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Marci Bing

By Rita J. Egan

Bradlee and Marci Bing show the hands they’ve been dealt in the acting world in Theatre Three’s The Gin Game, and they are winning ones. The tragicomedy opened at the theater on Saturday, Jan. 13.

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by D.L. Coburn, Weller Martin (Bradlee Bing) and Fonsia Dorsey (Marci Bing) meet at the Bentley Nursing Home. As the only two residents with no family and friends coming to see them on visitors’ day, they find solace on the home’s unused sun porch. Weller invites Fonsia to play gin rummy with him. Even though it’s supposedly her first time playing, he quickly learns that luck is on her side.

Playing the game a few times over a couple of weeks, the two reveal their life stories. While a bond seems to form between the two, the figurative walls they have erected in life also appear. As the play progresses, the audience discovers how both play the cards they are dealt in gin rummy and in life.

The Gin Game opened in Los Angeles in 1976, and a little more than a year later it debuted on Broadway with husband and wife Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. In addition to being awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1978, Tandy won the Tony Award for her portrayal of Fonsia. After more than 500 performances on Broadway, Cronyn and Tandy toured with the production.

Revivals in the past have included E. G. Marshall, Maureen Stapleton, Charles Durning, Julie Harris, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. In 2003, PBS presented a televised version starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.

In Theatre Three’s production, Bradlee Bing convincingly delivers the belligerent and sarcastic Weller. His rage over losing game after game is frightening, especially when he curses or forcibly uses his cane. Yet, in the more humorous moments, he portrays the character with a bit of charm that makes you feel sorry for him.

Marci Bing is also convincing as the prim and proper Fonsia, who reveals more of her true nature as the two get to know each other. The actress seamlessly transitions from a sweet woman to one whose stories reveal that in her attempt to control her circumstances in life, she can become rigid and vindictive.

The actors easily deliver the humorous lines, and a short dance sequence demonstrates the chemistry between the two married actors. The real measure of their immense talents is seen during the play’s more serious and darker moments. It’s apparent that the actors realize the depth of the multi-layered piece as Bradlee Bing powerfully delivers the lines, “God gave you that card, didn’t he? Didn’t God give you that card?” Marci Bing strongly responds, “Yes, Weller, God gave me the card.”

The Bings, along with director Colleen Britt, have masterfully developed characters that many can relate to and all can learn from. Audience members should arrive at the show and settle in their seats a few minutes early for an extra touch added to the Theatre Three production, which enhances the theatrical experience.

Lending a subtle sense of just how run down the nursing home is, set director Randall Parsons has created a stage that is believable as a barely used back porch with a collection of books, crutches and other items.

In a Jan. 11 interview with TBR News Media, the Bings said they hoped audience members would leave the theater thinking about aging, not only about how difficult it can be for some but also how wallowing in the past doesn’t do anyone any good. The two successfully drive that point home on stage as Weller and Fonsia.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, presents The Gin Game through Feb. 3. Tickets are $40 for adults, $32 for seniors 65 and over and students and $25 for children. Wednesday matinees are $25. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Bradlee and Marci Bing will star in Theatre Three's 'The Gin Game' from Jan. 13 to Feb. 3. Photo by Steve Ayle / Showbizshots.com
Theatre Three actors run through lines and card game

By Rita J. Egan

A husband and wife are about to take on a 90-minute game of gin rummy in front of a live audience.

Theatre Three veterans Bradlee and Marci Bing, who have been married for nearly 40 years, will star in the Port Jefferson theater’s production of The Gin Game. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play opens Saturday, Jan. 13.

Bradlee Bing, as Weller Martin, and Marci Bing, as Fonsia Dorsey, will transform from a happily married couple to two nursing home residents who strike up an acquaintance over a game of gin rummy.

Through the decades, on stage and television, the characters have been portrayed by iconic actors, such as husband and wife Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, and Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.

Bradlee and Marci Bing will star in Theatre Three’s ‘The Gin Game’ from Jan. 13 to Feb. 3.
Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three

The production is not the first time the Bings have acted together as they starred in the theater’s production of Past Tense in 1986.

In a recent interview with the couple, Bradlee Bing described The Gin Game as multi-layered and intricate, where the characters need each other. “But they have so many personal obstacles that they personally have to overcome that they can’t really connect,” he said.

The actors said it’s not difficult playing people meeting for the first time as they understand they are the characters while on stage. However, they said their relationship helps.

“We have natural chemistry,” said Bradlee. “So, we can connect with each other in a way that is comfortable. Even though there are many uncomfortable moments in the play, we’re those characters, and we’re not ourselves.”

The actors said their personalities are opposite of Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey.

“He’s patient and kind, and I’m the one who curses and gets fired up,” said Marci.

Bradlee added, “It’s the exact opposite of who we are, but we can laugh about it because we kind of changed roles that we have in real life.”

