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Theater Talk

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.

Clockwise from back row left, Ginger Dalton, Stephanie Moreau, Christine N. Boehm, Marci Bing, Linda May and Michelle LaBozzetta. Photo by Steven Uihlein/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Tara Mae

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

This famous line from Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias embodies the ethos of the comedy-drama, which is Theatre Three’s next Mainstage production, opening on April 9.

Spanning three years in the lives of a group of Southern women, the play explores how the depth of their bonds sustain them through triumphs and tragedies. Harling wrote the play in 1985 as a way of processing his sister’s death and paying homage to the women from his childhood. It was later adapted into an award-winning film starring Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis and Daryl Hannah.

Unlike the film version, the play exists strictly in the world of women, featuring female characters with the male characters only referenced through dialogue. 

“Working with an all-female cast was absolutely wonderful, and we all talked about how we connected to material both as mothers and daughters. I love that in this show every single person is integral to the play, and it really celebrates the strengths of these women and the beauty of their souls and personalities,” said director Mary Powers. 

Starring Stephanie Moreau (Truvy), Christine N. Boehm (Annelle), Marci Bing (Clairee), Michelle LaBozzetta (Shelby), Linda May (M’Lynn), and Ginger Dalton (Ouiser), Steel Magnolias is a personal favorite of Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, who first saw the play when it debuted off-Broadway in 1987.

“I believe it is an absolutely perfect play. Very few plays are as well constructed as Steel Magnolias. It is one of the top ten theater experiences of my life. I do not think there is one moment that is false or one moment that does not work. This is the second time we have done it…and we felt it was time to bring it back for our 50th season,” Sanzel said. 

Unfortunately, the 50th anniversary season (2019-2020), designed to showcase some of the of the theater’s most revered productions, was cut short due to the pandemic lockdown.  The cast was completing the rehearsal process and preparing to open the show when the world around it abruptly shut down, and  the show was postponed. After a two-year delay, rehearsals resumed in February of 2022.

“We were very committed to the project. We thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsal process the first time around and were all very invested in coming back, which everyone did,” Powers said. “We kept our schedules clear for that time. It was like riding a bike; one rehearsal and we were back to where we had been with the exact same casting, exact same roles. Nothing changed at all. We all had our scripts and got to work. We get along so well, and the cast and crew are a delight to work with.” 

Interpersonal, emotional connections onstage are reflected in the dynamic between the actresses, who also kept in touch with Powers and Sanzel during the hiatus. 

“One of the best feelings I’ve had thus far was at our read through this year. Finally being together again, hearing everyone’s voices, laughing and crying as we read was such a unique experience and I’ll cherish it forever,” said LaBozzetta. 

The dedication to the material, its message, and each other are highlights of the process, according to Bing, who played the role of M’Lynn in Theatre Three’s production in the 1990s. “We have a strong connection onstage as well as offstage. I love the whole group, which makes it easy to connect,” she said. 

For LaBozzetta, after the interrupted pre-production process, opening the show is a relief. “I am most looking forward to finally having an audience! We’ve been having so much fun in rehearsals and I just cannot wait to share what we’ve created.”

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson presents Steel Magnolias from April 7 to May 9. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 for children ages 5 and up. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Jessica Murphy will play the role of Wednesday in Theatre Three’s ‘The Addams Family.’

By Melissa Arnold

Jessica Murphy in the role of Wednesday. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

From their first appearance in comic strips in the 1930s, the iconic Addams family has won the hearts of many for their “creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky” antics. Their story has been told and retold through television, movies, books and even video games. This fall, Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will present “The Addams Family” musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2010.

The show finds the Addams children approaching adulthood, and for daughter Wednesday, there are certainly some growing pains. She’s fallen head over heels for a boy, her first real love, and to her family’s horror, he’s … well, normal. And the Addamses are anything but normal. Things are bound to get weird when Wednesday brings her beau and his parents home to meet her family. Underneath all of the zany comedy you’d expect from “The Addams Family” is a story about love, family, growing up and acceptance. It’s a lighthearted, silly show that’s perfect for the Halloween season.

Jessica Murphy of Northport plays everyone’s favorite goth girl, Wednesday Addams. The 23-year-old shared her thoughts on the show and making her Theatre Three debut.

Matt Senese (Gomez) and Jessica Murphy

How did you get your start in acting?

I started doing small plays and dance recitals when I was around four years old. It was just a hobby, but I found that I really loved being on the stage, being a presence and making people laugh. I did shows all through high school, and in my senior year I was cast as the lead. I wanted to pursue acting professionally, but I didn’t think I could make a career of it. Originally I was going to study elementary education at Loyola University in Maryland. I had always wanted to be a teacher — my mother and grandmother were both teachers, and I love working with kids. But in the car on the way home from orientation I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but theater.

How did your family respond?

They were incredibly supportive and encouraged me to take a gap year. Afterward, I went to SUNY Geneseo and eventually graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in musical theater. Now I’m just focusing on getting involved with as many theaters and productions as I can.

What made you want to audition for this show?

