The Lapin Agile: The Real Setting for Steve Martin’s Imaginary Rendezvous

Au Lapin Agile

Au Lapin Agile

While the meeting between Picasso and Einstein at the heart of Steve Martin’s play is imaginary, the location is quite real. The Lapin Agile, the quirky bar where the meeting takes place, is an actual Paris institution. It might be a tourist trap now featuring cabaret acts, but the place had a long history of being a crucible for a particular cultural scene at the turn of the century.

In the early 1900s, the Lapin Agile became a rendezvous for poor artists, musicians, intellectuals, and quirky sorts wandering around the legendary Montmartre district. “There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even – the French air clears up the brain and does good – a world of good,” said artist Vincent van Gogh.

Le Lapin Agile. Painting by Raphael Toussaint.

Le Lapin Agile. Painting by Raphael Toussaint.

The name of the bar is French for nimble rabbit, referencing a Toussaint painting. Picasso, Braque, and Modigliani were among those drawn by Pere Frede’s cello and guitar, drinking, arguing, falling in love, and gestating artistic ideas. This early group of artists inspired a wave of ex-patriots to seek out the splendors of Paris as a place of both personal and artistic growth. “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” wrote Ernest Hemingway decades later.

At the Lapin Agile by Pablo Picasso.

At the Lapin Agile by Pablo Picasso.

Picasso himself chronicled a moment at the bar in a 1905 painting entitled “At the Lapin Agile.” Picasso depicted himself as a melancholy harlequin, with a local siren named Germaine standing alongside him. Frede, the owner of the bar, sits in the background strumming a guitar, ostensibly keeping an eye on the proceedings. “Since the painting would be seen across a crowded and smoky room, Picasso’s composition was of poster-like simplicity,” according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

Frede sold the painting in 1912 for $20. The same painting was sold again, in 1989, for $41 million.

So much for being bohemian.

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Meet Dina Shihabi: “The women in this play are awesome”

Dina Shihabi’s past year and a half has been an extremely eventful one. She spent the summer before last shooting an indy film, graduated from New York University graduate school in the Spring, and picked up her Equity Card from Long Wharf Theatre in the fall for appearing in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, running Nov. 26 through December 21.

Dina Shihabi

Dina Shihabi

Shihabi, a native of Saudi Arabia, plays three different roles  – a series of romantic interests for Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein, a group of strong women who give as good as they get in Martin’s comic romp. “I think the women in this play are awesome. It’s a pleasure being in a show with such smart and strong female characters,” she said.

The cast, a mix of newcomers like Robbie Tann (Einstein), Grayson DeJesus (Picasso) and veterans like David Margulies (“Ghostbusters” and LWT’s Lil’s 90th and The Price), is finding where the comedy lives in Martin’s work, a heady mix of farce and intellectual banter about the nature of art and genius. “The cast Gordon has put together is really good at what it does. What’s great about Gordon is that he really allows us to play. We haven’t set anything in stone, we are really trying to figure out what we are saying and why we are saying it,” Shihabi said. That kind of flexibility allows the comedy to remain fresh and alive.

Shihabi is also in the enviable position of having an award-winning film making the rounds through the festival circuit. “Amira and Sam,” the story of a relationship between a soldier returning from war and an Iraqi immigrant starring Martin Starr, has been picked up for distribution in 20 cities around the country. “Working on that film was the best experience. The people who worked on that film really loved it. Every festival has been a big family reunion, bringing everyone together to celebrate the film,” she said.

Dina Shihabi, left, at first rehearsal with castmate Grayson DeJesus (Picasso), far right.

Dina Shihabi, left, at first rehearsal with castmate Grayson DeJesus (Picasso), far right. 

While there are some differences between working in film and working on stage, as Shihabi says “acting is acting.” Sure, one has to get used to shooting things out of order and being ready to jump into an emotional arc at a moment’s notice, she said. But when the time comes, and you start to work with your scene partner, everything comes alive.  “I found it to be really fun,” she said.

It’s been a heady period for Shihabi, but it’s all the product of hard work, good training, and persistence. “I am really excited about how things are going. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to work with really great people on really great projects,” Shihabi said.

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Meet Robbie Tann: Albert Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Ask Robbie Tann anything about Albert Einstein and the odds are he’s going to have a good answer for you. “I have been going nuts researching Einstein. I feel like I’ve pulled a thread and it all just keeps coming,” he said.

