol,” Santa’s littlest elf Barnaby experiences a metamorphosis of his own in the theater’s adorable children’s production of “Barnaby Saves Christmas.” The show runs through Dec. 28.

With a clever script by Douglas J. Quattrock and Jeffrey Sanzel with music and lyrics by Quattrock, the holiday production teaches us that Christmas lies within our hearts.

It’s Christmas Eve and the North Pole is a flurry of activity. Barnaby (Eric J. Hughes), the littlest elf in Elf School, is busy making a toy that Santa (Andrew Lenahan) requested — a little stuffed bear with dark blue pants, buckles on his shoes and a bright yellow vest — while desperately trying to fit in. His constant attempts to be helpful fail, as he knocks down presents, bumps into fellow elves Blizzard (Krystal Lawless), Crystal (Nicole Bianco) and Sam (Jason Furnari) and makes a big mess.

When it’s time to deliver the presents to all the good little girls and boys, Barnaby and Blizzard’s fawn, Franklynne (Michelle LaBozzetta), are left behind with Mrs. Claus (Lorrie Maida). “You’ll have to wait to grow a little bit,” explains Sam. Barnaby soon realizes that Santa has left the stuffed bear behind and convinces Franklynne to embark on a journey to find Santa and “save Christmas.”   

On their adventure they crash land on the roof of the house of Sarah (Lorrie Maida) and her nephew Andrew (Andrew Lenahan) and learn all about Hanukkah and the Festival of Lights. They also come across S.B. (spoiled brat) Dombulbury (Steven Uihlein), a Scrooge in his own right who has stuffed up all the chimneys with coal with his partner in crime Irma (Dana Bush), in order to ruin Christmas. Yes, Barnaby will save the day — as evident in the title — but just wait until you see how!

Directed by Sanzel, the cast perfectly executes this beautiful story. The wonderful songs, accompanied on piano by Quattrock, are the heart of the show, with special mention to “Still With a Ribbon on Top” and “Within Our Hearts.”

Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John are colorful and festive and the choreography by Nicole Bianco is fresh and fun. Special effects abound, elevated by the futuristic lighting and, spoiler alert, it even snows in the theater!

With the ultimate message to be the very best that you can be, “Barnaby Saves Christmas” is a must see this holiday season.

Souvenir elf and reindeer dolls will be available for purchase during intermission. Stay after the show for a photo keepsake with Santa Claus on stage if you wish — the $5 donation supports the theater’s scholarship fund — and join the rest of the cast in the lobby for a meet and greet.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents “Barnaby Saves Christmas” through Dec. 28. Children’s Theater continues with “Little Red Riding Hood” from Jan. 18 to Feb. 22 and “Hansel & Gretel” from Feb. 29 to March 21. 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 Heidi Sutton

As the holiday season rolls around, the Village of Port Jefferson is one of the first towns on Long Island to fully embrace its joyful spirit. Z-Pita Café on Main Street is already decked in holiday lights from top to bottom, elves are busy getting Santa’s workshop ready on the corner of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway and preparations are underway to transport the seaport village back to the Victorian era for its 24th annual Charles Dickens Festival on Dec 7 and 8.

The latter was inspired by Theatre Three’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Now in its 36th year, the show continues to delight and touch audiences of all ages, a testament to the brilliance of the theater’s Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel and the caliber of its cast. Last Saturday’s opening night performance received a much deserved standing ovation.

Based on the 1843 novella by Charles Dickens, it tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Sanzel), a successful business man who loves money more than anything else and has become bitter, lonely and stingy over the years, especially around the holidays. “I’ve devoted my life to the cultivation of business,” he explains.

We first meet the miserly old curmudgeon on Christmas Eve and witness him turn away the needy and a charity group and lose his temper with his clerk Bob Cratchit (Douglas J. Quattrock) and his always optimistic nephew Fred Halliwell (Steven Uihlein). “Keep Christmas in your own way and I will keep it in mine,” he warns Halliwell before kicking him out.

That evening Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Lenahan) who offers him one last chance at redemption. Draped in the chains he has forged in life, Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – in an attempt to save his immortal soul.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (Michelle LaBozzetta) takes Scrooge to Wellington House, the boarding school he attended as a young boy and where he spent many Christmases alone; we meet his adored sister Fan and his apprenticeship at Fezziwig’s, where the audience is introduced to Scrooge’s one and only love, Belle (Nicole Bianco). This is also where he meets Marley for the first time and where his life takes a terrible turn.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Stephen T. Wangner) takes Scrooge to meet Bob Cratchit’s family and learn about the failing health of Tiny Tim and to a dinner party hosted by his nephew in one of the funniest moments in the show.