I love the music from “The Addams Family,” and my mom saw [this show] on Broadway and loved it. I had never been to Theatre Three before, so I was excited to get involved in a group that was new to me.

Were you nervous about being a newcomer?

It was a little intimidating going to a theater for the first time that has such a devoted base of actors. Many of them have done multiple shows at Theatre Three and so they know each other well. But it’s been a fantastic experience. Everyone has been so kind and I’ve loved working with them — they are all incredibly talented.

Jessica Murphy and Max Venezia will play the roles of Wednesday and Pugsley in Theatre Three’s “The Addams Family”

Were you hoping to be cast as Wednesday?

Honestly, I just wanted to be a part of it! I was hoping for the role of Wednesday, but wasn’t necessarily expecting it … they asked if I wanted time to think it over, but I was so excited that I said yes immediately.

What do you like about your character?

This show gives a completely different take on Wednesday because she’s much older than she’s usually portrayed. She’s grown into her own independent person who knows who she is and what she wants. We also spend a lot of time on the family aspect of the show — Wednesday will always be her mother’s daughter, but she’s really a daddy’s girl at heart. 

Do you have a favorite scene in the show? 

There’s a scene in the second act when [Addams family patriarch] Gomez sings a song called “Happy Sad.” — It’s a more serious father/daughter moment that’s very touching. Most of the show is so zany, but it’s one of those moments where we see that underneath all the craziness in the family, they have deep love and affection for each other.

What is the best reason to come see this show?

At the end of the day, this show is all about love. It’s fun during this time of year to have a show with these kooky and crazy characters, but they really have a lot of heart to them as well. And of course, there’s a lot of laughs!

“The Addams Family,” opens this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson. The show runs through Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. No children under 5 are permitted. To purchase tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Zachary Podair with the cast of 'Newsies'

By Melissa Arnold

Zachary Podair

Zachary Podair of Smithtown will have some great “What I Did This Summer” stories to share when he heads to middle school next month. The 11-year-old is spending almost every day onstage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, where he is the youngest member in the cast of “Newsies.” 

The show is loosely based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899, where New York City paperboys organized a union and went on strike to be treated fairly on the job. Zachary plays the part of Les, who wants to help his older brother support their struggling family. His character is lovable and funny, providing some bright comic relief for the show. I recently spoke with Zachary about his professional theater debut, what it’s like being the youngest on the set and more.

What got you interested in acting?

When I was 6 years old, my sister was taking dance lessons and we would always go to pick her up. I really liked watching and decided I wanted to dance, too, so my mom put me in hip-hop classes. I love anything that involves dancing, so I started looking for shows that had a lot of dance numbers.

Have you been in any other shows?

My first show was four years ago, at the Encore Theater. I got to play [the title role in] “Aladdin.” And ever since then I try to do as many shows as I can. I was Rooster in “Annie,” Donkey in “Shrek,” and Charlie in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” 

What made you want to audition for ‘Newsies?’ Were you nervous?

My favorite kind of shows are dance-heavy, and I knew that “Newsies” was one. I had seen the movie before and thought that I would try out. It also has a really great musical score.

I wasn’t really nervous about it. I didn’t necessarily think I would get the part, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. I was really surprised when I heard I was cast. They originally said they were going to double cast the part of Les, [meaning two actors would take turns playing the role], but they ended up just casting me by myself. That was really exciting.

What is it like being the youngest person in the cast?

Sometimes it’s different being the only person around my age, but everyone in the cast and the crew has been so sweet to me. I’ve learned so much from being in professional theater. Every person I’ve worked with has taught me something, from the casting agency to the other actors, the director and other crew. I’ve also improved my dancing so much from working with our amazing choreographer [Sandalio Alvarez].

Zachary Podair, right, in a scene from ‘Newsies’

What do you like about your character?

Les and I are so much alike. He’s just a funny guy. I love playing him because he’s got a lot of great dance scenes and he’s also the comic relief in a lot of ways. I love the one-liners. 

What has acting taught you about life?

So, so much. I’ve learned how important it is to be flexible — emotionally and physically. You have to be spontaneous, to be willing to go with anything. And, of course, you have to learn how to deal with rejection. You’re not going to get every part and not everyone is going to love you.

What would you say to other kids (or adults!) who want to try acting but are nervous?

Definitely don’t be afraid to try it! If you don’t get a part, then you have the experience of auditioning and you can learn from that. If you want, you can try again. And if you do get the part, then you get to have an amazing experience. Either way it’s a positive thing and so much fun to be a part of.

Why should people go see “Newsies?”

It’s one of those shows that has something for everyone, no matter who you are or how old you are. There are things the kids like and things the adults will laugh at. And I think it’s interesting because it’s based on true events — we worked really hard to make our version of the show as realistic as possible. It’s a positive show that will make you feel good.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at the Engeman so far? 

So far, the best moment was the first day that we got to see the set all finished. It was so amazing. I think that was the moment it all really hit me. I thought, “This is real. It’s really happening.” It’s the best feeling.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Newsies” through Sept. 2. Tickets range from $73 to $78. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

All photos by Michael DeCristofaro