Robbie Tann

Robbie Tann

Tann has immersed himself in the iconic scientist’s life in preparation to portray him in the Steve Martin comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile, playing November 26 through December 21 on the Claire Tow Stage. Martin’s hit comedy imagines a meeting between Einstein and Pablo Picasso amidst the bohemian denizens of a bar in Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century. “It’s a tricky play. It’s hard to strike the balance between goofy and intelligence. It has to be both completely dumb and completely smart. You ride a fine line the whole time,” Tann said.

Einstein is one of those historical figures that everyone knows, but doesn’t have any true insight about. They might think of his crazy hair, or of him sticking his tongue out at the camera, or just the use of his name as a synonym for genius. The human being is lost in all of that. Tann, through his reading, has found ways to make the caricature come alive. “He had a wicked sense of humor – sarcastic and witty… People think of him as the prototypical nerd, but that was just not true. He was actually much more of a rebel who despised authority. The reason he was so successful is that he’d didn’t adhere to any of the rules people set up,” Tann said.

So, how does this all translate into an actor’s performance? “I learned where he was in his life at the time the play takes place – he was years away from making it. He was a guy working a survival job trying to get a big break. It’s akin to being an actor. I can connect with that,” he said. “Success for me would be akin to what Einstein wanted, in a way. We both want something bigger than ourselves, to be part of something beyond what we thought we could do.”

That feeling – one of possibility and hope – is at the heart of Martin’s romp. “I hope the audience sees just how magical that time was. It was the moment right before everything changed. It had a feeling of excitement and passion … it must have been an amazing time to be alive,” Tann said.

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First Rehearsal: Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Steve Martin’s entertainment career is unlike any other, posited Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein at the first rehearsal on Tuesday of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, running November 26 through December 21, 2014. “Although he would blanche to hear me say it, he’s truly a great artist. He’s invented himself. There is no other artist like him in America,” Edelstein said.

The Cast

The Cast

Martin’s trajectory is certainly unique. He began his career doing magic, playing the banjo, appearing in films and in television shows. He sold, at one point, over one million comedy albums and played Madison Square Garden, an unheard of feat for a standup comic. While continuing a phenomenally successful film career, he reinvented himself as a writer, adapting classic works of literature into popular films (Cyrano de Bergerac became Roxanne; Silas Marner became Leap of Faith), writing novels, essays, and hilarious plays, including last season’s The Underpants. He’s in the process of premiering a new musical with Edie Brickell, Bright Star. “There is a governing intelligence underneath everything he does,” Edelstein said.

Picasso …, Martin’s story of art, romance, and genius among the bohemian denizens of Montmartre, premiered in Chicago in 1994 and has never gone away, Edelstein said. “It is a much beloved play. It breaks all the rules of playwriting and miraculously it works,” Edelstein said. “The play begins with a joke. Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar …”

 

SetRenderingBlog

Set Design by Michael Yeargan

The physical world of the play – a quirky turn of the century bar – is going to be stunning. Staff and cast huddled around a minutely detailed rendering of that bar, created by Tony Award-winning set designer Michael Yeargan. The cast looked with great, and completely understandable, interest in the costume sketches done by designer Jess Goldstein, another Tony Award-winner.

Gordon Edelstein

Gordon Edelstein

Edelstein also told the collective that the production would have a “godfather” of sorts – Martin himself. “He won’t be in rehearsal, but he’ll be on 24 hour call to answer any of our questions,” Gordon said, adding that schedule permitting, he might swing by to see how the show is coming along.

With the physical elements of the production in such capable hands, Edelstein is free to explore the inner life of the piece, the inspirations that drove Martin to write the play in the first place. What many people might not know is that Martin is a very serious art collector himself. “Everyone should have something that makes them weak in the knees. What makes Steve Martin weak in the knees is great painting,” Edelstein said. “This is his homage, his celebration of the great art and imagination that bloomed at the beginning of the 20th century.”

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Cast announced for Picasso at the Lapin Agile

Long Wharf Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein and Managing Director Joshua Borenstein and in association with Jonathan Reinis Productions and Stephen Eich, presents Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, directed by Edelstein, running November 26 through December 21, 2014 on the Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck Mainstage Theatre.

Tickets are $25-75. The press opening is Wednesday, December 3 at 7:30 pm.

