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Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

As one of the country’s most beloved holidays draws near, Theatre Three gets into the act with Halloween treats of its own. While the theater thrills and chills on the Mainstage with “Jekyll & Hyde,” its Children’s Theatre offers “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” the adorable tale of a ghost who is afraid of the dark. Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the musical, which runs through Oct. 26, is the perfect way to kick off the spookiest of seasons.

A friendly ghost named Abner Perkins (played by Steven Uihlein) has just graduated from Haunting High School. With a diploma and a medallion of invisibility in hand, his first assignment is to become the spooksperson for Ma Aberdeen’s Boarding House, famously known the world over for being the most haunted house in Harrison County U.S.A. and for serving the best toast. There are only two rules he has to follow — he can only haunt at night and he can’t lose the medallion or he’ll be seen by the living.

Abner confides to his best friend Lavinda the witch (Michelle LaBozzetta) that he has an uncontrollable fear of the dark and, after a bit of teasing (“That’s like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!”), she gifts him a night-light and promises to assist him with his haunting duties for the first few weeks. When they arrive at the boarding house, they find Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her guests in the kitchen stuffing treat bags for Halloween.

We meet Kit Garret (Nicole Bianco) who “just came from a small town to a big city with a suitcase in my hand and hope in my heart” and can’t wait to try Ma Aberdeen’s famous toast. We also meet the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Andrew Lenahan), his wife Penelope (Krystal Lawless) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes) — who have the most curious habit of using words that start with the letter P in every sentence.

When Pip puts on a pumpkin pullover and proceeds to tell pumpkin jokes (see what I did there?), Abner casts a speed spell on the group, making them spin like a top, do jumping jacks and walk like a duck in double time, and then, straight out of a scene from “The Golden Goose,” has them stick to each other “like birds of a feather.”

Just as he is about to undo the spell, fellow graduate and ghost with a grudge Dora Pike (Beth Ladd) shows up and steals Abner’s night-light and medallion of invisibility and hides them in Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world. Now visible, Abner has to convince the boarders, who are still stuck to each other in “an unprecedented predicament,” to help him and Lavinda get his property back. What follows is a hilarious adventure that highlights the power of honesty, determination and friendship.

Directed by Jeffrey Sanzel, the eight-member adult cast embraces the brilliant script and presents a hauntingly fun afternoon both children and parents will love. Accompanied on piano by Douglas Quattrock with choreography by Nicole Bianco, the song and dance numbers are fun and catchy with special mention to the rap “A Need for Speed” by Abner and Lavinda and the group number, “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson and Toni St. John are spot on, from the Peterson’s black and orange outfits to the spooky white garbs for the ghosts. And wait until you see the special effects!

Souvenir cat, pumpkin, vampire and ghost dolls will be available for purchase before the show and during intermission for $5. Meet the cast in the lobby for photos on your way out.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “A Kooky Spooky Halloween” on Oct. 12, 19 and 26 at 11 a.m. and Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with one intermission, and Halloween costumes are encouraged. Children’s theater continues with “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 28. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Renee Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in a new biopic. Photo courtesy LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

By Heidi Sutton

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”

― L. Frank Baum, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”

Most people remember the legendary Judy Garland for her role as Dorothy Gale from Kansas in “The Wizard of Oz.” For die-hard fans, the actress, dancer and singer with the beautiful voice is also remembered for “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Easter Parade” “Summer Stock,” “A Star Is Born,” the Andy Hardy films with Mickey Rooney and much more.

Fifty years after Garland’s death, director Rupert Goold brings us “Judy,” an adaptation of Peter Quilter’s musical “End of the Rainbow,” which explores the star’s final months on earth.

Renée Zellweger stars as Judy Garland in the new biopic.

Set in 1968, the biopic is somber, sad, touching. Garland’s career, by this point, has already spanned more than four decades. At 46, the aging actress (played by Renée Zellweger)lives in and out of hotels with her children, Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey (Lewin Lloyd), while grappling with the demons of her troubled showbiz life.

Down on her luck and out of money, she jumps at the chance to star in a London cabaret show, and leaving the children with their father and third husband, Sid Luft (Rufus Sewell), Garland heads to the Talk of the Town nightclub for a five-week run.

