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Phyllis March

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.

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.

 

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.