The cast includes Penny Balfour (Germaine), Grayson DeJesus (Picasso), Tom Riis Farrell (Freddy), Ronald Guttman (Sagot), David Margulies (Gaston), Dina Shihabi (Suzanne/Countess/Female Admirer), Jake Silbermann (A Visitor), Jonathan Spivey (Schmendiman), and Robbie Tann (Einstein.)

The creative team includes Michael Yeargan (sets), Jess Goldstein (costumes), Don Holder (lights), and David Budries (sound). Rebecca Monroe is the stage manager.

What happens when Picasso and Einstein walk into a bar? Intellectual fireworks, verbal gymnastics, amorous intentions, and the arrival of a mysterious man in blue suede shoes. On an October evening in 1904, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso end up at the same small bar in Paris ­- the Lapin Agile. The two young geniuses, joined by an eccentric cast of characters, spar over art and science, their respective libidos, where inspiration comes from, and the promise and dreams of the 20th century.  Steve Martin brings his zany and profoundly intelligent brand of humor back to Long Wharf Theatre. ­––­ No joke is too low brow and no idea too high brow to be considered in this crowd pleasing comedy.

 

Picasso… follows Long Wharf Theatre’s successful run of Steve Martin’s The Underpants during the 2013-14 Season. “The play is a comic celebration of genius and ingenuity at the dawn of the 20th century. With brilliant comic arias and surprises at every turn, it is Steve Martin’s homage to the genius and amazing thought that will be born in the 20th century,” Edelstein said.

In the midst of the all of the fun, the play invites its audience to consider serious questions about the intersection of art and science, the very nature of genius and innovation, and human beings who often seem to be conduits for changing the world. “Focusing on Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Picasso’s master painting, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,’ the play attempts to explain, in a light-hearted way, the similarity of the creative process involved in great leaps of imagination in art and science,” Martin said in a published letter.

The play debuted in 1993 at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, featuring Long Wharf Theatre veterans Mark Nelson as Einstein and Tim Hopper as Picasso. Martinwas inspired by a 1904 Pablo Picasso painting, titled “At the Lapin Agile.” Martin saw a photo of the painting hanging unstretched and unframed on a wall – a simple bit of wall decoration. “And that year, whenever it was, 1992, the painting was hanging at the Metropolitan Museum, all stretched out, with a $40,000 frame on it. And I knew it had recently sold for $1 million, and it just sent me back to those days when nothing had any (monetary) value and everything was just about ideas,” Martin said in an interview.

For more information about Long Wharf Theatre, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

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ACTOR BIOS

Penny Balfour

Germaine

Theatre Credits include: Hartford Stage; ACT; Pittsburgh Public Theater; Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park; Contemporary American Theater Festival ; Pioneer Theater; NY Stage And Film; Atlantic Theater; New Georges among others. Film credits include: Luc Besson’s Arthur And The Invisibles trilogy; Just Add Water; Flawless; Tapestry‎, Sidewalks Of New York; Ash Wednesday; The Resident. Television: “24;” “Law And Order”; “Law And Order/Criminal Intent”; “Special Victims Uni‎t”; “Hart Of Dixie”; “Without A Trace” “My Name Is Earl”; “Malcolm In The Middle”; “NYPD Blue”; “The Division”; “Strong Medicine”; “Blind Justice” among others.

Grayson DeJesus

Pablo Picasso

Grayson is a New York based actor.  He was part of the touring company of the first US National Tour of the Tony award winning play War Horse. He is a graduate of the Old Globe/University of San Diego Professional Actor Training program where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree. During his time in San Diego, he has appeared in the Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festivals in six plays directed by Adrian Noble and Ron Daniels. Some of his favorites include Amadeus in which he understudied and then performed in the title role and The Madness of George III in which he played the lovable idiot Ramsden, both directed by Mr. Noble. He was also seen as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest and The Clown in The Winter’s Tale along with performances in The Country Wife and The Two Gentleman of Verona within The Old Globe’s MFA productions. In addition to his graduate school training, Grayson holds a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre from Occidental College in Los Angeles. His regional credits include a lovely summer of Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well and The Antiquarian’s Family at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. He is a founding member of New York City’s Shelby Company with whom he did a touring production of Dan Moyer’s Winnemucca, Three Days In The Belly (San Jose Stage Company, Minnesota Fringe Festival, Fringe NYC). He has five years of Comedy Improv experience both with a college troupe and professionally. He’s originally from Palo Alto, California.