While there, she begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), her soon-to-be fifth husband, reconnects with fans, and in a nod to “Oz,” all the while looks forward to getting back home to see her children. “Having children is like having your heart outside your body,” she explains. We meet Judy’s oldest daughter Liza Minnelli (Gemma-Leah Devereux) only briefly at a Hollywood party.

Garland suffers from insomnia, hepatitis, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder and is addicted to pills. Years of abuse, suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns have left her broken.

Occasional flashbacks to the MGM set and scenes with Mickey Rooney (Gus Barry) as a 16-year-old (played by Darci Shaw) attempts to shed light on how Garland ended up this way. MGM founder Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery) is portrayed as a monster, threatening Judy and making her take amphetamines and barbiturates to keep up with the frantic pace of making one film after another. “I make movies, Judy, but it’s your job to give those people dreams,” he tells her as they walk along the yellow brick road.

Renée Zellweger and Finn Wittrock in a scene from the film. 

Zellweger is incredible in her portrayal of Garland as a lonely and frail victim of stardom. Her mannerisms and expressions are spot on while the tragic story she is telling is sometimes too hard to watch. The songs that made Garland famous — “Over the Rainbow,” “The Trolley Song,” “Get Happy,”  are performed by Zellweger in the film — but only in snippets.

The film also highlights Garland’s faithful following in the LGBTQ community as she spends time with two gay male fans (Andy Nyman and Daniel Cerqueira) in their apartment in one of the most poignant moments in the film.

In the final scene, Garland peers out into the audience and asks, “You won’t forget me, will you? Promise you won’t.” Six months later, she is dead from an accidental barbiturate overdose. At her funeral, Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” co-star Ray Bolger said, “She just plain wore out.”

Rated PG-13, “Judy” is now playing in local theaters

Photos courtesy LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Joanna Sanges stars as Dorothy in the Northport production

By Heidi Sutton

The iconic story “The Wizard of Oz” has entertained children for over 100 years. MGM’s 1939 version is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinema history.

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the story of a young girl and her dog Toto from Kansas who are swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz and have wondrous adventures with a Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion made a 16-year-old Judy Garland a star. Now the classic tale follows the yellow brick road to the John W. Engeman Theater for a delicious fall treat. The musical runs through Oct. 27.

Dylan Robert stars as the Tin Man

Suzanne Mason directs an adult cast of eight, with each actor remaining true to their characters. The superbly talented Joanna Sanges, last seen on the Engeman stage as Rapunzel, stars as the lovable Dorothy. Her first number, “Over the Rainbow,” is executed beautifully.

Jae Hughes returns as the Scarecrow, a role she can by now play blindfolded. Making his Engeman debut, Dylan Robert steps onto the yellow brick road as the Tin Man and does a great job. Amanda Geraci is a force to be reckoned with as the Wicked Witch of the West as her haunting cackle fills the theater. James Schultz is a terrific Wizard, Sari Feldman has the cool role of Nikko the flying bat and Caitlin Hornik plays Glinda the Good Witch of the North who saves the day.

But it is Bobby Montaniz, in the juicy role of the Cowardly Lion, who steals the spotlight and gives an outstanding performance. His rendition of “If I Were King of the Forest” with all the trills would make Bert Lahr beam with pride.

Bobby Montaniz stars as the Cowardly Lion

The show has become an annual tradition at the Engeman and every year it gets better and better. This year’s performances have been elevated with the addition of a backdrop screen and the lighting has been turned up a notch to make up for the sparse set. Theatergoers are in for a visual treat as they are able to see a black and white movie of Dorothy’s house caught up in the tornado before landing in a colorful Munchkinland and witnessing the arrival of Glinda the Witch in her pink bubble. The stage floor turns different colors as well as the scenes change.

A nice touch is how often the actors come down into the audience on the way to the Emerald City, giving the stage crew a chance to change out the scenery. At one point the Wicked Witch pops up in the middle of the theater with her “I’ll get you my pretty!” making all the children jump. Speaking of children, it was so nice to see so many of them at last Saturday’s opening performance watching live theater and enjoying every minute of it. Don’t miss this one.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for autographs and pictures. Running time is 90 minutes. Costumes are encouraged.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Route 25A, Northport presents “The Wizard of Oz” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through Oct. 27. Children’s theater continues with “Frosty” from Nov. 23 to Dec. 29 and  Disney’s “Frozen Jr” from Jan. 25 to March 1. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Photos by Jennifer Collester

The cover of Jungle Bob's first book.

