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Stacy Santini

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From left, Sarah Cronk, Sara Costantino and Kim Dufrenoy in a scene from ‘Strangers in the Night.’ Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Stacy Santini

“With him it’s impossible…it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It is as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I am a piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me,” the American Film Institute’s 25th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema Ava Gardner was quoted saying about her marriage to the most tremendous musical icon of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra. Hailed as one of the most sensational, intense romances of all time, the bond between Gardner and Sinatra was as complex as the participants themselves.

Sal St. George and his wife Mary, of St. George Living History Productions take on the task of telling the lovers’ story in Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Holiday Musical Theatre Performance of “Strangers in the Night … The Story of ‘The Crooner’ and the most beautiful woman in the world, Ava Gardner” currently in production through Jan. 10.

Gardner’s dreamlike pilgrimage toward stardom was what so many young girls could only hope would happen to them. The ease at which fame came upon her was not without a cost, and like many well-known 1950s leading ladies, her life was peppered with tumultuous relationships and conflicting interpersonal desires.

Raised in the Deep South, this ravishing beauty was from humble beginnings; her parents Molly and Jonas Gardner were poor cotton and tobacco farmers in Grabtown, North Carolina, a spec on the map in Johnston County. While visiting one of her four sisters, Beatrice, in New York City, her brother-in-law, Larry Tarr, a professional photographer, took some pictures of her to place in his storefront window. The images captured the eye of Loews Theatres legal clerk, Barnard Duhan, hoping to secure a date with the alluring Gardner. This interaction prompted Tarr to send her pictures to MGM. Within the blink of an eye, Gardner was solicited to do a screen test for MGM’s talent agent, Al Altman. She was immediately signed to a standard 7-year MGM contract and flown to Hollywood.

Sal St. George talks about Ava’s ascent to celebrity: “Her story is fantastic. Coming from this tiny farm town, on a fluke a man notices her at seventeen years old. She is brought to Hollywood, signed to a contract and essentially thrown to the wolves, and in a very short time she is right there, smack dab in the middle of the pack, keeping company with some of the most famous stars of all time.”

Her first fifteen movie roles for MGM were small “walk-on” parts and it appeared that it was only her beauty the studio was interested in. But in 1946, she starred opposite George Raft in “Whistle Stop” and Gardner began to carve out her place in Hollywood movie history. Playing femme fatale Kitty Collins, in Universal Studios’ adaption of Hemingway’s “The Killers” with the legendary Burt Lancaster further secured her status. Performances in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Sun Also Rises” made it impossible to not recognize that there was indeed a tremendous talent behind the now tempered southern drawl. Although nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “The Killers,” it was her role in “The Barefoot Contessa” that gave her international acclaim.

As intrigued as the populace was by her beauty and her eventually respected talent as an actress, Gardner gained much notoriety for her romantic pursuits. Over the years, her partners — some spouses, some merely lovers — read like a who’s who of Hollywood.

Her first marriage, at the age of nineteen, was to Mickey Rooney. Lasting only one year, Gardner quickly moved on to famed bandleader and musician Artie Shaw. Eventually the union met the same fate as her marriage to Rooney, and Gardner moved on to marry Frank Sinatra. That relationship also did not last but, although Gardner had several more dalliances with men such as Ernest Hemingway and bullfighter Miguel Dominguin, it was “The Voice” that remained her one true love. Frank Sinatra dwelled deep in Gardner’s heart until she took her last breath in 1990.

Sal St. George is no stranger to the theater or legendary icons. Prior to starting his creative consulting company, St. George Living History Productions, he was a playwright for entities such as Disneyland, Sea World and Busch Gardens. Specializing in historic sites and museums, St. George is often commissioned to tell a story based on the history of a venue, such as The Vanderbilt Museum. He and his wife have also become known for their ability to translate, in fantastic ways, the lives of celebrated actors and actresses of the past — Lucille Ball, Natalie Wood, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.

St. George likes to write from the women’s perspective and his stance when it comes to his scripts is often surprising and unexpected. In his own words, “It is easy to just go with the facts. When I am writing a script, I write to myself; it is instinctive and I believe if I find something interesting, others will too. I want the audience to feel like they are eavesdropping on the rich and famous.”

Producing about two shows per year along with the Edgar Allen Poe Festival, “Strangers in the Night” joins a long roster of stellar productions. St. George describes the show, “When Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, discovered it was Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, she wanted to do something special. She has been pivotal in bringing us on board, very supportive and encouraging. I always try to approach things from a different angle, and with this I kept thinking that behind every great man is a great woman. I wondered what it was like to be married to Frank Sinatra, and so it was Ava Gardner’s perspective that undoubtedly would make the most impact.”

St. George’s unique perspective is further developed in his choice of settings for the storyline. Actress Gail Storm’s 1957 musical TV show serves as the catalyst for this biographical tale. Along with her sidekick Rosie, they prod guest Ava Gardner to expose what it was really like to be married to the infamous Sinatra. Expect surprises along the way.

