According to Graham

Playwright Bruce Graham

Playwright Bruce Graham

There are a number of similarities between Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham and Gavin Miller, the main character in Graham’s play, According to Goldman.

Both are screenwriters who teach at a university. Both have wives who love to cook.

But there are also vast differences between the writer and his character.

“People assume I’m Gavin. I’m not,” Graham said. “I’ve never lived in Los Angeles and I’ve never wanted to live in Los Angeles. I did pretty well in the movie business but I never lived there and the thought of going there makes me nauseous.”

Graham’s screenplay credits include Dunston Checks In and Anastasia. Even though it’s been a few years since his last movie, his playwriting career is on a roll. He’s the most produced playwright in the Philly region this season, with upcoming productions at Theatre Exile, the Arden Theatre, and Passage Theatre. Graham is also a successful television writer; he’s currently the co-executive producer of the Hallmark Channel show Cedar Cove.

Gavin, by contrast, has little else going for him at the beginning of the play other than his teaching career.

“The desperation this guy has – I’m lucky I’ve never had that. I’ve had too many other ways to make a living,” Graham said.

For Graham, “being in the movie business was always a means to an end so I could write plays.”

The title of According to Goldman comes from screenwriter William Goldman’s famous quote that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”

The title doesn’t just refer to the movie business, Graham said. It’s also about marriage, and how sometimes husbands and wives don’t really know what’s going on with each other.

“When you’ve been married to someone for so long, sometimes you just wonder who they are,” Graham said.

-Act II Playhouse Communications Director Bill D’Agostino

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An interview with magician/comedian Fred Siegel

profile_41This summer Act II Playhouse is presenting Fred’s Magic World, an amazing and hilarious magic show, from July 9-12. The show’s creator and star, Fred Siegel, answered a few questions about the show, his collaborators, and his life in magic and comedy.

Why will audiences enjoy Fred’s Magic World?

Our show has something for everyone. There are funny parts, serious parts, and spooky parts. Our audiences not only have fun, but leave the theater thinking.

How is it “not your typical magic show?”

We don’t embarrass the audience or insult their intelligence. No fake-looking boxes, no lasers, no smoke, and no jokes at the audiences’ expense.  Also, this show is intimate–we are sharing something fun and mysterious, but also rather personal.

How did you get involved in magic?

I saw a girl turn into a gorilla at Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City when I was 8 years old.  That clinched it.  Magic is a lifelong passion for me, and it will never stop. The idea behind Fred’s Magic World was born a little over 20 years ago, when I was working towards my Ph.D. in Performance Studies at NYU. During the summers, I worked ten hour days as an ‘inside talker’ and magician at Bradshaw’s Circus of World Curiosities, a Coney Island freak show. I received my Ph.D. in Performance Studies from NYU in 1993. My dissertation is entitled “The Vaudeville Magic Act:1880-1932.” A copy was once sold on eBay.

You blend magic and comedy, and are a veteran of Philly’s ComedySportz. How are magic and comedy similar?

I guess both of these kinds of performance depend on managing the expectations of the audience–leading them down a clear path and then delivering the unexpected.

Tell me about the other three people in the show.

Gail and Deborah Rosen (“The Rosen Sisters”) are award-winning psychic sisters. They perform amazing feats of memory and are proud winners of a MAES (Magicians Alliance of Eastern States) mentalism award. Gail and I are married. Eric Van Wie is a Shakespearian actor, escapologist, and comedy chameleon who portrays a variety of bizarre characters in this show. Eric and I met in Comedy Sportz. He worked his magic on Deborah Rosen, and now they are married. We are a magical family.

BUY TICKETS FOR FRED’S MAGIC WORLD

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Thank You!

