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Antoine Jones

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.

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.

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.

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.

LEAVE US IN PEACE — WE JUST WANT TO DO PLAYS! TracyLynn Conner, Dondi Rollins and Morgan Howell Rumble in a scene from ‘Dark’

By Heidi Sutton

When a One-Act Play Festival receives 415 submissions, it cannot be easy to choose just a handful. But that’s exactly what Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays founder and Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel was tasked with doing this year and the result is extraordinary. Showcasing seven original works, the annual festival opened last weekend for a 10-performance run.

“For the first time on any stage, these works come to life,” explained Sanzel, who also serves as director. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’ A comedy [is] followed by a drama, a farce by an experimental work …” in a two-hour marathon in the cozy setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, a space so intimate that it “allows the audience to breathe the same air as these … characters. There is no wall. There is no division.”

Steve McCoy and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘At the Circus’

The show kicks off with Chip Bolcik’s “At the Circus,” starring veteran actor Steve McCoy and festival newcomer Dylan Robert Poulos. In an ironic twist, a trapeze artist (McCoy) and a clown (Poulos) have grown tired of life in the circus and dream of a life of normalcy, of running away with the audience. They long to have a house with a window to look out of, a driveway, the opportunity to drive to the grocery store. “They have no idea how lucky they are, do they?” wonders Poulos as he looks longingly into the crowd, giving nod to the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Next up is “Interview with the First Family” by Tom Slot, a behind-the-scenes reality TV look at what really happened in the Garden of Eden and where they are now. Adam (Antoine Jones) is a surfer, Eve (Susan Emory) works at a bakery — “People can’t get enough of my apple pie,” Cain (Morgan Howell Rumble) is a convict doing time for killing his brother Abel and God (Linda May) is just sitting back seeing how the world spins and working on her stand up act. Her biggest regret? Creating the mosquito. 

“Plumb Desire,” written by Patrick Gabridge, is a hilarious take on how hard it is to find a good handyman these days and the relationships that develop. Darius (played by Steve Wangner) has found such a man in Jackson (Dondi Rollins), a plumber who has been renovating his bathroom. Jackson hasn’t shown up lately so Darius tracks him down and tries to woo him back with flowers and a six pack of beer. “I’ve been searching for a plumber for so long and you are the one,” he whines, adding, “Do you remember when we   replaced all the vents on the radiators?” Jackson finally breaks down and admits that “sometimes plumbers can be flaky — it comes with the territory.” Will he be back on Monday to finish the job?

TracyLynn Conner and Meg Bush in a scene from ‘Class”

Comedy switches to drama with Andrea Fleck Clardy’s “After Class.” Madison (Meg Bush in a powerful performance) is a mentally disturbed student who speaks of bringing a gun she’s nicknamed “Kim” to class as her teacher Amy Clausen (TracyLynn Connor) struggles with handling the scary situation.  

After intermission, “Bird Feed” by Melanie Acampora takes center stage. Three pigeons sit on a ledge in Manhattan chatting. It’s Georgie’s (Susan Emory) birthday — she’s two years old today. Her friends Bertha (Meg Bush) and Rayna (Nicole Bianco) want to take her out to celebrate when Bertha overhears someone saying that the average life span of a pigeon is just two and half years, leading to a contemplation on birthdays and mortality.  

There’s a mole loose in the world of acting in Jack McCleland’s “Dark.” It’s open hunting season and actors are being picked off one by one. Every time they find a hiding spot, they are mysteriously found and shot to death. Three actors — Steve (Morgan Howell Rumble), Meg (TracyLynn Conner) and understudy Carl (Dondi Rollins) are holed up in a warehouse and are being ordered to come out. “Leave us in peace! We’re actors — we just want to do plays!” they plead. One last warm up and they venture outside and the snitch is finally revealed as Ethel Merman’s rendition of “No Business Like Show Business” plays jubilantly in the background.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco and Susan Emory in a scene from ‘Bird Feed’

Sanzel saves the best for last with Charles West’s courtroom spoof, “Home Versus the Holidays.” A man is on trial for waving a sword at a church group singing Christmas carols in front of his home. The audience is sworn in as the jury and the judge (Linda May) calls the first witness to the stand, the chaperone to the group (Steve Wangner).

After the district attorney (Nicole Bianco) asks him some questions, the defense lawyer (Antoine Jones) is allowed to cross-examine and hilarity ensues. Using visuals, song lyrics and the alleged weapon, Jones turns the Christmas spirit on its head in a stunning performance that must be seen to be believed. You’ll be in stitches long after the show ends.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get your ticket before they’re sold out.

The cast: Nicole Bianco, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Susan Emory, Antoine Jones, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dondi Rollins, Morgan Howell Rumble, Steve Wangner

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 21st Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 6. Contains adult language and subject matter. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The cast of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater
Dorothy and friends delight audiences at the Engeman

By Rita J. Egan

The John W. Engeman Theater closes out its 2017-2018 Children’s Theater with a charming version of the cherished children’s tale, “The Wizard of Oz.” The Northport venue debuted the musical on March 24, and Suzie Dunn has done an excellent job directing the eight adult actors down the yellow brick road.

Based on the children’s books by L. Frank Baum, “The Wizard of Oz” tells the story of young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto. When a tornado sweeps Dorothy away from her home in Kansas and over the rainbow to a magical land, she meets witches, Munchkins and three charming travel companions. While the Engeman’s “Wizard” is an abridged version of the story — no poppies and less of the witch’s monkeys and guards — all the favorite characters and songs from the 1939 MGM Studios motion picture are present.