Ava Gardner’s character is played by Sara Costantino. She is joined on stage by Sarah Cronk as Gale Storm and Kim Dufrenoy as Rosie. The production most certainly tells Ava’s story, but one will not leave without understanding Sinatra’s life as well.

Ironically, Costantino, whose resemblance to Gardner is uncanny, did not know who the woman was that she is now so elegantly portraying. After much study, it is apparent that she has assumed the role with a complete understanding of this complicated woman. When asked about her part, Costantino says, “The most challenging and exciting part about playing Ava is that she had two different lives in a way … because the studio was promoting her as one thing, but deep down she felt completely different; finding the balance between the façade she put on and who she truly felt she was. I really related to this. There are things she said in her autobiography that I have said over the years. My connection with her was amazing.”

When asking St. George what his favorite part of putting on these shows is he says, “My favorite thing in the world, period, is a blank piece of paper, for everything is created from it — the Verrazano Bridge, the Mona Lisa, all the great novels … all these started with just a blank piece of paper. I get to let my imagination run wild.”

It is hard to imagine that “Strangers in the Night … The Story of ‘The Crooner’ and the most beautiful woman in the world, Ava Gardner” was ever a blank piece of paper, but nonetheless, it has been filled in quite beautifully.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational and Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook, will present “Strangers in the Night” through Jan. 10 as part of its Holiday Musical Theatre Performance series. Catered by Crazy Beans Restaurant, tickets are $50 adults, $48 seniors (60 and over), $45 groups of 20 or more. For reservations, please call 631-689-5888.

Marc Berger photo by Jill McCracken

By Stacy Santini

Mocha buttes rising upward from the soil, vistas framing breathtaking views of distant snow-capped mountains, Indian-traveled sandstone underfoot, rock formations resembling Donatello sculptures, rushing rivers and sienna sunsets; visually, there is no place comparable to the American West.

It is hard to imagine that beauty such as this can be as relevant cinematically in song and just song alone, but lyric-ace Marc Berger has managed to capture this imagery with his album RIDE and will be sharing it with the community at a free concert at North Shore Public Library in Shoreham on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.

Berger’s relationship with the West began while studying law at Rutgers University. When he was 21, he embarked on a cross country journey that would alter his life and career path for ever. Berger describes this catharsis, “Probably because I grew up in the Northeast, I had a strong desire to go out West when I travelled, and the effect it had on me was staggering. I explored the Mojave Desert, Yosemite, all of it, and I came home transformed. Every year for 5 years, making this journey was an integral part of my existence. On each drive I went further inward. At that time, there were no distractions, no cell phones and such. It was a beautiful thing.”

As a result of his travels, he began to write songs about his experiences. Success welcomed Berger early on. His first attempt at his to music publishing firms found him signing a contract. Along the way, icons like Richie Havens befriended him and were very interested in his work. Havens recorded Berger’s song “The Last One” in 1982 and it received much attention.

It was not long before Berger realized that if he wanted to truly make a contribution to the culture he was living in, he needed to sing. “After Richie did my song, I got to thinking about how singing my own lyrics would be the only true expression of myself, and so I willed myself to sing and perfect my voice,” says Berger.

Berger’s roots run deep within the music industry. He has opened for Bob Dylan and other equally impressive bands and musicians. Collaborating with him on his next album, starting in December, will be world class instrumentalists such as Tony Garnier, bass player for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon; Joe Flood, mandolin and fiddler for Levon Helm; and Eric Ambel, guitarist for Joan Jett. Garnier can also be heard on several tracks on RIDE.

Joe Wawrzyniak from Jersey Beat calls the new album “Supremely tuneful and colorful … One can almost taste the dust and feel the desolation of the wide- open prairies while listening to this exquisitely harmonic gem.”

With RIDE, Berger’s passion for the West and his music are palpable, “I don’t think of it as music, but as art, and the art form is secondary to the artist. It is a vehicle to communicate a personality that is only the artist. The most challenging part of this was getting the recording equipment to be pictorial; meaning that I did not want you to just hear a song and picture a band, I wanted you to actually see the great American West, be there present in it,” he said.

With songs such as “Montana,” “Nobody Gonna Ride on the Railroad” and “Heavenly Ancients,” Berger accomplishes just that.

Accompanying Marc next weekend on bass is Rich DePaolo, an extraordinary talent himself. “It is Marc’s vision for sure. I have been working with him for over fifteen years. He is very focused as an artist and clear as to how he wants his vision realized. It is a jot to be a part of this,” he said in describing the collaboration.

North Shore Public Library is a venue that never disappoints when it comes to its concert series. “I am a fan of the American West. Marc’s song, ‘Heavenly Ancients’ on RIDE brought me back to being on the desert floor and glaring up at the sky. His music really captured the awe of the landscape,” said librarian Lorena Doherty.

“I have been doing adult programs here for some time now, bringing in multicultural programs and classical music. Having Marc Berger come here is unique and different. It is very exciting as I am finding that independent musicians have great appeal. We had an amazing turnout for ‘Miles to Dayton’ and I expect the same for Marc,” she added.