Tom Riis Farrell (Freddy) once robbed Steve Martin at gunpoint… but that was in The Out-of-Towners, so Mr. Martin didn’t mind. Previous LWT: Rag and Bone, directed by Tina Landau. Broadway: Chicago; Coram Boy; Dirty Blonde (also tour: Helen Hayes Award, Joseph Jefferson Award nomination); Wrong Mountain; 1776. Off-Broadway: Seth Rudetsky’s Disaster! (St. Luke’s); Caucasian Chalk Circle with Christopher Lloyd (Classic Stage Company); The Old Boy (Keen Company); The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui with Al Pacino (National Actors’ Theatre); Li’l Abner (Encores!). Regional: Betty’s Summer Vacation (Bay Street); Circle Mirror Transformation with Sandy Duncan (George Street); Once in a Lifetime (Williamstown); A Christmas Carol (McCarter). TV: “Nurse Jackie”; “Crossbones”; “Elementary”; “The Americans”; “Blue Bloods”; “The Good Wife”; “Fringe”; “Brotherhood”; seven “Law & Order” and spinoffs; “Ed”; “Spin City”; “NYPD Blue”. Film: The Bourne Legacy, The Stepford Wives, Almost Famous, Bringing Out the Dead, Devil’s Advocate, Sleepless in Seattle, Scent of a Woman.

RONALD GUTTMAN

Sagot

Guttman appeared most recently performing the title role in Bauer at the San Francisco Playhouse, Woland in The Master and Margarita directed by Janos Szasz, Brother Dominic in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher (at Carnegie Hall). Guttman’s also appeared at Second Stage, Circle in the Square (Coastal Disturbances), Long Wharf, and The Mint. Originally from Belgium, where he performed at The National Theatre in plays by Beckett, Schnitzler, Racine, Turgenev, and Camus, among others. Upcoming films Welcome to New York and NINA. Other credits: Girl Most Likely, Pawn, 13, Green Card, The Hunt for Red October, Avalon, and Danton. Television credits include: Madam Secretary, Elementary, The Good Wife, Mad Men and Mildred Pierce (directed by Todd Haynes)as well as the upcoming The Mystery of Matter on PBS. (imdb.com)

David Margulies

Gaston

Mr. Margulies has appeared at Long Wharf Theatre in Lil’s 90th, The Price, Rocket To The Moon and She Stoops To Conquer. In New York he was seen last spring in Chasing Manet (Primary Stages). On Broadway his credits include Conversations With My Father(in which he co-starred), Comedians, The West Side Waltz, Wonderful Town, 45 Seconds From Broadway, Angels In America (where he was the third and last of the Roy Cohns) and Brighton Beach Memoirs. Mr. Margulies appeared Off-Broadway in All That I Will Ever Be, The Accomplices (Actors Equity’s Richard Seff Award for both,) and many others. Regionally he has performed in The Rivals (Hartford Stage), Hamlet (McCarter Theatre), the American premiere of Hysteria as Freud (Mark Taper Forum), The Happy Time (Arlington’s Signature Theatre, Helen Hayes Award 2008, best leading actor in a musical) and others. In films he has just finished filming Roadie, and is in the upcoming All Good Things. He has also appeared in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 (as the Mayor of New York,) All That Jazz, Dressed To Kill, and more. He was Tony Soprano’s lawyer Neil Mink.

Dina Shihabi

Suzanne and others

Shihabi appeared in Extreme Girls and One Guy (Cherry Lane), Neither Heaven Nor Earth (New School), and Listen to the Wind (American Place Theatre). Her graduate school credits include Ring Around the Moon, The Eggs, Richard 3, The Seagull, Meantime War, and Waiting for Lefty. Her film credits include Amira and Sam, Cigarette Soup, and David.

Jake Silbermann

The Visitor

Jake Silbermann is a writer, actor and producer born and raised in Manhattan. Growing up as the son of a South African musician and a Brooklyn photographer, he was always immersed in the arts and studied acting and writing at Syracuse University. He began his professional career in commercials, daytime television and eventually theatre, his recent work includes the co-production of A.R.T. And Yale Repertory Theatre’s award winning “Marie Antoinette”(Starring Marin Ireland), David Admji’s “3C” (alongside Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky), the world premiere’s of “Phaedra Backwards” (McCarter Theatre) and recently finishing his Broadway debut of the critically acclaimed production of the Tony Nominated “The Assembled Parties” by Richard Greenberg (Starring two-time Tony Award winner Judith Light, Jeremy Shamos and Jessica Hecht). He is the writer of the award winning short film “Stuffer” and has had several articles published in the Huffington post. He is also the producer of the acclaimed off-off Broadway production of “Derby Day”by Samuel Brett Williams. His television work includes “Gossip Girl”, “The Good Wife” and originating the groundbreaking role of Noah Mayer on “As The World Turns”. Jake is currently producing his first feature film based on the play “The Revival” by Samuel Brett Williams.