Reviewed by Heidi Sutton

Above, author Jungle Bob with the inspiration for his first book, a legless lizard.

Robert “Jungle Bob” Smith’s lifelong passion has been to learn everything he can about reptiles and amphibians. With a wealth of knowledge he has made it his mission to educate the public about these fascinating but mostly misunderstood creatures. The owner of Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Selden and Oakdale presents hundreds of educational shows on Long Island every year and has a healthy following on YouTube.

Now the entrepreneur and educator can add author to his resume with the release of “Lenny … A Most Unusual Reptile,” the first in a series of children’s books with an anti-bullying message that teaches us that “our differences are what make us so unique.” Resembling a comic strip, the paperback also doubles as a coloring book with illustrations by Steve Sabella. I recently had the opportunity to interview Jungle Bob as he prepares for a book signing in Huntington on Oct. 3.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My family is from Hells Kitchen in Manhattan, but I grew up in West Babylon, which is my alma mater. I currently live in Islip Terrace.

When did you realize you had a special love for animals, especially reptiles? 

It was when I first moved to West Babylon at age 6. Being from Manhattan everything was new to me, even grass and trees, but it was the wildlife that I couldn’t get enough of. West Babylon was more rural back in those days.

What was your favorite place to visit as a child?

My favorite place to go as a child was the pond down the block from my house, Beaver Lake. It was there that I encountered reptiles, amphibians, fishing, ice skating and first experienced the outdoors in general.

What was your favorite children’s book?

My mom was always reading to me as a child and there were many, but “Curious George” sticks out. Reading to my three kids, “Good Night Moon” was a favorite.

Aside from operating your pet stores, what else do you like to do?

Jungle Bob has performed over 1,000 educational shows in the area since opening 10 years ago. That has kept me pretty busy! I love the outdoors. Long Island has so many great places to hike. In the summer you can find me on any of the South Shore beaches, playing my favorite game Frisbee, which I am quite accomplished in. I am also a traveler with over 50 trips overseas, all in search of unusual wildlife and the outdoors.

What is your favorite animal?

A snake. Hands down. The first animal I ever captured was a garter snake in my front yard. I had been in the neighborhood for only a few days and didn’t connect with the local kids yet. One day I heard a scream from the other side of the hedges and this snake came slithering through to my side. I inexplicably picked it up just in time for all the locals to see as they had circled around the hedges to follow it. I was an instant celebrity. Then it bit me, and I was instantly cool. Luckily garter snakes aren’t venomous but I had no idea what species I was holding; it just fascinated me in the way it moved. It didn’t blink, it was smoother than it looked, and the kids were mesmerized. My dad was a WWII veteran and a NYC cop and he ran for his gun! My mother was praying in Italian! They had all the fake facts about snakes. I have been hooked ever since.

Did you have many pets growing up?

We had cats mostly, as my mom liked them, but in the basement I always had snakes, turtles and frogs.

What inspired you to write this book?

Reptiles truly suffer from fake news. Myths associated with them have survived for centuries, all the way back to the Bible in fact. And I saw this misinformation then seep into children’s books. Why are they always creepy, crawly and up to no good? I correct those misnomers in every lecture but then decided to go one step further and make a factual children’s book to reinforce the truth. Lenny was born.

How long have you been working on it?

Ten years! This book has been on my things to do list for a decade! I decided to just finish it in 2019 as a New Year’s resolution.

What is the book about?

Although the goal was to paint reptiles in the proper light, the book is about anti-bullying. We use animals instead of people to point out how wrong it is to make fun of someone else because they are different and acknowledge that not only is it okay to be different … it may work out to your advantage!

Tell us about the main character, Lenny. What kind of lizard is he and where does his species live?

Lenny is a reptile known as a legless lizard. There are many species of these around the globe. Steve and I modeled the drawing after the Russian/Eastern European legless, but the story takes place in more familiar turf: Florida. There are legless lizards there too.

What other creatures are represented in the book? 

There are snakes, who are the antagonists to Lenny; a tortoise who is wise and helpful; a raccoon and an owl who are the “bad guys,” more appropriately predators; and another legless lizard named Lena who befriends Lenny and sets him straight about who he is.

Why did you pick the topic of bullying?