North Shore Public Library is located at 250 Route 25A in Shoreham. For more information, please call 631-929-4488.

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Tab Hunter with one of his theme cakes at the reception. Photo by Theresa Rothman

By Stacy Santini

Wednesday evening, Oct. 14, the Cinema Arts Centre had the privilege of hosting in person the infamous, impossibly handsome 1950s icon Tab Hunter and his partner of 33 years, Allan Glaser, at an exclusive Long Island screening of Glaser’s riveting documentary based on Tab Hunter’s memoir and life titled “Tab Hunter Confidential.”

Curated by Jud Newborn, the center not only screened the movie to a packed house, standing room only, but honored the veteran screen legend with a roster of engaging events. After the viewing, there was a dialogue with Hunter and Glaser conducted by famed author and film critic Foster Hirsch followed by a Q-and-A session.

A reception in the center’s Sky Room followed with droves of people lined up to meet the humble, engaging Hunter, who at 84 is as stunning as ever. Audience members were treated to jazz music by Mike Soloway, a buffet of cheese, fruit and crudité as well as three cakes specially made to remind us of some of his career highlights: one a baseball glove surrounded by the four bases in honor of his most popular movie, “Damn Yankees,” the second a tribute to his chart topping song, “Young Love” and the last, a joyful rainbow confection welcoming him.

The author, second from right, hiking at Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, with fellow WWOOFers, from left, Matt Cook, Greg Mizar and Camille Horace. Photo by Melanie Glissman

By Stacy Santini

This is the last installment of a four-part series. Miss part three? Read it here.

Jack Kerouac did it, John Steinbeck did it; there is something to be said about being on the road. Not for everybody, there are countless moments when the vexation of it all can be overwhelming. Living out of suitcases and spending more time crouched over a steering wheel than being vertical most definitely takes a toll, but for me, those inconveniences were small in comparison to what I was feeling and the perspective I gained. 

“My life is my message.”
 Mahatma Gandhi

After so many years of ignoring the spirit that now guides me, I felt completely and utterly free, treasuring every mile of my journey. Revelation upon revelation unfolded itself and I got to know a person that had been a stranger for all too long — myself.

I unfolded my crumpled-up bucket list and placed check marks where there had been blank spaces, and WWOOFing it in New England served as a springboard to extraneous adventures I took advantage of while I was away.

During my time in the Northeast, I was able to reconnect with my family in Concord, New Hampshire, and stay with dear friends I don’t often get to see in Exeter. Sitting around dinner tables, breaking bread and talking to familiar faces was a comfort.

I felt empowered and strong as a result of farming and did not feel out of my comfort zone when I read poetry at an open mic in Portland, Maine or dined al fresco in Saratoga Springs. There were strange faces along the way that quickly became native as I was invited to join them to observe jam bands at local venues.

Friendships were made and alliances amongst my fellow WWOOFers were welcomed. I took my Southern California comrades from Owen Farm to Melanie and Matt’s organic farm in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, to hike and assist them in turning sap into maple syrup in the sugar shack.

Charlie, my morkie, and I traveled west to our beloved Catskills, walked part of the Appalachian Trail and held fort in New Paltz for several days, shopping at Groovy Blueberry and chowing down with a women’s motorcycle club at The Gilded Otter.

Returning home was not easy, as there was so much more I wanted to explore, but I have learned to trust timing, and without hesitation I know that Charles Crawford and I will one day again be road warriors embarking on the unknown. I am not sure whether or not I thought I would return to Long Island a farmer, but regardless, I knew I would come home different and better for this undertaking. Mission accomplished.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. If you would like to find out how to become a WWOOFer, visit www.wwoofusa.org.

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The author chops wood on Owen Farm. Photo from Stacy Santini

By Stacy Santini

This is the second in a four-part series. Miss the first installment? Read it here.

Once my decision and logistics were finalized, the preparing began and believe me, this was no easy feat for a woman who had spent most of her life tucked into neatly landscaped neighborhoods and luxury vehicles that had never seen a dirt road. It is mandatory to have the right clothing, gear and provisions for this type of living. In retrospect, I know that it would have been impossible for me to have survived mud season in New England without my neoprene muck boots, North Face rain attire and Cabela’s thermals. With every item of clothing I packed, varying weather conditions were always a factor, and my Jeep Patriot became the keeper of six large suitcases and numerous plastic bins; my vehicle overflowing with my expectations and a little fear, well, maybe a whole lot of fear. I also had a little Morkie, Charles Crawford, to consider, and he had his own impedimenta.

I selected two farms to call home during my time as a WWOOFer, and they could not have been more different. My first agrarian family was the Owens. Ruth and Derek were an elderly couple running a well-established 180 acre farm, Owen Farm, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, for more than forty years. The property included 30 acres of cleared land primarily used for pasture, a small orchard and 1 acre for planting and gardening. When I pulled up to their large colonial farmhouse on April 1st at 4 p.m., there was still snow on the ground, chickens running amuck and the property was buzzing with activity. I was greeted by fellow WWOOFers, a young Southern California couple named Camille and Gregg, who had arrived two weeks earlier, and as Gregg swooshed past me carrying a pile of wood, I became acutely aware that I was indeed doing this; I was about to become a farmer.