Jonathan Spivey (Schmendiman) is making his Long Wharf debut. Broadway: Act One directed by James Lapine (Lincoln Center). NYC: Myra (American Globe), The Medicine Showdown (Flying Carpet). Regional: Arcadia (Yale Rep), Death of a Salesman directed by Pam MacKinnon, The Tempest,directed by Adrian Noble, As You Like It, Richard III, Inherit the Wind, Amadeus, Much Ado About Nothing (Old Globe), Pump Boys & Dinettes (Cape Playhouse, Geva Theatre), Dogpark (Milwaukee Rep), Cyrano de Bergerac, Souvenir, Anything Goes (Virginia Rep), Around the World in Eighty Days (Sierra Rep), Black Gold (Phoenix Theatre), Merchant of Venice (Richmond Shakespeare), Room Service, The Foreigner, She Loves Me, The Imaginary Invalid, Complete Works…Shakespeare Abridged(Hope Summer Rep). Jonathan is an accomplished jazz pianist and recently workshopped his solo show about Lorenz Hart. He has an MFA in acting from the Old Globe/University of San Diego.

Robbie Tann

Einstein

Long Wharf debut. Regional: 4000 Miles (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) Troublemaker, or the Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright (Berkley Rep); American Buffalo (Kansas City Rep), Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), Heist! (Humana Festival, Actors Theatre of Louisville), 4000 Miles (Hangar Theatre), Oliver Twist (Vermont Stage Company). New York: Adventures of Tom Sawyer (New Victory), Galois (New Ohio), Much Ado About Nothing (New York Classical Theatre.) TV: “Nurse Jackie,” “Person of Interest,” “Gotham,” Film: Family Fang, Freeheld.

 

 

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Donald Margulies to Speak at Our Town Sunday Symposium

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies will speak at Long Wharf Theatre’s Sunday Symposium, taking place on Sunday, October 26th, following the 2 p.m. matinee performance of Our Town. The Sunday Symposium, taking place the third Sunday of every show, is Long Wharf’s longest running and most popular play-going enhancement event, in which artists and scholars speak to the play’s intersection with their own fields.

DonaldMargulies

Margulies will be discussing his perspective on Thornton Wilder’s influence today. Margulies teaches playwriting to undergraduates at Yale University, and he regularly assigns Wilder’s classic to them. “’Why did you assign this play?’ they demand to know. ‘Nothing happens.’ ‘It’s dated.’ ‘Simplistic.’ ‘Sentimental.’ I have them where I want them. Now I can give myself the pleasure of persuading them that they’ve got it all wrong, that the opposite of their criticisms is true: Our Town is anything but dated, it is timeless; it is simple, but also profound; it is full of genuine sentiment, which is not the same as being sentimental; and, as far as its being uneventful, well, the event of the play is huge: it’s life itself,” he wrote in his forward to the play.

Admission to the Sunday Symposium is free. For more information about Our Town and Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th anniversary season, visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.