IMG_2036Thank you so much to everyone who donated items to the Making Spirits Bright Food Drive!  Your generosity helped Act II collect a “wall-full” of items for the Inter-Faith Housing Alliance’s transitional housing program, Hope Gardens.
The Inter-Faith Housing Alliance is a wonderful non-profit located right in Ambler and was the official Community Partner for Making Spirits Bright.  Learn more about the Inter-Faith Housing Alliance by visiting their web site, www.i-fha.org.
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Act II on the Road

FullSizeRenderOn Tuesday afternoon Act II Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite and Managing Director Howie Brown visited our neighbors at the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler. As part of the church’s P.R.I.M.E. TIME speaker’s series, Tony and Howie gave an inside look at all things Act II and took questions from the audience.

If you’d like Act II to make a short presentation at your next social gathering, please contact Howie Brown at howie@act2.org.

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A Surprise for a Longtime Subscriber

photo (4)Following Sunday’s performance of Rounding Third, Act II’s Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite surprised longtime subscriber Dr. Jay Sivitz by announcing to the audience that we are dedicating two front row seats to Jay and his lovely wife, Shirley, who passed away last year. Dr. Sivitz joined Tony and co-star, Mike Basile, on stage after the show.

To find out more information about Act II’s Have-A-Seat Campaign, click here.

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An Interview with ROUNDING THIRD Playwright Richard Dresser

Playwright Richard Dresser

Act II: You’ve written that you were inspired to write Rounding Third after learning that your son’s Little League coach was going to cheat. What was is about that event that made you want to write about it?

Richard Dresser: When my son announced that his Little League coaches were putting in new “strategy” for the playoffs that involved cheating, I was, as a parent, horrified.  But as a playwright I immediately saw this as perfect example of how the desire to win in children’s sports has gone wildly off track.  And, by extension, it encapsulated an obsession with achievement at the expense of simply doing what’s right which seems to permeate our entire culture.  I knew I would have to write about it because it was a simple incident on a Little League team that suggested so much more.

Act II: Parents have always struggled with the dilemma dramatized in the play: the conflict between pressuring their children to succeed (say, in school) versus nurturing their kids to grow on their own terms. Do you think the pendulum shifted from the time you were a kid to when you became a parent?

Richard Dresser: The central issue of the play–pressuring children to succeed versus allowing them to grow at their own pace–has become exponentially more fraught since I was a kid. Many parents now become intimately involved in every aspect of their child’s life, from interfering with the coaching (and I know because I was a coach) to crafting college admissions essays. It’s all part of a fevered “win at any cost” approach that leads to burn-out, depression, and a lack of joy in simply doing things for their own sake. And what many parents fail to consider is that the children who truly succeed and have happy lives are the ones who found something they love to pursue, whether in sports or school or on their own. Parents can’t force that to happen but they can certainly prevent it by being overly-involved and demanding. In my experience, the only kids who don’t improve in the course of a season are the ones whose parents (generally dad) apply so much pressure that it’s just not fun.

Act II: Baseball, more than most other sports, has inspired a treasure trove of great stories, plays, and movies. What do you think it is about the game that makes it so rich for writers?

Richard Dresser: Baseball inspires storytelling for several reasons.  The slow pace makes it a reflective experience, where all aspects of the game and stats and personalities can be chewed over as the innings progress, as opposed to a continuous action sport like basketball.  Baseball is also sentimentally embedded in our national psyche and seems to epitomize where the country is at any particular time. There’s a reason people know more about Jackie Robinson than various civil rights leaders. Most of us grow up with baseball. Fathers and sons play catch and go to ballgames together and have shared memories of their experiences in a way that doesn’t happen as frequently with other sports.  And rooting for the hometown baseball team seems to cross generations.

Plus, there’s something magical about the game. Consider the dimensions of the field. For over one hundred years there have been close plays at first base, ninety feet from home. Pitchers and hitters have struggled to succeed from sixty feet six inches apart. As virtually everything else has changed, including greatly improved physical conditioning, faster runners, and a livelier baseball, those mystical dimensions from the fog of the past have truly held up.

Act II:  The central dispute of Rounding Third – playing to win versus playing for enjoyment – is also one that many writers face. Have you ever struggled with the pressure to write something you think will be successful versus writing something you personally enjoy creating?

