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Nicole Bianco

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.

From left, Jessica Contino, Meg Bush, K.D. Guadagno and Nicole Bianco in a scene from 'The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

In tandem with the release of the new animated film, “Peter Rabbit,” Theatre Three presents its annual live children’s theater production of “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” now through April 14. The action-packed show is the perfect way for families to enjoy spring break.

From left, Dylan Robert Poulos and Steve Uihlein. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The original musical, written by Jeffrey Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, is loosely based on one of the best-selling books of all time, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter and features all of the beloved characters in the story.

Peter Rabbit and his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, are as naughty as ever this year as they sneak into their neighbor Mr. McGregor’s garden time and time again to steal his vegetables. When his patience grows thin, the farmer, who’s “a meanie with a temper like a bear,” sets out to stop the marauders once and for all. When Peter is caught in a trap, his mother must step in to help him. Will the two neighbors be able to come up with a compromise?

Directed by Sanzel, the eight adult cast members embrace the adorable script and run with it. Dylan Robert Poulos reprises his role as Peter with boundless energy and his astounding acrobats steal the show. Steven Uihlein, as Peter’s partner in crime, Benjamin, provides plenty of comic relief, and Jessica Contino is lovely as the calm and even-tempered Mrs. Rabbit.

Mrs. Rabbit with good little bunnies, Cotton-Tail, Flopsy and Mopsy.

When they’re not eating bread and milk and blackberries, Peter’s sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail (the talented trio of Nicole Bianco, K.D. Guadagno and Meg Bush) spend much of the show looking for their brother in the theater, engaging audience members along the way. Andrew Lenahan and Elizabeth Ladd round out the cast as the harmonious duo Mr. and Mrs. McGregor who love their garden.

The familiar musical numbers, written by Kevin F. Story and accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are the heart of the show. Choreography by Nicole Bianco is top notch, especially with “Run, Peter, Run” and the fun hip-hop number, “Peter’s Socks.” Costumes by Teresa Matteson are charming, from the bunnies’ colorful dresses of pink, yellow and blue to their white bunny tails.

About 5 minutes into Sunday morning’s show a little boy in the audience turned to his grandmother and loudly stated “This is so wonderful!!” This reviewer would have to concur. Grab your children or grandchildren and hop over to Theatre Three for an incredibly sweet treat. They’ll love you for it.

Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny have some fun with the McGregors.

Running time is approximately one hour and 10 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. Booster seats are available and souvenir bunnies in various spring colors will be sold before the show and during intermission for $5. Proceeds will help maintain the historic building. Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photos.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” on March 17 and 24 and April 4, 5, 6, 7 and 14 at 11 a.m.

Children’s theater will continue on the Mainstage with “Stand Up! Stand Out! The Bullying Project” from April 21 to May 5; “Goldilocks — Is That You?” from May 26 to June 9 and a brand new original play, “The Princess Who Saved a Dragon,” from July 6 to Aug. 9. All seats are $10. For more information, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Above, the cast of ‘A Kooky, Spooky Halloween’ at Theatre Three.

By Heidi Sutton

There’s something kooky going on at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. As a matter of fact, there’s something spooky going on there as well. In perfect timing with the upcoming holiday, the Children’s Theatre presents a brand new musical treat, “A Kooky Spooky Halloween,” through Oct. 28.

Written by Jeffrey Sanzel and Steve McCoy, the adorable show emphasizes the importance of telling the truth and helping others. Skillfully directed by Sanzel, the talented cast of eight adults embraces the brilliant script and, with plenty of audience interaction, presents a wonderful afternoon of live theater.

The cast sings ‘It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast’

Ghost Abner Perkins (Dylan Robert Poulos) has just graduated from Haunted High School and awarded a medallion of invisibility. His first assignment is to be the spooksperson on Halloween for Ma Aberdeen’s Boarding House, “the most haunted house in Harrison County, USA,” which is also known for serving the best toast. There’s only one problem — Abner is afraid of the dark. “It’s like a vampire who’s afraid of necks!” quips his friend Lavinda (Jessica Contino), a good natured witch, before presenting him with a night-light to wear on his hat. Lavinda promises to help Abner with his haunting duties for the first few days.

When they arrive at the boarding house, they come upon Ma Aberdeen (Ginger Dalton), the finest toast maker in the land, and her boarders, Kit Garret (Meg Bush) and the Petersons — Paul the periodontist (Steven Uihlein), his wife Penelope (Nina Moran) and their son Pip (Eric J. Hughes), whose alliterations using words that start with the letter P are perfectly prodigious!

As the sun sets, Abner plays silly tricks on the unsuspecting group, making them stuff Halloween goodie bags in double time, exercise, sing, dance and get stuck to each other. Things are going hauntingly well until fellow graduate Dora Pike (Elizabeth Ladd) shows up. A ghost with a grudge (she was hoping to be assigned to Ma Aberdeen’s boarding house), Dora steals Abner’s night-light and medallion out of revenge and makes her way to Black Ridge Gulch, the deepest, darkest gorge in the entire world (where it’s really, really dark).

Dylan Robert Poulos and Jessica Contino star as Abner and Lavinda in the show.

Now visible, Abner convinces the boarders, who are still stuck to each other, to accompany him and Lavinda on a quest to retrieve his property. Will Abner be able to overcome his fear of the dark? Will the two ghosts be able to reach a compromise?

From the first number, “A-Haunting We Will Go” by the entire company, to the downright creepy “It Will All Fade to Black” by Dora, and the catchy “It’s Ma Who Makes the Toast,” the original songs by Steve McCoy are the heart of the show. Utilizing the set from the current Mainstage production, “The Bridges of Madison County,” the show features excellent choreography by Nicole Bianco. Ditto the costumes by Teresa Matteson.

“A Kooky Spooky Halloween” is the perfect show to get into the spirit of Halloween and a wonderful way to spend a fall afternoon. But be forewarned — for some strange reason, you’ll exit the theater having a craving for toast! 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. 14, 21 and 28 at 11 a.m. and Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. with a sensory-sensitive performance on Oct. 15 at 11 a.m. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with one intermission, and Halloween costumes are encouraged.

Children’s Theatre will continue with everyone’s holiday favorite, “Barnaby Saves Christmas,” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 30 and “Rapunzel — The Untold Story” from Jan. 20 to Feb. 24. All seats are $10. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.