Donald Margulies received the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Dinner With Friends (Variety Arts Theatre [off-Broadway], Comedie des Champs-Elysees [Paris], Actors Theatre of Louisville, South Coast Repertory, American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, Dramatists Guild/Hull-Warriner Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk nominee, a Burns Mantle Best Play). His many plays include Time Stands Still (Geffen Playhouse [Los Angeles]; Manhattan Theatre Club/Friedman Theatre, Cort Theatre [Broadway]; 2010 Tony Award nominee, a Burns Mantle Best Play, American Theatre Critics Association New Play Citation, Outer Critics Award nominee, L.A. Ovation Award nominee); Shipwrecked! An Entertainment – The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont
(as told by himself)
 (South Coast Repertory, Geffen Playhouse, Primary Stages [off-Broadway]; Outer Critics Circle Award nominee); Brooklyn Boy (Manhattan Theatre Club/Biltmore Theatre [Broadway], South Coast Repertory, Comedie des Champs-Elysees, American Theatre Critics Association New Play Citation, a Burns Mantle Best Play); Sight Unseen (Manhattan Theatre Club/Biltmore Theatre
[Broadway, 2004], Manhattan Theatre Club/Orpheum Theatre [1992], South Coast Repertory; a Burns Mantle Best Play, Obie Award, Dramatists Guild/Hull-Warriner Award, Drama Desk nominee, Pulitzer Prize finalist); Collected Stories (Theatre Royal Haymarket (London), South Coast Repertory, Manhattan Theatre Club [off-Broadway, 1997; Broadway, 2010], HB Studio/Lucille Lortel Theatre, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle/Ted Schmitt Awards, L.A. Ovation Award, Drama Desk nominee, Dramatists Guild/Hull-Warriner Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist, Drama Desk nominee); God of Vengeance (based on the Yiddish classic by Sholem Asch, ACT Theatre (Seattle), Williamstown Theatre Festival); Two Days (Long Wharf Theatre); The Model Apartment (Los Angeles Theatre Center, Primary Stages, Obie
Award, Drama-Logue Award, Dramatists Guild/Hull-Warriner Award finalist, Drama Desk nominee): The Loman Family Picnic (Manhattan Theatre Club, a Burns Mantle Best Play, Drama Desk nominee); What’s Wrong With This Picture? (Manhattan Theatre Club, Jewish Repertory Theatre, Brooks Atkinson Theatre [Broadway]); Broken Sleep: Three Plays (Williamstown Theatre Festival); July 7, 1994 (Actors Theatre of Louisville); Found A Peanut (Joseph Papp/New York Shakespeare Festival); Pitching to the Star (West Bank Café); Resting Place (Theatre for the New City); Gifted Children, Zimmer and Luna Park (Jewish Repertory Theatre). His plays have been performed at major theatres across the United States and around the world. Theatre Communications Group has published seven volumes of his work. Mr. Margulies has received grants from the National Endowment for the
Arts, The New York Foundation for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was the recipient of the 2000 Sidney Kingsley Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Theatre by a playwright for his body of work. In 2005 he was honored with an Award in Literature given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Literary Arts Award. Mr. Margulies is an alumnus of New Dramatists and serves on the council of The Dramatists Guild of America.

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Long Wharf Theatre to celebrate 50th anniversary with a series of special events

Fifty years ago, Long Wharf Theatre was founded by a couple of Yale School of Drama grads and a group of visionary civic leaders who believed that New Haven deserved a major regional theatre. It’s a big occasion for Long Wharf, and we’ve decided to hold a series of community events to commemorate that partnership.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven is taking a leading role in sending school kids to see Our Town for free. We’ll also work with the Foundation to talk about the scourge of gun violence in our community, inspired by our production of brownsville song (b-side for tray). We will continue to work with the New Haven Free Public Library to increase access to the theatre for everyone. Our education department will work with students to create a spoken word festival inspired by the season’s play.

“We are so excited to celebrate everything which we have accomplished over the last fifty years.  Yet, it is critically important that we think about the next fifty.  Our hope is that our new initiatives will become the foundation for building new audiences and nurturing new artists,”  said Managing Director Joshua Borenstein.

Through expanded partnerships with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the New Haven Free Public Library, Long Wharf Theatre will be able to reach further and wider in the greater New Haven community. Working with The Community Foundation, we will offer a week of free student matinees for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, and will produce a city-wide convening on urban youth violence in conjunction with the production of Brownsville Song.

Long Wharf Theatre will further its deep partnership with the New Haven Free Public Library with a series of initiatives designed to increase access to the theatre. Through the Community Ambassador program, library patrons will have the chance to have a more intimate experience by seeing the show for free and attending a post-show talkback. The NHFPL will continue its successful Long Wharf Theatre Pass, allowing library patrons to check out free theatre tickets, and curate a themed collection of books for check out at every performance. In addition, the theatre and the library will host a series of Community Conversations at branches throughout the city, loosely themed around the work on Long Wharf Theatre’s stage.

Long Wharf Theatre’s expands its commitment to high quality arts education with its “Moments and Minutes Festival,” scheduled for April. The festival will be an evening of celebration where students showcase their unique perspective on life in New Haven today through spoken word performance and visual art. Using the beautiful monologues from Our Town and brownsville song (b-side for tray) as jumping off points, Long Wharf Theatre’s teaching artists will provide workshops for both teachers and students to learn spoken word techniques.