Adjustment is an understatement to describe my first few days at Owen Farm. Dignity took a back seat as I slowly but surely acquired humility and a work ethic not often seen by the rest of society. At this time of year, while most of the ground was still frozen, our main duties involved caring for the animals, which included cows which are milked by hand, sheep, pigs, poultry and horses, three of which were Arabian.

The author at 5 a.m., on the first day of WWOOFing it in New Hampshire. Photo from Stacy Santini
The author at 5 a.m., on the first day of WWOOFing it in New Hampshire. Photo from Stacy Santini

My first introduction to animal farming was the very afternoon I arrived when I observed Camille feeding Hallelujah, the resident pig who was the size of a small freight train, a “sumptuous” bucket of composting leftover veggies. At 5 a.m. the next morning, I had the pleasure of meeting Karl, the alpha cow. As she entered the barn for the first of her two daily milkings, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of this mammal. Our daily chores began before sunrise and would include gathering eggs at the chicken coop several times a day, feeding the cows and sheep, wheelbarrowing hay out to pasture for the horses and mucking stalls. When these obligations were filled, we would have special projects, like building fences and uprooting the 4 feet of manure and bedding in the sheep shelter.

The ground was frozen solid in the awakening sunrise hours but would melt somewhat by afternoon. Our footing was constantly challenged during our chores and it was not uncommon to be walking and soon find out that one of our appendages was wearing just a sock as the last step had stolen our boot which was being suctioned into the mud.

Our work on the farm monopolized most of our waking moments. Our main relief from these enjoyable but arduous tasks was mealtime. We ate family style three times a day and everyone would gather in the farmhouse kitchen at the big oak table. Missing a meal was frowned upon, as Ruth, the revered matriarch of this homestead, would spend the majority of her time at her century-old black wood-burning stove cooking creations from what was available from the farm and cupboard or reinventing leftover dinner from the night before. We feasted on stews, farm-raised pork, fresh greens and topped it all off with homemade dressings and cheese.

The word “waste” was not part of our lives or vernacular at Owen Farm. Every scrap, every egg shell, every bone was utilized, whether turned into compost or recycled, and we were very aware of the ramifications of squandering. After lunch, we would take an hour or so before returning outdoors to learn about wet felting, knitting and how to make condiments such as butter.

Ruth and Derek Owen were two of the most beautiful, stoic individuals to cross my path. I learned much from them and was grateful for the rare moments Ruth would take on the role of nurturing Mother. I started to look forward to Derek’s dry, humorous one liners with relief, as much as I welcomed his worn overalls as they would approach me, knowing I was having difficulty with a task. But their lifestyle is in such stark comparison to what I am used to that adapting was one of my greatest challenges.

Having little running water, only a compost toilet and very little time for hygiene, I struggled to let go of routines that are so much a part of my daily existence. Blow dryers, make-up and freshly washed towels did not exist during my stay. The Owens consider those things frivolous, unnecessary, and I must admit, as much as I missed my creature comforts, there was a certain freedom in letting all that go.

Dwelling under these conditions is not for the faint of heart and as I did my damnedest to acclimate, Charles Crawford, who was now being referred to as Farmer Chuck, was fighting his own battles . . .

Like what you’ve read? Check out part three here.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Look for her adventures at Owen Farm in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and Patch Farm in Denmark, Maine, in the next two issues of Arts & Lifestyles.

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Stacy Santini holds a newborn lamb in the sheep shelter at Owen Farm, Hopkinton, N.H. Photo by Camille Horace

By Stacy Santini

This is the first in a four-part series.

I started WWOOFing this past spring, and no, I do not mean I acquired a new pastime of barking like a dog. I joined a movement that is gaining worldwide momentum and, in some way, is a reminder of the days when joining the Peace Corps was all the rage. I walked through my fear; left my home, family and friends, and entered the world of farming in rural New England. Along with my little dog, Charles Crawford, I boarded the Port Jefferson ferry, kissed suburbia goodbye for several months and embraced a self-imposed challenge that would change me, my value system and perceptions about the world forever.

WWOOF-USA is an entity that gives people the opportunity to work and live on farms throughout the United States and is rapidly injecting awareness into our culture about sustainable living and helping our nation rid itself of an extremely self-entitled and wasteful mindset. One of their key goals is to integrate farming, food, culture and environment.

The WWOOF program began in the United Kingdom in 1971, by Sue Coppard ,under the name “Working Weekends on Organic Farms,” as an opportunity for London city dwellers to experience the growing organic farming evolution in the countryside. Her idea blew wind onto a smoldering brush fire, and today, WWOOF programs, currently known as “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” has expanded to more than 100 countries, each acting independently.

Becoming a WWOOFer is rather simple. One registers online and then arranges their stay with a host family. The website is extremely user friendly and feedback from other WWOOFer’s is inclusive. A prospective WWOOFer’s key task is to identify exactly what type of experience they wish to have, whether it is comprehensive organic farming, working with animals or beekeeping, and of course what part of the world they wish to have this experience in.