It wasn’t the forethought 10 years ago, but it clearly emerged as the topic after my many many edits over the years. I watched kids get bullied in my youth and no one ever stepped in to help. It’s a horrible thing to do and this is just one more way to reinforce how wrong it is.

What message do you hope to pass on?

I hope that all aged readers (parents for sure) learn something new about our natural world, like the differences between snakes and lizards, and that all these unusual animals aren’t evil in any way and that reptiles are often the victims of mammals and birds, not the other way around.

How cool that you decided to make it a coloring book also.

We figured they would just sell in the stores and the kids could bring in their work to show me! We are making individual sheets of certain pages for that and plan to hang them on the walls of the stores.

What kind of feedback have you gotten?

Of course it appeals to all reptile enthusiasts but every parent who picked it up has said something positive about the anti-bullying message, the quality of the drawings, the coloring book aspect, etc.

Is the book self-published?

Yes it is. It was fairly painless actually, once we understood the limitations of printing something in a short run and the costs involved in general we got it done fairly quickly.

What advice would you give to someone who is writing their first book?

Get it done! Make time away from all other daily interruptions. My excuse is running a retail business with live inventory for 10 years. It distracted me to say the least.

Who is your target audience ?

This book is geared for 3- to 7-year-olds plus parents and grandparents, who tend to know the least about reptiles.

What will your next book be about?

It’s a secret, but anyone who has seen my shows knows the cast of characters I travel with! Castro the Cuban iguana, Jabba the African bullfrog, Rosie the tarantula and a dozen more should all have a book about them.

“Lenny … A Most Unusual Reptile” is available at Jungle Bob’s Reptile World in Selden at 984 Middle Country Road, in Oakdale at 4130 Sunrise Highway, online at www.JungleBobsReptileWorld.com and at Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington. Meet Jungle Bob along with Lenny the Lizard and friends at a book signing event at Book Revue (631-271-1442) on Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.

Please note: This article has been updated to reflect a change in the time for the book signing.

By Heidi Sutton

It’s been 14 years since the world was first introduced to Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo in DreamWork’s computer-animated comedy “Madagascar.” Since its release, there have been two sequels, a spinoff (“Penguins of Madagascar”) and more recently a stage adaptation.

The latter opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last weekend in the form of “Madagascar A Musical Adventure Jr.,” a show for kids performed by kids, and the end result is a fabulous afternoon of live theater. Sitting in the balcony during last Saturday’s performance, I was quickly reminded of just how clever and funny and entertaining this story is.

Living the good life at the Central Park Zoo, Alex (Hunter Pszybylski), Gloria (Gianna Oppedisano) and Melman (Jacob Christie) help Marty (Thomas Lau) celebrate his 10th birthday. When asked to make a wish, Marty wishes he can go back to the wild (aka Connecticut). Moments later he escapes with “cute and cuddly” penguins, Rico (Ari Spiegel), Kowalski (Hannah Waller), Private (Laurie Kratochvil) and Skipper (Max Lamberg) who are determined to get back to Antarctica “where we belong, on the ice.”

When Marty’s friends go looking for him, the entire group is cornered in the halls of Grand Central Station by the zookeepers and tranquilized. When they awaken, they find themselves in crates on a ship headed to a wildlife preserve in Africa. When the penguins escape their confinement and seize the ship, their antics cause the crates to fall overboard and the four friends wash up on the shores of Madagascar.

There they are met by King Julien (Zachary Podair), his sidekick Maurice (Emily Warner) and a tribe of ring-tailed lemurs who hope that Alex can protect them from the terrible foosa, cat-like animals that “are always trespassing, interrupting our parties and ripping our limbs off!” However, when Alex’s stomach starts rumbling and the lemurs can only offer him seaweed on a stick, things take a turn for the worse.

Expertly directed by Tommy Ranieri, the young cast (19 in all) do an excellent job bringing the personalities of these zany characters to life in this musical about the importance of friendship.

The songs are executed perfectly with special mention to “Relax, Be Cool, Chill Out,” “Best Friends,” “Steak,” and the big dance number “Living in Paradise” with fresh choreography by Ryan Cavanagh.

Costumes are simple but cleverly designed by Ronald Green III with the outfits matching the zoo animal’s colors with an orange wig for Alex’s mane, while his monochromatic friend Marty sports a mohawk. The set, used from the current main stage production, features panels that change to reveal different scenery and the show uses fog and incredible sound effects in telling the story.