A screenshot of our new timeline

A screenshot of our new timeline

Finally, Long Wharf Theatre is working with Think Creative Group, a New Haven-based web design company, to create a 50th anniversary website. This new site, an offshoot of the current longwharf.org, will give community members interested in the theatre’s history access to a treasure trove of old photos, clippings, and other ephemera. The website is currently in the design phase and should be live in October.

It’s an exciting and busy time for the theatre. “In my mind, building our future is the most exciting opportunity presented by this milestone anniversary,” Borenstein said.

– Steve Scarpa

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From the Artistic Director: Gordon Edelstein on Our Town

Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein

Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein

Welcome to Our Town, the first production of Long Wharf Theatre’s fiftieth anniversary season. Long Wharf was born fifty years ago because a handful of young and idealistic theatre-lovers believed that our town deserved a world class theatre company. You will be hearing all throughout the year about our 50th, so I will not wax on in this spot about fifty years of accomplishments. Thornton Wilder’s masterwork meditation on family, community, and metaphysics was carefully chosen as the kickoff and centerpiece for the 2014-15 season. It is the perfect choice.

Why?

Wilder is the most misunderstood and underestimated of the great American playwrights. Our titans O’Neill, Williams, Miller, and Albee have earned a level of respect from critics and the academy that has somewhat eluded Wilder. Perhaps it is the size of the output: he has only three full length plays. But two of them have become blockbusters. Our Town is one of most produced works of the last seventy-five years, done by community theatre, high schools, as well as resident theatres around the country. The Matchmaker, although not nearly as ubiquitous, became the smash hit musical comedy Hello, Dolly! and made Thornton Wilder millions of dollars.

It is also worth noting that Wilder is the only American writer to have achieved equal success as both playwright and novelist. His second work of fiction, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” won him his first of three Pulitzers at the age of thirty and Our Town his second Pulitzer a little over a decade later. Only two other writers, Samuel Beckett and Anton Chekhov, have also written equally well in both forms.

Despite the over arching American patina of his plays, Wilder’s life tells a very different story. A truly international man of letters, he counted among his close friends Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Sigmund Freud who was a fan and a friend. He was one of the world’s leading experts on James Joyce’s nearly indecipherable novel “Finnegan’s Wake”, which became the inspiration for The Skin of Our Teeth. By all reports he was a generous friend, terrific company, and a true bon vivant.

Thornton Wilder was far more interesting a man than many of us realize. Still, why have we chosen Our Town, as the kickoff play for Long Wharf’s 50th anniversary?

Our town, New Haven, has changed a great deal since 1938, the year of Our Town’s premiere. Our town is a more diverse, more complicated place. Far more stratified and divided than most of us would wish, it looks very different now than when Wilder was a student at Yale and lived here in the 1910s and 20s. Our community looks very different than it did even when most of us were coming of age. Onstage tonight that is what you will see: what our town and Our Town looks like today.

The play Our Town lives on so on many levels, but one certainly is an expression of Thornton Wilder’s own longing for family and community, a feeling that perhaps so many of us share. Wilder and his siblings were separated in childhood, each sent to different schools, spread throughout the globe. Thornton was sent all the way to Shanghai, China, where his father was a diplomat. While Our Town is hardly the romantic portrayal of New England small town life with cracker barrel wisdom and values that many people believe it is, it still shows a community that lives and works and plays and dies together in one place and meaningful depictions of family life.

On a deeper level, Our Town is a work of metaphysics. It is a meditation of the quotidian against the backdrop of the stars, the mundane details in the context of eternity. We take so much for granted, our wives and husbands and friends and the mornings and the traffic lights and music and reruns on TV and grocery stores shelves filled with food, and on and on. Our Town asks an important question that we all must consider: how much of our lives do we really live?

In the 50th year of this great and important theatre, let us not take Long Wharf for granted. Let’s be sure that we ensure another fifty years of vital and valuable theatre for our town.

– Gordon Edelstein

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Meet Phil McGlaston, Constable Warren in Our Town

Phil McGlaston, Constable Warren in Our Town

Phil McGlaston, Constable Warren in Our Town

Curtain time is unmerciful. Everything in an actor’s life gets structured around the hour when they have to walk on stage in front of the paying customers and give everything of themselves. When they eat, when they sleep, how much they exercise, is all carefully regulated. They listen deeply and intently to one another each night, looking for the differences that fuel the live experience, keeping it fresh for both themselves and the audience.