Danielle Aliotta’s portrayal of Dorothy is as endearing as Judy Garland’s was in the movie, and the actress sings a sweet “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with strong, clear vocals.

 

Jacqueline Hughes and Danielle Aliotta in a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Her companions down the yellow brick road are just as delightful. Jacqueline Hughes (Scarecrow), Danny Meglio (Tin Man) and Andrew McCluskey (Cowardly Lion) do fantastic jobs during their respective numbers, “If I Only Had a Brain,” “If I Only Had a Heart” and “If I Only Had the Nerve.” McCluskey’s vocals are also wonderful during his solo “If I Were King of the Forest.”

Maeve Barth-Dwyer has perfected the evil shrill voice of the Wicked Witch, and Antoine Jones plays the Wizard of Oz and the Emerald City doorman with just the right amount of quirkiness. Marielle Greguski is lovely as both Glinda and Auntie Em and sings beautifully with Aliotta on the reprise of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

With no poppies to put Dorothy and friends to sleep, the witch tries to undermine their mission with the help of a tap dancing jitterbug played by Marquez Catherine Stewart, an upbeat number that was cut from the original motion picture to shorten it. While the song and dance routine may not have been fitting for the perilous journey in the movie, it is perfect for a live production for children. Stewart, Aliotta, Hughes, Meglio and McCluskey do a fantastic job with this refreshing number.

Danielle Aliotta, Danny Meglio and Jacqueline Hughes in a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Jennifer Tully

Young audience members at the Sunday show were thrilled to see the actors walk through the aisles while they were on their way to the Emerald City to see the Wizard. Costume designer Jess Costagliola has done a wonderful job replicating the character’s costumes, especially Glinda’s pretty pink gown, and a few of the actors dressed in giant hats with big googly eyes are adorable as the Munchkins.

Sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the Engeman’s “The Wizard of Oz” is a special treat for audience members of all ages, and a wonderful tribute to a nearly 80-year-old classic that proves there’s no place like home. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission, booster seats are available and children can meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs. (An autograph page is included at the back of the program.)

The John W. Engeman Theater, located at 250 Main St., Northport, presents “The Wizard of Oz” through April 29. Children’s Theater returns for the 2018-2019 season with “Shrek The Musical” from July 28 to Sept. 2 followed by “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from Sept. 22 to Oct. 28, “Frosty” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30, “Seussical The Musical” from Jan. 26 to March 3, 2018, and ends with “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from March 23 to April 28. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Alyson Leonard, Antoine Jones and Marquez Stewart in a scene from 'The Cat in the Hat'

By Heidi Sutton

For generations, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, has entertained and delighted children and adults alike with his whimsical tales and wild imagination. Out of the 60 children’s books published during his lifetime, one of Seuss’ most popular is “The Cat in the Hat.”

Written in 1957 as an early reader book, it has since been translated into more than 15 languages and was adapted into a feature-length film starring Michael Myers in 2003. And just last week, Warner Animation Group, in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that a fully animated version of the popular book is in the works, the first of many planned to keep the Dr. Seuss legacy alive.

In our neck of the woods, a theatrical adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” by Katie Mitchell opened last weekend at the Engeman Theater in Northport. The adorable children’s musical will run through the first week of March. The script, which is guided with voice-overs by Steve Wangner in the wings, follows the book closely and provides for a fun afternoon of live theater.

It’s a rainy day and Sally (Danielle Aliotta) and her brother (Kevin Burns) are bored, with only their goldfish Fish (Danny Meglio) to keep them company. Their mother has gone out for a while, so they sit by the window and watch the rain fall. When the brother says “How I wish we had something to do,” the door suddenly swings open and in walks the Cat in the Hat (Antoine Jones), ready to entertain the children with some tricks he knows, and the fun begins.

Now everyone who shares their home with a cat knows that cats make messes, and this feline, although he’s wearing a hat, is no exception. In the first act he impressively balances on one leg while holding books, an umbrella, a fan, a rake, milk on a dish, a toy ship, a toy man, a cake and poor Fish before it all comes crashing down.

The cast of Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Photo by Jennifer Tully

In the second act, that mischievous kitty releases Thing 1 (Alyson Leonard) and Thing 2 (Marquez Stewart) from a box and things only get crazier from there. They fly kites in the house, breaking things along the way, much to the delight of the young audience. “It’s a beautiful mess,” exclaims the Cat in the Hat.

When the kids see Mother coming down the road, they know that they have to catch Thing 1 and Thing 2 and clean up before she gets home. An exciting chase scene, accompanied by the Benny Hill theme song, ensues. Will they succeed or will time run out?

Directed by Suzie Dunn, the seven adult actors do an excellent job portraying the story. The actors interact with the audience often, making them feel like they are a part of the show. At one point Meglio makes his way through the audience with a bubble machine. Later on, Aliotta invites children on stage to dance with her. Special mention should be made of Jones who clearly loves children and is funny and engaging. From the moment his character’s red-and-white-striped hat appears around the door, the audience knows they are in for a real treat. So run, don’t walk, to see the cat, The Cat in the Hat!

Running time is one hour and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Booster seats are available. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present Dr. Seuss “The Cat in the Hat” through March 4. Up next in children’s theater is “The Wizard of Oz” from March 24 to April 29. All seats are $15. For more information, call 631-261-9700 or visit www.engemantheater.com.