The finale, a rousing rendition of “I Like to Move It” led by King Julien himself, is the icing on the cake. Meet the main cast in the lobby after the show for photos and autographs.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, presents “Madagascar Jr.” through Oct. 27. Up next is a main stage production of “Annie” from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20 and then children’s theater continues with “Shrek the Musical Jr.” For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

The U.S. Postal Service celebrated the 32nd honoree in the Literary Arts stamp series, Walt Whitman (1819-1892), with a first day of issue stamp dedication and unveiling ceremony on Sept. 12.

The event was held at a most fitting venue, The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site’s Interpretive Center in Huntington Station, which boasts the second largest Whitman collection in the world, only superceded by the Library of Congress. The farmhouse where Whitman was born sits on the property.

Thursday’s unveiling honored the 200th anniversary of the Long Island native’s birth.

Influenced by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Whitman wrote over 400 poems including “Song of Myself,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” and his 1855 masterpiece “Leaves of Grass.” 

In addition to avid stamp collectors, the event was attended by many elected officials including Assemblyman Andrew Raia, Sen. James Gaughran, Legislator Susan Berland, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Legislator Tom Donnelly, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson along with Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum Lance Reinheimer, Huntington historian Robert C. Hughes, Executive Director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park Vincent A. Simeone, Deputy Regional Director of NYS Parks Brian X. Foley, Regional Director of NYS Parks George “Chip” Gorman and many employees of the U.S. Postal Service.

Michael Gargiulo, WNBC co-anchor of “Today in New York” served as master of ceremonies. “I’m a huge history fan, I’m a huge stamp fan and I’m thrilled to be here,” he said before introducing Cynthia L. Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association; Jeffrey S. Gould, who sits on the board of trustees of the association; and Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for welcoming remarks.

The official stamp dedication was led by Cara M. Greene, vice president and controller of the U.S. Postal Service, and Walt Whitman personator Darrel Blaine Ford treated the audience to a soul-stirring reading of “Song of the Open Road.”

“Walt Whitman’s message of equality, tolerance, and the idea that we are all of the natural world, not separate from it, drew international acclaim in the 19th century and rings just as true today,” said Kulleseid, who thanked Shor and the board of directors “for all you’ve done since the 1950s to preserve this site and to educate visitors about Whitman’s vision of what it truly means to be an American.”

“[Whitman] is considered by many as the father of modern American poetry. The key word here is modern because of the topics and themes he explored — freedom, human dignity and democracy — and his stylistic innovations that at times mimicked ordinary speech and the long cadences of biblical poetry. His work continues to resonate with us today,” said Greene before unveiling the 85-cent commemorative stamp, which is intended for domestic First-Class Mail weighing up to 3 ounces.

Designed by Greg Breeding, the stamp features a portrait of Whitman painted by Brooklyn artist Sam Weber based on a photograph of the poet taken by Frank Pearsall in 1869. It depicts Whitman in his 50s, with long white hair and a beard gazing out with his chin resting in his left hand. The light purple background with a hermit thrush siting on the branch of a lilac tree recalls “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” an elegy for President Abraham Lincoln written by Whitman soon after Lincoln‘s assassination on April 14, 1865. It appeared in the second edition of “Drum Taps,” a collection of poems mostly written during the Civil War.

“Why do we honor Walt Whitman? He has had a tremendous influence on poetry, he relaxed the poetic line, dispensing with rhyme and meter and opening the way to what we call ‘free verse.’ He was really the great poet of American democracy — his poems embraced people of all religions and races and social classes,” at a time of great nativism, said David S. Reynolds, author of “Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography.”

Although he witnessed much suffering during the Civil War and endured several strokes, Reynolds said Whitman “never surrendered his optimism … His poetry radiates this joyful spirit. It brims with his love of the beauty and miracles of everyday life … and lifts our spirits.”

Gallery North in Setauket hosted its 54th annual Outdoor Art Show & Music Festival on Sept. 7 and 8. The two day event showcased the work of artists and artisans and featured live music, kids activities and food. Awards were granted for best in show for each art category, including crafts, fiber art, glass art, jewelry, painting, pottery, and more.

