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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Donor Profile: Bret Lagasse

Bret Lagasse

Bret Lagasse

Bret Lagasse, at age 39, acknowledges that he doesn’t have a lot of friends who go to the theatre.  “ I put a higher priority on experiencing the arts than my group of friends.  I wish more people my age would open their minds a bit and expand the ways they use their time—like going to Long Wharf!  Maybe they’ll like it, maybe not, maybe they’ll laugh or cry—just having a different experience is worth it.”

Bret was bitten by the acting bug as a senior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison. “At my first audition I sang ‘Under the Sea’ from The Little Mermaid.  I had never sung before, never been on stage, but I loved it.”  That audition landed him the role of Kenickie in the musical, Grease, and he was hooked.  Bret continued to act and sing throughout his college years at Skidmore, appreciating the “camaraderie of the group, the creative process of going from nothing to a finished product, and just being on stage—that feeling on opening night when the paint is still wet, you’ve just had final notes, and it’s something.” He loved it so much that when he returned to Madison to join the family business, he went back to his high school to direct plays for the theatre department.

In 1999, when Bret was in his early 20’s, he went with family friends to his first Long Wharf play—The Importance of Being Earnest, and within a year or two became a subscriber.  “Having a subscription ensured that I made time to go to the theatre, and I felt that I was doing what I could at that time to help the theatre.”  And he has made time for the theatre ever since.

For several years, he was a little too busy to come to the theatre as often as he’d like—he and his brothers, Matt and Tim, purchased the TAYLOR RENTAL/PARTY PLUS business from their parents, Gene and Patricia, which now includes full service rental shops in Orange, Branford, and Monroe.  He and his wife, Karis, have a one year old daughter, Grace, and still live in Madison.

Bret has brought his love of the theatre together with his work by donating rentals for the theatre’s many opening night parties and other events.  This kind of in-kind sponsorship represents a substantial gift to Long Wharf, and Bret and his team go out of their way to be helpful and generous.  “I always wanted to be in a position to do more to give to charity, and the arts.  It’s great to be able to help with something that I do every day, that I’m good at.”

He’s good at a lot of things….when he’s done at the shop for the day, and done helping Long Wharf, and done having dinner with his family, he heads off to rehearsal at Madison Lyric Stage, where he’s currently playing Malcolm in an October production of Macbeth.

Anyway you look at him, Bret Lagasse is a star….and did we say he’s only 39??

– Eileen Wiseman

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Meet Rey Lucas, George Gibbs in Our Town

Rey Lucas in Long Wharf Theatre's production of The Old Man and the Sea

Rey Lucas in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of The Old Man and the Sea

There aren’t many actors who can point to Star Wars, Evita, and “I Love Lucy” as inspirations for their careers, but Rey Lucas, George Gibbs in Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Our Town, is one of them.

When Rey was a kid growing up in New York, he didn’t know that people could actually become actors. It just wasn’t in his immediate framework growing up. “I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I thought it was the legal part, but it was the performance that interested me. I also realized that I was not going to be the catcher for the Yankees, so what am I going to do?” said Lucas, who previously appeared at Long Wharf in The Old Man and the Sea.

It wasn’t an easy question to answer. But different things came up that nudged the idea of being a performer more into Lucas’ mind. Like any kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, Star Wars was nothing but mind-blowing. “The movie helped open up my imagination,” said Lucas, who remains an ardent sci-fi fan.

A steady diet of old sitcoms like “I Love Lucy” introduced the idea that actors could mirror something happening in the real world. “My mom was French and my dad was Dominican. ‘I Love Lucy’ was the only show that was remotely representing what was happening in my house,” he said. “If I hadn’t seen that as a kid, I don’t think I would have known I could pursue this for a living.”

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when he went to see Evita on Broadway. “I thought ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ I want to be up there and do that,” he said. “It was as magical as Star Wars.”