It’s because of Theatre Three that the two met. Bradlee Bing has been with the company since 1970, guiding the actors from a traveling troop who once performed in storefronts, libraries and church basements to its permanent stage in Port Jefferson. The couple met when Marci joined the acting troop, going on to become part of the theater’s 1979 inaugural theater season as one of six contracted summer company members.

Marci also worked in the theater’s office and assisted her now husband on many projects. When Bradlee was battling cancer and going through a divorce, he needed someone to talk to and asked Marci to go for coffee as he knew she had gone through a divorce years before. They struck up a friendship but still weren’t thinking about romance. However, one night, some theater members went out for drinks and dancing after a show. Someone suggested Bradlee dance with Marci. As he danced with her, he said to himself, “Wait a minute. It’s exactly how you see it in movies. Wow, I never knew that was around.”

While the two said they never argue, the characters they play in The Gin Game do. The Bings added they have plenty of time to master the tense interactions between Weller and Fonsia.

Marci, who is the only one of the pair who has played gin rummy before, said, “It’s a two-character, so it’s an intense amount of practicing of just all the lines. But what’s even more intricate is you have to play the game while you’re thinking of the lines and remembering all the segments. So, our advantage is we live together. It’s 10 o’clock. ‘You want to run scene to see how we’re doing?’”

While Bradlee saw the play performed before at Theatre Three when he was the artistic director, to prepare, the couple have not watched videos of other productions or the 2003 PBS movie, where Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore took on the roles.

“I have to make my own character so I don’t want to watch someone else doing it,” Marci said, adding it was different when she played movie star Betty Davis in Me and Jezebel,  where she had to master the icon’s physicalities.

“We bring our own personal experiences that will help us connect with the character and that is much more honest than trying to imitate anyone,” Bradlee said.

Colleen Britt is directing Theatre Three’s The Gin Game. Bradlee said Britt expresses “tremendous energy” and has helped in the development of the characters. 

The actors said while the play contains a lot of humor, it also includes a message about growing old and how some may feel that life is passing them by. The acting duo hopes that audience members will leave The Gin Game thinking about aging and possibly having a more positive attitude toward getting older. Marci added that, for some, getting old can be devastating. 

“It’s sad because you can’t do as much as you want to do,” she said.

Her advice is to “be current.”

“Don’t wallow in what didn’t happen,” she said. “Be glad that you’re still here.”

Bradlee said, often, it can be difficult for people as they look back at their lives, ambitions and goals.

“You reach a point where you realize that there’s no more time to achieve those kinds of goals,” he said. “So, if you live in the past, and see where you are, it’s going to be unfortunate. It’s a good example in the play that you need to move forward.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, presents The Gin Game from Jan. 13 to Feb. 3. Tickets are $40 for adults, $32 for seniors 65 and over and students and $25 for children. Wednesday matinees are $25. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

Mention Steel Magnolias to anyone and the overwhelming response is, “Oh, I love that show!” It’s easy to see how this dramedy continues to be a fan favorite and Theatre Three’s production serves up an inviting dose of southern charm.

Playwright Robert Harling wrote this play as a tribute to his diabetic sister who died way too soon from kidney failure. She had been warned by doctors that childbirth could be dangerous to her health, but she ignored all warnings and gave birth, then died before her son reached school age. Harling first recounted this event in a short story as a catharsis, then adapted it into the play and eventually into the highly successful film.

To make this play shine, just the right actresses must be cast in these demanding roles so director Mary Powers dipped into the treasure trove of Theatre Three regulars to fill some of these roles. This resulted in a gifted ensemble that brings just the right mix of pathos and comedic timing.

Steel Magnolias brims with witty one-liners as it navigates through two years in the lives of six tightly-knit small-town women who share life’s ups and downs together. Set in the fictional Parish of Chinquapin, Louisiana, at flamboyant Truvy’s in-home beauty parlor, this shop doubles as the meeting place for the women of this town.

Truvy (Stephanie Moreau) has just hired shy Annelle, a beauty school graduate, as her assistant. Truvy’s first lesson is, “There is no such thing as natural beauty. Remember that or we’re out of a job.” Moreau’s Truvy exudes sunshine even when offering direction and support to Annelle played by Christine N. Boehm who delivers a dynamic performance as the insecure new kid in town who transforms into a spiritual and secure presence.

It is Shelby’s wedding day and she wants her hair styled in the fashion of Grace Kelly. Michelle LaBozzetta’s Shelby is as optimistic and bubbly as her favorite color pink, or as she likes to call it “blush and bashful,” but with a mind as determined and strong as steel. Nothing will stand in her way of accomplishing her deepest desire of becoming a mother, despite the warnings of her doctor that childbirth could be fatal.

Clairee, the widow of the former mayor, is played with gusto by Marci Bing. Clairee thrives on town gossip at the salon and she has some of the wittiest lines in the show like, “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” That line can only be topped by her declaration, “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me.” Bing is a joy as the outspoken Clairee who flings quips into the air letting them land where they may.