The riptide that was my final motivation to embark on this journey was sudden, but the ebb and flow of the currents encouraging me to have this experience were occurring for years.

As a music lover and journalist, I have the privilege of witnessing some of the most creative music being produced. As a result of being a part of the Grateful Dead community for as far back as I can remember, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to bluegrass and roots genres. In recent years, I can, without reservation, say that I have become a dedicated fan of bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Carolina Chocolate Drops and my ultimate favorite, Railroad Earth.

This affinity has lend itself to meeting some of the most down-to-earth, creative and impassioned people in the country. Coming from all walks in life, I found that there was a common denominator, a thread that linked them all together — their love for the earth and their desire to experience nature in the here-and-now.

One such couple’s adventures, Melanie and Matt, whom I now count among my closest friends, became the template for my expedition.

I started to pay close attention to their travels, observed them via social media, living and WWOOFing off the grid in Kodiak, Alaska. I admired their tenacity as they boated amongst whales, built greenhouses and preserved fruit. They were standing in the middle of their dreams and living with freedom and purpose. Their return to New England to run Tracie’s Community Farm, a small, organic farm in Fitzwilliams, New Hampshire, provoked a visit, and it was here I witnessed firsthand the meaning of “the good life” and how it had been hubristic of me to keep walking down a road to “someday.” I quickly noted that my “someday” had arrived and it was time to step out of my comfort zone and follow in their footsteps.

And so my Thoreau-like journey commenced. I started to hike with the Adirondack Mountain Club in the Catskills and began my planning to become a WWOOFer.

Like what you see? Read part two here.

Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Look for her adventures at Owen Farm in Hopkinton, N.H., and Patch Farm in Denmark, Maine, in the next three issues of Arts & Lifestyles.

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James D. Schultz as Bill Reach in a scene from ‘Down the Road.’ Photo by David Morrissey Jr.

By Stacy Santini

One of the most daunting scenes in film is in the final minutes of 1974’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when Leatherface is dancing his own murderous ballet wielding a chainsaw at sunset. It is a stunning visual into the disturbed psyche of a serial killer. There is no need to delve back into celluloid archives to experience this phenomenon once again, as Bluebox Theatre Company is brilliantly exploring this unsettling subject matter in its presentation of Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road,” at The Performing Arts Studio of New York in Port Jefferson Village.

Directed by Bluebox’s David Morrissey Jr., the play opens with an abrupt spasm disrupting the cozy darkness in this intimate blackbox theater; a large flat-screen TV center stage begins flashing familiar images. The audience is reminded of William and Kate’s royal wedding, the West Nile virus outbreak and other popular “newsworthy” stories.

In a short time the broadcasts turn extremely dark, focusing on people the public has come to know all too well: Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. Interview after interview, clip after clip, Morrissey begins to open up our doors of perception and draw us into the minds of these haunted men, the actions that have made them media icons and their stories a sad reality.

“Down the Road” is a psychological drama about serial killer Bill Reach, who has murdered and raped 19 women. While Reach is incarcerated, a young married couple, Dan and Iris, both of whom are journalists, are contracted to write a book about Reach. Initially approached as a fact-compiling endeavor, the couple soon begin to unravel not only Reach’s subconscious but their relationship as well and at the same time explore demoralizing themes.

As their ambition bounces their physical bodies into a cheap motel room in this rather beige part of the world, the audience is first introduced to Iris and Dan. Played by Marquez Stewart and Bluebox mainstay Bryon Azoulay, their connection is palpable. Consumed by passion for one another discussing their dreamy expectations of starting a family, they seem like tender lambs unaware that they are being led to slaughter.

As the play progresses, their different styles of interviewing Reach are apparent as well as the way each character reacts to the intensity of their exchanges with him. Communicating their thoughts on their individual interviews with Reach into a recorder, their distractions also become evident and the toxicity of Reach’s aura slowly twists and torments not only their ability to proceed with the task at hand but their relationship as well.

It is undeniable that Stuart portrays Iris with all the confrontational, aggressive boldness that her role demands. She is terrific and perfectly balances her character’s vacillation between being drawn to Reach while at the same time being repulsed by him. When asked by Reach if she is afraid of him, she snidely responds, “Desperately,” without disrupting her dead on stare.

Azoulay’s Dan is much more accommodating and at times submissive to Reach. He begins his interactions with Reach obligingly as a great inquisitor, but his growing fear eventually arrests his questioning and manifests in a dichotomy between his desire to run and his addiction to Reach’s mania. His impassioned solo scripted moments invoke the same angst and confusion into the viewer that his character is experiencing.

James D. Schultz as Bill Reach — that should be the play’s tag line. Schultz, a solid acting member of the Theatre Three family for several years, is a prodigy. Watching Schultz sprint to the top of our local acting pyramid in such a short time has been not only a joy for his followers but an awe-inspiring accomplishment. Probably his most challenging role to date, he more than nails it — he surpasses it, so much so that audience members were shaking when his presence loomed on stage unlit, allowing the other actors to take the baton. It was horrifyingly beautiful. All were scared to death of the diabolical monster Schultz passively and slowly created.