Lastly, the most intimidating specter, a 14-foot Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (operated by Steven Uihlein), shows Scrooge the shadows of what is yet to come, including his own death and how those around him are affected. In the end, Scrooge learns that “life is not about facts and figures. It’s about joy and family and Christmas.”

While the entire cast is excellent, it is Sanzel who commands the stage. One of his finest moments occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to Fezziwig’s holiday party. While at all other times he remains in the shadows as an observer, Sanzel suddenly jumps into the role of a younger Scrooge with boundless energy and dances the night away. The transformation is breathtaking.

As director, Sanzel succeeds in keeping the annual production fresh and exciting while maintaining its familiarity, allowing families to share in a story that touches on empathy, selflessness and charity, while providing lots of laughs, visual amazement and more than a few surprises. This year the lighting and sound effects by Robert W. Henderson Jr. take center stage and elevate the flawless production to the next level, a feast for the eyes and ears.

Arrive early and be treated to a selection of Christmas carols by the actors in the beautifully decorated lobby and stay afterward for a photo keepsake with Scrooge. The $5 fee goes to support the theater’s scholarship fund.

The Cast: Nicole Bianco, Ginger Dalton, Holly D’Accordo, Kailey D’Accordo, Ellie Dunn, Suzie Dunn, Alexa Eichinger, Julie Friedman, Eric J. Hughes, Kyle Imperatore, Audrey Kelly, Sophia Knapp, David Lafler, Edward Langston, Michelle LaBozzetta, Cassandra LaRocco, Andrew Lenahan, Douglas J. Quattrock, Michaela Reis, Leah Romero, Jeffrey Sanzel, Aiden Sharkey, Finn Thomas, Cameron Turner, Amber Walkowiak, Stephen T. Wangner, Steven Uihlein, Addyson Urso and Kiernan Urso.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 28. Please note all evening shows begin at 7 p.m. Running time is 2 hours. Tickets are $20 per person through November; $35 adults, $28 seniors and students in December. For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Brian Hoerger/ Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will host the Long Island Comedy Festival Nov. 2. Mike Keegan will likely not be invited. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Julianne Mosher

Long Island comedian Mike Keegan has been banned from any future performances on the Theatre Three stage after he tweeted a joke  about Greta Thunberg that some say referenced sexual assault. 

The tweet, posted last Tuesday, talked about the 16-year-old climate activist and how “as soon as the Democrats are done exploiting her, they’re gonna [sic] send her off to Epstein Island” — referencing Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender who was accused of bringing and abusing unescorted young girls on his private island.  

On Sept. 25 at 3:57 p.m., the theater posted on its Facebook page a statement that read, “To Our Patrons: Theatre Three in no way condones the inappropriate comments made by stand-up comedian Mike Keegan about a child activist. He will never again appear on the Theatre Three stage. Thank you, The Staff and Board of Theatre Three.” 

The comedian said the tweet was largely misunderstood.

“Apparently some people were upset with a joke that I made on social media which was wildly misinterpreted,” Keegan said. “They then felt that it was necessary to reach out to a venue, that I have performed at in the past, to suggest that they not hire me to perform.”

Vivian Koutrakos, the theater’s managing director, declined to comment.

Keegan said the theater did not tell him he was no longer being used and that Theatre Three “decided to make a very public post on their social media page which garnered a lot of attention.” The 36-year-old comedian said that he has always had a “great relationship with this venue,” so he was upset that they could not contact him directly. 

“I respect the decision that was made by the venue as they have every right to dictate who performs on their stage,” Keegan said. “There is an abundance of talented comedians here on Long Island. I just wish they would have had the respect to contact
me privately.”

Comments on Facebook were divided, with some saying the tweet was in terrible taste and they supported the theater’s decision. Others said they felt this was censorship and mentioned they would not patronize the theater. The comedian asked people to continue supporting the arts.

“This was extremely unprofessional and the whole thing was handled terribly on their end,” Keegan said. “This is a historic venue on Long Island that celebrates the arts and I encourage people to continue to patronize them. I do not hold the theater responsible because they made a business decision.”

Although Keegan was disappointed about the theater’s post, he added he is more disappointed in the people who didn’t get the joke. 

“My frustration falls upon the people who misinterpret something that is said and feel that it is necessary to take work away from somebody without a comprehensive understanding of what was written,” he said. “They are the ones who need to be exposed for attempting to censor free speech.”