Truvy has given Annelle the task of styling the hair of M’Lynn, the mother of the bride. Linda May’s M’Lynn has her comedic moments like when describing Shelby’s choices for church décor declaring, “That sanctuary looks like it’s been hosed down with Pepto Bismol.” M’Lynn is the voice of reason but gets frustrated by her daughter’s reckless choices. May ultimately tears us apart with her motherly heartbreaking monologue.

Making a booming entrance is Ginger Dalton as Ouiser, the town curmudgeon. From the start, she is ranting, at first over Shelby’s father who has been shooting at birds and has stripped the blossoms from their shared magnolia tree. Dalton is hilarious with one liners like, “I’m not crazy! I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”

These six indomitable magnolias show they have the steel that will get them through anything.

Jason Allyn’s costumes give definition to the characters from Truvy’s glitzy smocks to Shelby’s signature pinks to Ouiser’s practical denim. He illuminates the Christmas scene with outfits of reds, greens, whites and sparkles. Lindsay DeFranco’s wig design is reminiscent of 80’s big hair piled high and teased or waste length.

Randall Parsons conveys a nostalgic 1980’s feel to Truvy’s beauty salon with its mint green backdrop and thick white moldings. The three entrances make it easy for the actresses to maneuver effortlessly around the set and creates smooth transitions from one scene into the next. James Taffurelli’s properties compliment Parsons’ set with sheer curtains, beauty salon chairs strategically placed center stage and Truvy’s signature sparkles.

Powers confided that Steel Magnolias was originally set for the spring of 2020 but never opened when the world shut down due to COVID. Luckily, the original cast was able to reunite for this production. Maybe that’s why we believe the poignant friendships of these memorable women.

Theater Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Steel Magnolias through May 7. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

A scene from ‘Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

When a beloved community theater is about to turn 50, it is time to celebrate in a big way. For the next three years, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present a series of special events building up to its 50th anniversary, beginning with Life in the Theatre: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain on Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m.

John Fugelsang will be the host of the evening

The fundraiser, which will be hosted by actor, comedian, broadcaster and Theatre Three alum John Fugelsang, will include an original comedy by Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel followed by a special guest appearance by musician, actor, writer and radio host Seth Rudetsky.

Founded in 1969 by Jerry Friedman and John and Linda Herr, the troupe started out performing at the Smith Haven Ministries at the Smith Haven Mall. “They all lived in the Three Village area, hence the name, ‘Theatre Three,'” said board member and former artistic director Bradlee Bing, who joined the group shortly after.

Over the years, Theatre Three occupied several different spaces including in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in the village before purchasing the current building at 412 Main St. in 1979 after the United Artist Theater closed. In the beginning, there were “only adult-themed musicals, plays and cabaret-style revues,” Bing said. The theater has since expanded to offer children’s theater, educational tours, concerts and acting lessons.

“It is inconceivable that 48 years have passed so quickly,” said Bing who first approached Sanzel about launching a three-year celebration.

Seth Rudetsky will be the headliner in the second act. Photo courtesy of Theatre Three

The event on May 20 will open with the world premiere of “Life, the Theatre, and Other Unlikelihoods,” a one-act musical  featuring original songs by Brian Crawley (Tony nominee for “Violet”), Tim Peierls, Douglas J. Quattrock and Sanzel. Starring Dylan Robert Poulos, the play will celebrate the joys and challenges of becoming an actor, from taking acting lessons as a child to landing that big role, or not.

Directed and narrated by Sanzel, the 17-member cast, playing dozens of roles, will also include Melanie Acampora, Marci Bing, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Jessica Contino, Ginger Dalton, Sari Feldman, Andrew Gasparini, Eric J. Hughes, Linda May, Phyllis March, Steve McCoy, Cameron Turner, Steven Uihlein and Stephen Wangner.

For Sanzel the experience of creating this one-act musical has morphed into “becoming a celebration of what we do … and is one of the greatest and most joyous writing experiences I’ve ever had.”

He continued, “Yes, the world of theater is fun and interesting but it is a huge amount of work and an enormous commitment. The flipside is the reward which is extraordinary. This play traces how we all come together as family in this amount of time and then we say goodbye and the poignancy of that.”

For Bing, this event is just the beginning. “We have identified it as year one, getting ready, year two, getting set and year three, go. We are developing activities that will prepare us for our final year celebration that will be a three-day event featuring a cocktail reception free of charge open to everyone that has ever been associated with the theater: actor, musician, technician, subscriber, ushers, family and friends on June 5, a semiformal sit down recognition, celebrity dinner on June 6 and a show at the theater highlighting 50 years of theater performances on June 7.”

For Sanzel, “It really is a celebration of theater, the universality, but it is also a celebration of Theatre Three. This event is the perfect launch toward our 50th anniversary.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Life in the Theatre” on May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 presale, $75 at the door. Proceeds will go toward programming at the theater. To order, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.


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

By Heidi Sutton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Michael Tessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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