Embarking on the stage, Schultz is handsome and inviting. With the exception of his handcuffs, his attire is mainstream — jeans, a button-down shirt and designer eyeglasses.

He looks so normal, so familiar; but then the exchanges begin between him, Dan and Iris, and we are perversely aware that there is nothing normal about Bill Reach or James Schultz for that matter.

A chronological questioning commences, and it is here we see the true talent of Schultz. Expectations of a rabid, crazed lunatic who takes life from people is anticipated, but this is not the case with most serial killers, and Schultz’s restraint in this regard is stupendous. With a blank stare, a severe sociopathic being comes alive as he describes his killings in a matter of fact tone. The audience is hearing it, but in the back of our minds we are not really believing it. Methodically, he unwinds the details of his carnage. He says things like, “It wasn’t murder, murderers have motives, I kill,” and “Don’t insult me, most people don’t torture what they hunt.”

As Schultz describes what it feels like to kill, the theater was eerily quiet, audience captivated and for a moment almost simulated a poetry reading. Eventually we see outbursts and violence from Reach that Schultz brings to a new level. He frightens the audience with a lingering energy and so much so that when his character is not the focal point, the audience is still very much aware that evil is in the room. Absolutely incredible and only the work of a true master.

David Morrissey Jr. governs this production with the intensity and passion of a veteran director. Part of the talented triad team that makes Bluebox Theatre Company tick, Morrissey creates synergy among his characters and movement on stage that will surprise you. Coached by his counterparts, Joe Rubino and Andrew Beck, this play secures their place among our local theaters and stages. Transmitting themes that might be difficult to digest such as how the media is responsible for making monsters like Reach into celebrities and identifying internal motives for these inexplicable acts of hatred and violence is no easy feat, but this small green production company succeeds on every level.

The Performing Arts Studio of New York is a special place and keeps the urban culture of the big city alive in a small town, but seating is limited. Walk fast, sprint, no run to see “Down the Road” as it won’t be here for long. For mature audience only.

The Performing Arts Studio of New York, 11 Traders Cove, Port Jefferson, will present “Down the Road” through Sept. 6. Tickets are $19 adults ($15 online), $13 students ($11 online). For more information, call 631-928-6529 or visit www.blueboxtheatrecompany.com.

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By Stacy Santini

When people think of Port Jefferson Village and performance, phenomenal Theatre Three immediately comes to mind. What most people do not know is that down the road is an intimate venue, called The Performing Arts Studio of New York. Yes, down the road on East Main Street, this blackbox theater will ironically soon be premiering the Tony Award winning play, “Down the Road.”

The Performing Arts Studio of New York is a unique space with a seating capacity of only 70. Its patrons can view some of the best performances this side of Broadway in comfy chairs and cushy couches. Known as a box theater, its simple lines and flexible seating provide a blank slate for the productions that embrace it.

Directors Terri Morrissey and Deborah and Michael Livering’s mission is noble. Their goal is not only to train artists and promote live performances but to nurture and foster exploration into the artistic realm. Anything is possible here, and on Aug. 21, Bluebox Theatre Company will take up residence and impregnate The Performing Arts Studio of New York with its vision of Lee Blessings’ psychological esoteric drama.

“Down the Road” is the tale of serial killer Bill Reach and the married team of reporters who set out to chronicle and define his actions. Making sense out of the horrific deeds undertaken by Reach and attempting to reveal his motives is a task of tremendous magnitude, and the outcome stretches way beyond his murderous proclivity.

As the incomparable James D. Schultz, of Theatre Three fame, who plays Reach, points out, “My character is encroaching on how they view each other. The more they know about him, the less they know about themselves.” He further elaborates: “The scariest thing about Bill Reach is that there is nothing scary about him or his background.  He could be anyone; he is just doing these horrible things for no apparent reason. Just like dancers have to dance, swimmers have to swim, killers just kill people.” Schultz will also be making his debut as executive producer.

Thus, the audience will become familiar with the numerous themes inherent in the play. As David Morrissey Jr., executive director at Bluebox, explains, “The play is essentially about the responsibility of journalists and how the media portrays criminals in a certain way; how they can actually sway the public into committing more crimes. The media often makes criminals of these types into celebrities.” The media, in this case performed by Marquez and Brian Azoulay, are treasures of our local pool of talented actors.

One of the most tantalizing reasons to get excited about this production of “Down the Road” is that it is being delivered to us by Bluebox Theatre Company. It isn’t often that such an impassioned, unconventional group of individuals who think outside of the box make Long Island their home. Theatrical offbeat jewels such as Bluebox are usually found producing and performing in urban arenas.

Principally described as edgy, David Morrissey elaborates, “Our mission is to light up the world’s stages with the best storytelling. We are all about putting unconventional theater out there, and things you would not normally see on Long Island. It is about including people who are outside the line and giving them their place in theater. We want to give them a voice.”