And the awards go to:

Best in Show

Eric Giles

Mixed media Craft

Outstanding award – Kathryn Nidy

Honorable Mention – Jo Ann Wadler

Wood craft

Outstanding award – Barry Saltsberg

Honorable Mention – Michael Josiah

Fiber Art

Outstanding award Meryle King

Glass Art

Outstanding award – Justin Cavagnaro

Jewelry

Outstanding award – Margie & Bill Lombard

Honorable Mention -Toni Neuschafer

Painting

Outstanding award – Carmen Stasi

Pottery

Outstanding award – Gina Mars

Honorable Mention – Denise Randall

Work on Paper: Graphic and Drawing

Outstanding award – Flo Kemp

Work on Paper: Watercolor and Pastel

Outstanding award -Stephanie Pollack

Honorable Mention – Joanne Liff

For more information, visit www.gallerynorth.org or call 631-751-2676.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

This past July, the Port Jefferson Documentary Series held a special screening of Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation at Theatre Three. The community came out in droves to reminisce and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. As wonderful as it was, the sold-out event was just a prelude of what was to come.

From Sept. 9 to Oct. 28, the series will kick off its 25th season of presenting the latest award-winning documentaries to the community. Sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and the Suffolk County Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, the first film will be screened at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, the next five at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson and the final film at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center.

Each screening will be followed by a Q&A session with guest speakers including directors, producers, the movies’ subjects and outside experts.

It is a labor of love for film board members Lyn Boland, Barbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein andBarbara Sverd, Wendy Feinberg, Honey Katz, Phyllis Ross, Lorie Rothstein, who each choose one film out of hundreds to present to the audience. This fall’s picks were selected after the “film ladies” attended the Tribeca Film Festival, DOC NYC and the Hamptons Film Festival.

This season’s exciting lineup includes, in order of appearance, Halston, which examines the life and career of fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick; Clean Hands, the heart-breaking and eye-opening story of a Central American family living in extreme poverty; The Raft, a 1973 scientific experiment on the high seas that went horribly wrong; Cold Case Hammarskjöld, a journalistic inquiry into the 1961 plane-crash death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the secretary-general of the United Nations; Kifaru, the emotional story of Sudan, the world’s only remaining male northern white rhino; Gay Chorus, Deep South, which follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus’s bus tour through the deep South to confront a resurgence of faith-based anti-LGBTQ laws; and Mike Wallace Is Here, which examines the 50-year career of “60 Minutes’” fearsome newsman Mike Wallace.

In terms of which films will tug at your heart strings the most, Lyn Boland says it’s a tie between Kifaru and Gay Mens Chorus, Deep South, “depending on where your sympathies lie, but they are on opposite sides of the spectrum.”

According to Boland, who serves as co-director with Sverd and Feinberg, this season’s program has been drawing rave reviews. “I have had people say ‘this is an amazing lineup.’ I think one of the reasons is that this season covers a really broad spectrum: we have fashion, we have a diplomatic mystery, the environment, a gay position, journalism (and the importance of journalism), and The Raft which is just so unusual. What’s so remarkable about this lineup is the breadth of subject matter – there is something for everyone.”

As always, the film ladies invite the community to “come for the film, stay for the talk” as the Q&As can get quite lively.

The Port Jefferson Documentary Series will be held at 7 p.m. on select Monday nights from Sept. 9 to Oct. 28. Tickets, which are sold at the door, are $8 per person. (No credit cards please.) If you would like to volunteer, please call 631-473-5200. For more information, visit www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com.

Film Lineup

Halston

Monday, Sept. 9

The Long Island Museum

1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook

Guest speaker will be Frédéric Tcheng, director

Moderator will be Tom Needham, host of “The Sounds of Film” on Stony Brook University’s WUSB

*Ticket includes admission to LIM’s exhibit Gracefully Chic: The Fashions of Philip Hulitar from 6 to 6:45 p.m.