Richard Dresser: My rule is to always know for whom I am writing.  If it’s a play, then I am writing for myself, because I can’t imagine trying to write a play with the express purpose of making money. A commercial play is simply a play that people will pay to see, and the best chance of writing one of those is to write what’s in your heart.  But there are situations (like television, for example) where the purpose is to to write what will get on the air and that is a different beast entirely.  But one that I enjoy for both the craft and the gamesmanship.

Act II: What are you working on now?

Richard Dresser:  At the moment I am about to do a workshop of a new musical at the Williamstown Theater Festival called The Holler which we will stage in a barn.  I’m working with Willie & Rob Reale, with whom I collaborated on Johnny Baseball,a musical about the Curse of the Red Sox (they were the last team to sign a black ballplayer).  I have several new plays: Trouble Cometh (about reality TV) will premiere next season in San Francisco, 100 Years (about radical life extension) will premiere in the fall in NJ,  and I just finished an evening of monologues called I’m Just Saying.

-Conducted by Communications & Education Director Bill D’Agostino

 Rounding Third by Richard Dresser runs Sept. 9 – Oct. 12, 2014 at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA.

 

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More Broadway on Butler: “True Showbiz Entertainment”

Sonny in La ManchaMore Broadway on Butler is a lively new production from Sonny Leo, who recently played Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha. Sonny is also familiar to Act II audiences for his on-stage roles in Oh What Fun!, Gutenberg! The Musical! and his role as choreographer and music director of My Fair Lady. Below, Sonny describes the new show he’s created.

More Broadway on Butler is a little Chorus Line, a little Annie Get Your Gun, a little Kiss Me Kate, and a little Gypsy, just to name a few! The timeless tunes and dances of these classic musicals will give you an evening (or afternoon) of theater that will leave you tapping your toes and humming along.

“Our production takes a trip through the trials and tribulations of what it requires to be in show business. All performers have a story to tell both individually and collectively. More Broadway on Butler will bring you on that journey. We will share our triumphs and heartaches and all told through the songs and dances of their favorite musicals both past and present.

“There is something for everyone! From the jazzy feel of Bob Fosse’s Chicago to the tapping hot footwork of Singing in the Rain, we guarantee a wonderful evening of true showbiz entertainment.”

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W.H. Auden and “Man of La Mancha”

ImageFun fact: Poet W.H. Auden was the original lyricist for Man of La Mancha.

So what happened? How did one of the 20th century’s greatest writer‘s end up losing his job to Joe Darion, a relative newcomer.

As La Mancha book writer Dale Wasserman recalls in his memoir The Impossible Musical, Auden’s original lyrics – though lovely on the page – were not stage-worthy.

“They were not lyrics,” Wasserman explained. “Some were poems. Some were diatribes, not against the world of Cervantes but the world of today. They made free use of anachronism, which tore the fabric of the play to shreds.”

For comparison’s sake, here’s the beginning of Auden’s “Song of the Quest:”

Once the voice has quietly spoken, every knight
Must ride alone
On the quest appointed him into the unknown.
One to seek the healing waters, one the dark
Tower to assail,
One to find the lost princess, one to find the grail.

Through the wood of evil counsel, through the
Desert of dismay,

Past the pools of pestilence he must find the way.
Hemmed between the haunted marshes and the
Mountains of the dead,

To the valley of regret and the bridge of dread.

What do you think? How do they stack up against Joe Darion’s now-famous lyrics for “The Impossible Dream:”

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

We’d love your thoughts. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.

 

post by Communications and Education Director Bill D’Agostino

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Director’s Notes on Neil Simon’s HOTEL SUITE

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Neil Simon

I caught the Neil Simon bug when I was 13 years old and saw a production of Brighton Beach Memoirs. Eugene Jerome, the play’s lead character and narrator, is an adolescent navigating the peculiarities and awkwardness of entering his teens. I sat in the theatre riveted. I was going through all of the same things in my life at the time. I vividly remember laughing heartily and also tearing up, trying desperately to cover up my emotions as I sat next to my father.

After this, I became a student of Neil Simon and his works. As a 13-year-old boy, I didn’t realize and certainly wasn’t able to articulate why I identified with the show so much and why I wanted to familiarize myself with the rest of Simon’s plays.