Bluebox Theatre Company is comprised of Joe Rubino, managing director; David Morrissey Jr., executive director; Andrew Beck, artistic director; and Tom Mooylayil, actor, producer and investor.

The synergy among the team is apparent as they have known each other for years and began acting together in middle school. Rubino connects the dots for the group: “One reason I think it works so well is because we have all worked together for years. We have such a passion for it, this is true; but we also have these other talents that we bring to the table. We play any other roles in the company albeit social media, web design etc. It all just flows for us, we are not the Bluebox Theatre Company but rather the Bluebox Family.”

Future Bluebox Theatre Company productions will include: “Night of the Living Dead,” Oct. 9 to 25; “Art,” Nov. 27 to 29; “Holiday Tales from the Box,” Dec. 19; Jedi Fighting AIDS benefit on Dec. 20.

“Down the Road” premieres at The Performing Arts Studio of New York on Friday, Aug. 21, and will run through Sept. 6. Seating is limited and tickets should be purchased sooner than later.  This is an auspicious event, welcoming Bluebox to our community, being grateful they chose Port Jefferson to call home and to bear witness to one of the most intriguing plays written in years.

The Performing Arts Studio of New York is located at 11 Traders Cove, Port Jefferson. Tickets are $19 adults ($15 online), $13 students ($11 online). For more information, call 631-928-6529 or visit www.blueboxtheatrecompany.com.

Karl O’Leary with his sons Cooper (left) and Cameron (right) at the Walt Whitman Birthplace ceremony this May. Photo from Karl O’Leary

By Stacy Santini

Most of us can look back on our lives and remember one person who impacted our journeys in such a profound manner that they will never be forgotten and their influence comes alive over and over again as we carry on with our daily activities.

For the pupils at Mount Sinai Middle School, that person is certain to be Karl O’Leary. An English teacher fascinated with poetry since the age of 7, O’Leary holds close the teachings of Walt Whitman and is dedicated to cultivating enthusiasm for life and thinking way outside the enclave of his classroom.

The cover of Testimonial Tales. Photo from Karl O’Leary
The cover of Testimonial Tales. Photo from Karl O’Leary

Coaching his students to take life on he says, “It is good to experience life and go beyond the boundaries; school is not just within four walls but about challenging themselves not for a grade but who they are, who they want to be.” O’Leary knew rather early that he couldn’t just preach this Whitmanesque philosophy. He had to and wanted to live it, to be tangible proof of his convictions. He embraces the simple life and dwells among nature as often as possible, albeit hiking Long Island’s Paumanok Path or camping for several weeks in rural New Hampshire with his family.

O’Leary is committed to the poet he admires so much by seeing, observing and listening, finding simplicity in a noisy world. He also involves his students in the numerous workshops and activities The Whitman Association offers at Whitman’s Birthplace in Huntington, encouraging fundraising and giving back.

O’Leary has published a book of poetry entitled “Testimonial Tales,” which is an ode to his wife Melanie. Meeting her through a friend, it quickly became apparent that she was “the one.” As with so many other enchanted lovers, O’Leary states, “When you know you just know.” Filling a small bed and breakfast in Cape Cod with immediate family members, they quietly exchanged their vows and began building a life together in the Village of Belle Terre. They started a family and today have two children, ages 3½ years old and 15 months.

Karl O’Leary with his wife Melanie. Photo from Karl O’Leary
Karl O’Leary with his wife Melanie. Photo from Karl O’Leary

The collection of poems documents their lives together — milestones, relationship transitions and daily rituals.  The message is simple but strong and unalterably beautiful. O’Leary wrote Melanie a poem every week since their courtship and felt it was time to share his sentiments with the rest of the world. When he is asked specifically why he decided to publish the book, he boldly states, “For one, Melanie deserves it, my wife is everything, and two, I tell my students to be proud of their work and get it out there in the world. How could I tell them those things if I did not do the same?”

O’Leary’s goal for the future is to certainly write more, and he is eager to put together another collection with poems and prose he has written over the years. For him, publishing his work is not about fame or money but to fulfill himself, to look back and be content with himself that he did indeed try. Give of yourself, celebrate yourself were essential themes for Whitman and apparently for Karl O’Leary too. Students pay attention.

‘Testimonial Tales’ by Karl O’Leary is available at Barnes and Noble stores and at www.amazon.com.

Festivalgoers enjoy listening to music on the Great Lawn at the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo by Stacy Santini

By Stacy Santini

It is hard to imagine that William K. Vanderbilt II envisioned people dancing ensconced in tie dye, Frisbees being tossed into the wind, and Grateful Dead melodies connecting with the air when he donated his 43-acre Eagle’s Nest estate in Centerport to the county in 1944, but if he were at what is now known as the Vanderbilt Museum on June 7, it is pretty certain that he would marvel at the sight. Exceptional weather with crystalline blue overhead, grassy knolls kissing azure water and ornate gothic buildings served as a brilliant host to a Woodstock Revival.