Clean Hands

Monday, Sept. 16

Theatre Three

412 Main St., Port Jefferson

Guest speaker will be Michael Dominic, director

The Raft

Monday, Sept. 23

Theatre Three

412 Main St., Port Jefferson

Guest speaker will be Mary Gidley, subject in film (via Skype)

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Monday, Oct. 7

Theatre Three

412 Main St., Port Jefferson

Guest speaker will be Göran Björkdahl, researcher/cinematographer and subject in film (via Skype)

Kifaru

Monday, Oct. 14

Theatre Three

412 Main St., Port Jefferson

Guest speaker will be David Hambridge, director (via Skype)

Gay Chorus Deep South

Monday, Oct. 21

Theatre Three

Guest speaker will be Bradley Meek, president of the board of the Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus

Special performance by the LI Gay Men’s Chorus

Mike Wallace Is Here

Monday, Oct. 28

Charles B. Wang Center, SBU

100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook

Guest speaker will be Peggy Drexler, producer

Moderator will be Charles Haddad, School of Journalism

From left, Brian X. Foley, Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito, Robert DiGiovanni Jr. and artist Jim Swaim
Environmental sculpture to highlight the plastic pollution crisis

By Heidi Sutton

The community came out to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last Sunday morning to celebrate the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a six-foot metal sculpture that was installed at Field 1 to serve as a teaching tool to bring attention to the plastic pollution crisis around the world. It is the first of its kind in New York state.

The installation was made possible by a grant from The Long Island Futures Fund, an organization that supports projects that aim to protect and restore the Long Island Sound and unites federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations to achieve high-priority conservation objectives.

From left, Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr., Leg. Kara Hahn, Adrienne Esposito and Brian X. Foley at the unveiling;

The unique 3-D piece was created by artist Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures who attended the June 2 event. Based in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the company designs and builds large metal renditions of animals with the sole purpose to create art that inspires action. The sculptures are hollow and the community is encouraged to fill them with plastic items that would otherwise litter the landscape or waterways.

Since 2014, the company has installed over 20 environmental sculptures across the country in the shape of pelicans, whales, fish, frogs and a buffalo to, according to its website, “Serve as visual symbol of why we should protect the environment we enjoy.”

The unveiling, which was preceded by a beach cleanup, was hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“This outstanding metal sculpture was undertaken for a very, very important reason — to highlight the importance of combating plastic pollution in Long Island Sound and all our waterways throughout the state, throughout the country and indeed throughout the world,” said Brian X. Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system at the unveiling.

Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. According to National Geographic, 73 percent of all beach litter is plastic and includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and polystyrene containers.

“Today’s event is about combining art with the environment in order to fight plastic pollution.” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, concurred. “Seals, turtles, whales, dolphins unfortunately are eating all of the plastic pollution that humans are leaving on the beach that washes out into the sea and when they ingest that plastic pollution it kills them,” she said.

Christina Faber of the Northport High School E Team deposits a plastic bottle into the sculpture.

George “Chip” Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks spoke about how the new sculpture complements the recent environmentally sensitive renovations to the park and a new environmental education center. “[Shelley] is going to educate people as they walk by that eliminating plastic will protect the environment but will also protect sea mammals and it’s a great project,” he said.

Chief Scientist Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr. of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was hopeful for the future. “We are seeing more sea turtles and humpback whales in the Long Island Sound. We can make a difference about marine debris. There’s no reason why it needs to be there and to pick it up and move it off the beach is pretty easy,” he said.

“Clearly there has been a sea change in public attitude about plastics and it’s because of people like you who are taking a stand,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson).“We were successful in our plastic straw ban, our polystyrene ban, in reducing water bottle use and the plastic bag ban that now is statewide because people like you have said ‘No more.’ We don’t want to litter our landscape. We want to take care of what we have and we need to continue that fight,” she said.

The event concluded on a symbolic note, with children and students from Northport High School filling Shelley with plastic debris.

“Shelley will be a symbol for how important it is to remove the plastic that you bring onto the beach and maybe never bring any more the next time you come,” said Hahn.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

Currently playing on Theatre Three’s Mainstage is William Gibson’s play “The Miracle Worker,” the compelling story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Directed by Bradlee Bing, the show is leaving a lasting impact on all who are fortunate enough to see it. One of the standout performances is from Cassandra LaRocco who plays a young Helen. The 11-year-old from Brentwood captures the audience’s heart with her powerful performance. 

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cassandra about her Theatre Three debut and her challenging new role.

How did you get interested in acting?

Since I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people and finding different ways to make people laugh. I found that it was fun to try and mimic the different characters on many of the TV shows I watched when I was younger. When my parents took me to see “Annie” on Broadway in 2013, I felt that I wanted to be just like the actors on that stage so I started taking acting classes, along with my dance classes, and found that I loved getting the chance to perform for an audience.

Why did you decide to audition for this role?