However, in my preparations to direct Hotel Suite, it has become apparent to me why these plays keep me laughing and why they have such a profound impact on me. I’ve realized that Simon has a great compassion for his fellow human beings. He shows a preference for conventional moral behavior; however, he has great tolerance for moral fallibility. He suggests mutual concession in personal relationships; however, he never punishes those who persist in extreme modes of behavior. Simon captures the human condition in a palpable way unique from any other playwright I’ve read.

When asked how he comes up with the hilarious situations in his plays, Simon responded, “My view is, ‘How sad and funny life is.’ I can’t think of a humorous situation that does not involve some pain.  I used to ask, ‘What is a funny situation?’ Now I ask, ‘What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?’”

Hotel Suite is the manifestation of Neil Simon’s quirks and strengths. This play pulls its scenes from his previous “Hotel plays:” Plaza Suite (1968), California Suite (1976), and London Suite (1994). It is the perfect mixture of bittersweet comedy and farce. Whether bodies are desperately flying around the stage or whether they’re seated on a sofa talking, we can’t help but see ourselves in them, and then laugh at them and ourselves.

When Director Mike Nichols saw the set that Oliver Smith had designed for the Broadway premiere of Simon’s Plaza Suite, he felt like something was missing. The set was a beautiful, classy, elegant hotel room that looked like a million bucks. Nichols praised the design for all of its grandeur and crispness; however, he thought that something was missing. He turned to Smith and said, “I think this hotel room needs a huge visible crack in one of the walls.” Smith looked at him in shock and said, “What?  A crack, are you crazy?” Nichols responded, “The room should have some sense of the human condition. Sure, everything looks all bright and shiny, but in actuality there is a blemish that we are constantly attempting to cover up.” Smith stared at Nichols for a few seconds and simply responded, “No chance in hell.” Neil Simon chimed in at this point, saying to the director of his show, “Sure Mike, we’ll put a big crack in the wall and then we’ll paint a big arrow pointing towards it with the words ‘this is a metaphor’ next to it.” The crack did not wind up making its way onto the set. Simon later acknowledged that while the crack seemed like it was overkill, he never forgot the idea behind it.

This shows the beauty of working on or watching a Neil Simon play, most especially Hotel Suite: amidst the laughs and crazy circumstances that he creates, at the heart lies a little crack that each one of us recognizes and covers up on a daily basis. This is why we have laughed, do laugh, and will continue to laugh at his plays.

Hotel Suite Director Matt Silva

Neil Simon’s Hotel Suite plays Feb. 18-March 16, 2014 at Act II Playhouse in Ambler
Learn more at www.act2.org.

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Tony Braithwaite on directing “The Twelve Dates of Christmas”

ImageArtistic Director Tony Braithwaite is familiar to Act II audiences for his on-stage performances in My Fair Lady, Didn’t Your Father Have This Talk With You?, Lend Me a Tenor and many other hit shows. For The Twelve Dates of Christmas, which plays Dec. 10 through 29 at Act II, Tony steps backstage into the role of director. We asked Tony a few questions about the play, about directing, and about the show’s star Maggie Lakis.

Why did you want to direct this play?
Twelve Dates is a one-person show, and I have some experience with being in one-person shows as an actor. I’ve also directed a few. Plus, the play contains a lot of direct address and comedic monologues, and my original background is as a stand up comic, which is another skill set I can hopefully draw on for this project. As such, I am hoping I can shed some light for our amazing actress Maggie Lakis. I also wanted to direct the play because it’s super funny. 

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Maggie Lakis

What makes Maggie so special for the role?
Maggie has a wealth of experience: comedic, dramatic, musical, puppetry even. She’s as good as it gets. She blew us away at auditions, and “got it” immediately. As director I suspect I may have to do very little except have to play traffic cop. Maggie’s just terrific.

Why will people enjoy it?
It’s funny, festive, candid, disarming, and good light fare for around the holidays, but it also has just a little bit of an edge that makes it even more fun.
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