The amazing world of event promoter, Rich Rivkin is a wonderland of Birkenstocks, hula hoops, live music, visual artists, bubbles, and face painters. Rivkin, who started Rich Rivkin Presents more than a decade ago, is a live art and music promotional entity. He has become a sort of pied piper for a community of people who love music, the energy and movement of festivals and fellowship. Rivkin tells us, “Look at the people around you at these events. You know that years ago they were there at those shows that the Grateful Dead and similar artists became known for — themed festivals where the audience feels a tangible sense of community as they sing the same songs in unison. I wanted to recreate that.”

Artist Stelios Stylianou paints overlooking Northport Harbor at the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo by Stacy Santini
Artist Stelios Stylianou paints overlooking Northport Harbor at the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo by Stacy Santini

Rivkin is a humble and kind soul who has made a profession out of all things altruistic.  He is an environmental consultant specializing in the removal of contaminated soil and has become a national expert advisor in the field. With clients such as UPS, Rivkin’s company has more than 4,000 projects to its credit, recycling soil and bettering communities around the United States.

He is also a talented hand percussionist. Fifteen years ago he began to form drum circles so that passionate musicians like himself could collaborate with one another and share their work. Within a short period of time, popular local bands like Reckoning were eager to participate and one of Long Island’s first music festivals, called Elwoodstock, was born, overseen by Rivkin. Held at a public park in Elwood in 2001, musicians joined Rivkin for a day of music and togetherness. There were no permits in place, no insurance obtained and next to zero marketing performed, but people turned out and have been turning out ever since.

Rivkin recalls the moment he knew that these events were indeed something he not only wanted to pursue, but felt compelled to do. “It was as if we created a living room under the stars, Persian rugs and all.  In the afterglow of everyone’s departure, I could still feel the vibe, the energy of the music, the sense of community.  It was so personal, it actually made me cry. I had no idea in that moment how it would expand,  but the seed was planted and there was no turning back.”

Known for its pristine shorelines and beaches, Long Island certainly has much to offer, but there is a movement occurring that is rapidly injecting culture into our neck of the woods and Rivkin can certainly be attributed for facilitating this local renaissance. Fusing world class musicians with local visual artists, his events have become an enclave for creators and observers alike and Rich Rivkin Presents is synonymous with both art forms.  He has joined these communities together and created a fellowship much like the days of the 1960s when the Grateful Dead lyric, “Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands,” was the mantra. It is really quite beautiful and very much needed in such a secular society.

Ann McInerney (aka Annie Mac) and Mike Katzman of Jellyband perform at the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo by Stacy Santini
Ann McInerney (aka Annie Mac) and Mike Katzman of Jellyband perform at the Vanderbilt Museum. Photo by Stacy Santini

On Sunday, June 7, more than 50 years after the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York stunned a nation, the grounds of the Vanderbilt Museum were literally transformed to sustain a revival of that historical moment. Droves of hippy-clad professionals, music aficionados and art lovers alike freckled the lawns and set up camp amongst the historical landmark structures to enjoy a day of peace, love and joy. Dancing amid colorful tents, coolers and strewn blankets, attendees were treated to some of the best local music around and were able to witness the alluring process of artisans painting their canvases.

Out of the gate, the first of four bands, Jellyband, gave crowd–pleasing renditions of Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Joe Cocker favorites. Lead singer Annie Mac delivered a goose bump-inducing version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” elevating the energy of the crowd to eagle-soaring heights.

Germinating the vibe, Milagro took the stage next, singing and emulating Santana as only Milagro can do, bringing us favorites such as “Black Magic Woman.” A welcome addition to the familiar setlists came from the third band, Wonderous Stories, as they impeccably treated the crowd to the entire “Who’s Next” album by the incomparable beloved rock ensemble, The Who.  Essentially, one voice emanated from the crowd as “Behind Blue Eyes” settled upon the audience.

Half Step, a group that has a strong following with the Long Island Deadhead community, was astounding and closed the day with an execution of “Morning Dew” that even Jerry Garcia would have loved. The vocals of Tom San Filippo and Cindy Lopez recreate the magic of the Grateful Dead in a manner very few can do. As well-known music photographers, such as Joel Werner and Artie Ralisch, and fan photographer Jason Cousins captured the crowd’s moments of rapture, it was apparent that there was no place on earth any of these people would have rather been. Festivalgoer Tom Schilling sums it up, “Breathtaking views, soul nurturing tunes, with my great friends, it is my favorite start to the season. Rivkin’s Deadfest here in September will just cap it all off.”

Rich Rivkin Presents will be indulging his friends numerous times throughout the summer with events such as Box of Rain, Long Island Sound & Art Festival and Grateful Fest. During the winter, Rivkin keeps the momentum going with indoor experiences as well. Next year, he hopes to mirror larger national festivals with a two-day camping event on a private 40-acre property on eastern Long Island. Rich Rivkin’s recipe for entertaining folks and bringing people together is marvelous, and one can only hope that he keeps playing his magical flute for years to come. For more information, please visit www.limusicfestivals.com.