Lucas didn’t have drama at his high school, but he did have a unique performance equivalent. He participated in the school’s competitive speech program, known as dramatic interp. Lucas would perform snippets of scenes alone, portraying all the characters. “I was psyched to do it. I did A Man For All Seasons, The Foreigner,” he said.

Rey Lucas

Rey Lucas

It wasn’t until he appeared in a couple of plays at Wesleyan University that he truly thought a life in the theatre would be possible. After a few years in the working world, Lucas enrolled at the Yale School of Drama, where he was the second oldest person in his class, and has been working ever since. “I’ve always been a late bloomer in every way. As long as my opportunities seem to be get better. That’s what I hope for,” he said. “You have to be willing to stick around. The longer you stick around the better chance you have of your number being called.”

– Steve Scarpa

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Meet Jenny Leona, Emily in Our Town

Jenny Leona, Emily in Our Town

Jenny Leona, Emily in Our Town

Like many other budding thespians, Jenny Leona first found Our Town in a high school drama class. She got to do the scene where Emily, the play’s young heroine, snaps peas and worries whether she’s pretty enough to find love. “You’re pretty enough for all normal purposes,” her mother tells her.

“Reading it since then, there is so much more there than I remember,” Leona said, tackling the role at Long Wharf that she had a glancing chance at as a young girl. “I’m doing this play at the perfect time in my life right now. I’m really dialed into this role.”

Jenny Leona in The Underpants

Jenny Leona in The Underpants

Jenny got her Equity Card from the theatre in last year’s production of The Underpants. When the 2014-15 season was announced, Leona, like any good actor, started looking for a job. She wrote Gordon Edelstein a note saying that she thought she had the right chops to play Emily Webb. That note got her … an audition for Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Then she read an excerpt from Bad Jews by Josh Harmon at Long Wharf’s season announcement event. “I assumed that would be my only contribution to the season,” she said.

Edelstein called her shortly thereafter and offered her the role of Emily. “I was ecstatic. It wasn’t until I had the role that I realized how much I wanted it,” she said.

Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas, Emily and George in Our Town

Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas, Emily and George in Our Town

She jumped into the script, reading it several times before she ever set foot in a rehearsal hall. Our Town has a different effect on everyone, and in Leona’s case she reflected on a childhood spent moving around, from cities to rural areas, making friends and losing them. Community, in her life, was a fluid thing. “Looking back on my life, there were certainly times that went by where I wasn’t really seeing,” she said. “I can associate with the play much more now.”

Steve Scarpa

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First rehearsal: Our Town

Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein

Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein

When people think of the greatest plays in American theatre only a few titles immediately jump to mind. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. A Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill. The list is short. “Picking the best American play is a useless enterprise. What does it matter?,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein.

Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas, Emily and George in Our Town

Jenny Leona and Rey Lucas, Emily and George in Our Town

But in his mind, at least right now, there is no greater play than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. “But, my most recent love is Thornton Wilder and Our Town, so I vote for Our Town,” Edelstein said at the play’s first rehearsal. “Our Town, as well as any play I can think of profoundly, movingly, and honestly presents the practical parts of our lives against the backdrop of the stars.”

Phil McGlaston, Christina Rouner, and Namumba Santos at the first reading of Our Town

Phil McGlaston, Christina Rouner,  Namumba Santos, and others at the first reading of Our Town

The rehearsal was perhaps more crowded than any in the past five or six years. Edelstein looked around at over 60 assembled faces – long time staff members, actors who’ve made multiple appearances at Long Wharf, community members who will be appearing in the show – all of the people who will make the show possible. He said he couldn’t imagine this moment before it actually happened. “Our Town looks different than it did 1937. This is what Our Town looks like now,” he said. “It is the perfect play to begin our 50th anniversary season. If you are in this room, it’s because you are an important part of that.”

The company of Our Town with the staff of Long Wharf Theatre

The company of Our Town with the staff of Long Wharf Theatre

– written by Steve Scarpa, photos by Peter Chenot

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