Phil McGlaston, seated left, as Bono in last season's hit production of Fences

Phil McGlaston, seated left, as Bono in last season’s hit production of Fences

For Phil McGlaston, carefully managing this process is what leads to success. McGlaston is making his second appearance at Long Wharf Theatre, playing Constable Warren in the season opening Our Town. He was critically acclaimed as Bono in last season’s production of Fences. “It’s an honor that they would offer me a chance to come back,” McGlaston said of Our Town.

McGlaston started the way many actors do – performing in school plays up through high school, living in Massachusetts. When he got to college in Boston, he thought that being a business major would be a good move. Still, he kept getting sucked into the theatre department. A few rough grades in business classes prompted a canny advisor to tell him to pursue what he really loved, and since then McGlaston has spent his life on stage.

There have been some quiet times – any kind of security in show business is a rarity, he says – but McGlaston has been single minded in his quest. “I waited some tables, but there was always something going on,” he said.

He believes that you can guide a career in some respects. One can strive towards the kind of material you want to work on. For example, McGlaston aspires to appear more frequently on screen. On stage, the works of August Wilson are a favorite, but what he would really like to do is tackle a new play. “I’d like to do something that hasn’t been done before,” McGlaston said.

Until the next big thing comes along, McGlaston will immerse himself in the small but important role of Constable Warren, the gentle town cop tucking Grover’s Corners into bed every night.

– Steve Scarpa

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Upholding his family legacy: Tappan Wilder to speak at LWT October 16

Tappan Wilder, literary executor for the Wilder Family estate

Tappan Wilder, literary executor for the Wilder Family estate

Tappan Wilder has seen countless productions of Our Town at every level – from earnest high school renderings to slick professional productions. He’s seen it done with puppets, turned into opera, staged in a cemetery, performed with elderly people in the lead roles. Each time he sees it, or more importantly, allows something different to be tried with the classic, he learns something new.

“This play is an extraordinary and enduring work of art and it deserves to be explored and to allow certain things to be tried,” Tappan Wilder said. “It’s like a house. If you don’t move it around a bit, it becomes a museum. I don’t want that. I want my uncle’s works to be done.”

Wilder, Thornton’s nephew and the family’s literary executor, is an accomplished writer and academic himself. He will be speaking about the play and Thornton’s legacy following the 8 pm performance on Thursday, October 16. “Thornton Wilder never left strict instructions on what to do in the future. My job is to protect and grow the business responsibly,” said Wilder, who was also a former member of Long Wharf’s Board of Trustees.

Wilder is, quite expectedly, the staunchest defender of his uncle’s legacy. He knew him well, describing Thornton as an enthusiastic man, a fine actor (although he was uncomfortable being on camera), a good musician, a prolific and detailed letter writer, and one of the foremost Joyce scholars in the world. Thornton spoke quickly, with a staccato rhythm. He drank at the Anchor bar downtown New Haven and knew every Italian waiter in East Haven. “He was absolutely wonderful,” Tappan recalled.

He also categorically rejects the idea of Our Town as dated or simplistic. “This play is about memory and imagination. It is not a play about a small New England town … Our Town is not a New Hampshire chocolate milkshake. It’s about how we remember the past,” he said.

He is currently working on a cultural history of the play, trying to ascertain its role in society. The first Broadway production in 1938 watered down Thornton’s initial intent. Rather than the measured meditation on life, death, and the eternal Thornton intended, director Jed Harris and actor Frank Craven, who played the stage manager, introduced too much folksy Americana into the work, shifting the focus of the work. “It is a much more sober, understated play than what appeared on Broadway,” Tappan Wilder said.

Our Town became something quite different through the 1960s. It was commonly performed to servicemen during World War II and became known as an idealized view of America throughout the Cold War. “Our Town was in uniform during the Cold War. I think that is a goddamn important war to have won. I’m proud of that. Very proud of that,” Tappan said. It is only in the past decade that the play, helped by a recent production directed by David Cromer, that the play has returned to its serious roots.

Tappan specifically recalled one moment from a production at the now defunct Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford. Character actor Fred Gwynne played the Stage Manager. During the third act, when Emily, trying to deal with the shock of her own passing, turns to Gwynne for comfort. Gwynne simply turned away, leaving the girl to handle the transition herself. “She was all alone in the world, a terrible, deep, existential loneliness,” Wilder recalled.

“Art speaks to questions that are eternal. My uncle faced some hard things (in his work). He spent his whole life trying to figure out what gets us out of bed to go on another day,” Tappan said.

– Steve Scarpa

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