I decided to audition for this role because it seemed extremely interesting and I thought it would be a good learning experience. I knew it would be a challenge for me since most of my prior stage acting experience had been with musicals, where I got to sing and dance. 

Cassandra LaRocco as Helen Keller and Jessica Mae Murphy as Annie Sullivan in a scene from ‘The Miracle Worker’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Were you familiar with Helen Keller?

Yes, I wrote a book report about Helen’s life in fifth grade. I knew that she was an amazing woman who lost her sight and hearing at a very young age but learned to communicate with people by using finger spelling. She inspired so many people by showing how a person with disabilities can make a difference in the world. 

How did you prepare for this role? 

First, I watched the movie with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. I focused on the different expressions used by Patty Duke as she portrayed Helen, and then tried to figure out my own way to express what Helen must have felt when she wasn’t able to communicate her thoughts. Then I focused on not letting the sights and sounds around me be distracting. Each time I rehearsed with the cast at Theatre Three, I would clear my mind and only think of Helen and being in her world.

How do you enjoy working with the cast?

I really enjoy working with this cast because everyone is so much fun to be around and is extremely talented. Everyone has worked so hard, and I am proud to be part of the team.

What is it like working with the director?

I really enjoy working with Bradlee Bing. He explained to me very well how to portray the challenging role of Helen and he made me feel confident in my performance. Being in “The Miracle Worker” is an experience I will remember always, and I thank Bradlee for this wonderful opportunity.

Do you ever get nervous before the show?

I get nervous before each show, but once the show begins and I focus on being in my role, I get less nervous. Being on stage with the other actors and knowing that we worked so hard together helps me to feel confident each time I do a performance.

What is your favorite scene? 

My favorite scene is the food fight scene performed before the end of Act 1 with Jessica Murphy who plays Annie Sullivan. I enjoy it because of all the action that takes place and because it is really challenging. In this scene, Helen is extremely frustrated by the changes around her and not knowing how to express her thoughts. I get to portray this frustration by acting out in a temper tantrum, throwing spoons, spitting food, climbing the table, and trying to escape the room but I am locked in. I physically have to move around the stage a lot, but have to still behave as if I can’t see anything in front of me.

Do you think children should come see this show?

Yes, I do think children should come see the show because they can learn that despite the disabilities Helen Keller had, she was able to learn different ways to communicate her feelings and thoughts. If children learn about Helen Keller at a young age, maybe they can be inspired by what she accomplished, and it could help them to learn to never give up when they are in a difficult situation.

Have you taken any acting classes?

I have been attending classes and performing plays at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. I also take voice lessons at Cristina Music Studio in Huntington, and I have been taking dance lessons since I was 3. I currently practice ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical and pointe at June Claire Dance Studios in Babylon.

What other shows have you been in?

I played the role of July in “Annie” at the Engeman Theater in 2017 and over the past holiday season, I was a dancer in “The Nutcracker” at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset where I played one of Drosselmeyer’s dolls, and also performed in the scenes for Snowflakes, Arabian Coffee and Flowers.  Last fall, I performed as Andrina, one of Ariel’s sisters, in “The Little Mermaid Jr.” at the Engeman.

How do you feel when you get a standing ovation?

I feel happy because people enjoyed the show and my performance. It means to me that the audience made a connection with the story we are telling up on the stage, and that hopefully it will be something they remember for a long time.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to try acting?

Follow your dreams. You will meet many other kids and teachers who will make you feel confident. As you learn from others, you will become less and less nervous, and have more and more fun.

What is your favorite part about this show?

My favorite part has been meeting new people who helped me to be a better performer, and learning about what Helen Keller had to go through to understand our world without seeing or hearing. It has taught me to think of the differences that people may have, but that when people work together and have patience, almost any difficult situation can be overcome. 

Why should people come see the show?

People should come see “The Miracle Worker” because they get to experience how difficult Helen’s world was when she was young, and how it all changed when Annie Sullivan came to teach her. It gives people the opportunity to relate to Helen Keller and to realize that without someone that was a dedicated teacher who was not willing to give up, Helen may have been trapped forever in a dark and silent world. The play is about facing challenges and showing how people can help each other and change the world for the better.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Miracle Worker” through April 28. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. The Mainstage season closes with “The Wizard of Oz” from May 18 to June 22. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information or to order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.