‘In the Works/ In the Woods’

A festival of new theatre, held at the Forestburgh Playhouse

By CASS COLLINS
Posted 9/22/21

FORESTBURGH, NY — The Theatre Gods were smiling on the Forestburgh Playhouse during their first In the Works/In the Woods Festival of New Theatre last weekend. The weather was perfect and the …

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‘In the Works/ In the Woods’

A festival of new theatre, held at the Forestburgh Playhouse

Posted

FORESTBURGH, NY — The Theatre Gods were smiling on the Forestburgh Playhouse during their first In the Works/In the Woods Festival of New Theatre last weekend. The weather was perfect and the theatre and talk fest were divine. Judging by the guest speakers, festival artistic director Matt Lenz and playhouse artistic director Franklin Trapp must have rolodexes (does anybody still have rolodexes?) the size of a barn, filled with all the big names on Broadway and beyond.

The festival was sponsored by the Sullivan Catskills Visitors Association.

I was excited to fill in for my colleague Jonathan Charles Fox, who was off celebrating the holidays in those other mountains near Glens Falls, NY. “Whatsamatta, Jonathan, we’re not country enough for you?!” Anyway, he missed out, but I promised to make him jealous with my assessment of the festivities.

A “creative conversation” with the Tony-nominated playwright/director Douglas Carter Beane was first on my schedule of fun. Beane is a capital-B Broadway playwright who has been “writing plays since he was in middle school,” and his advice to young theatre folk is “Keep going, baby, just keep going!”

His new play “Fairycakes,” starring Mo Rocca, opens off-Broadway at the Greenwich House Theater on October 14, but he brought the revival of “Babes In Arms,” a 1930s musical, to the barn theatre at Forestburgh for the festival. “It’s the iconic theatre premise,” says Beane. “‘I have a barn, let’s put on a show!’”

“Babes in Arms” was originally produced on Broadway in 1937 and ran for 239 performances. In 1939 it was made into a film starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, with a major plot change and only two of the original songs.

When Beane first read the script, he realized how much “this is today!” in terms of social issues like racism and extremism. He incorporated all that is left of the original Broadway show into the production at Forestburgh, including the projections and the original program. Beane updated the script.

Working with the playhouse cast of 12, there is double and triple casting, and Beane’s favorite aspect of theatre, the feeling of ensemble. “I’m very lucky that I’ve loved everything I’ve done” in theatre, he added.

Next on my schedule was a talk by John Conway, Sullivan County’s historian, on the history of entertainment in the Sullivan County Catskills. Billed as “From The Borscht Belt to Broadway,” the talk on Friday afternoon included a history of what Conway refers to as the silver age (1890-1915) and the golden age (1940-1965) of live entertainment in the region.

During the silver age there were 200 hotels and thousands of boarding farmhouses, “mostly hosting Gentiles,” says Conway. The visitors went to local towns for entertainment, all in small venues. By the time the golden age rolled around, there were 538 hotels in the county and 50,000 bungalows.

The hotels produced their own shows, and comedians and singers honed their acts there. David Kominsky became Danny Kaye at the White Roe in Livingston Manor. Bernie Schwartz became Tony Curtis. Jerry Lewis began to craft his act there at the age of 8, breaking into song with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” after the main act, where the audience thought he was a spontaneous performer and he brought down the house every time.

One of the perks of a Festival Founders ticket was a series of talks and open rehearsals of new shows premiering this season. After Conway’s talk, we were treated to a rehearsal of the new musical, “By Any Other Name,” with book and lyrics by Deborah Zoe Laufer and music and additional lyrics by Daniel Green. It was directed by Noah Himmelstein, with musical direction by Green.

At the talk-back after the staged reading on Saturday night, Laufer said the idea started as a 45-minute play for high school students. “Shakespeare’s plays don’t go so well for girls, generally,” said Laufer, so they decided to put all of Shakespeare’s women “with love troubles together in a forest and have them save each other.”

There are three men in the cast: Brendan Morris as Demetrius, Emmet Smith as Lysander and John Ryan Del Bosque as Agnus, one of the witches from “Macbeth.” Rosalind was played by Julia Chen-Myers, Celia by Sidney Raey-Gonzales, Hermia by Michaela Vivona, Helena by Emily Britt, Ophelia as a comedic airhead by GraceAnn Kontak, Juliet by Sabrina Fosse, Viola/Cesario by Turner Riley and the three witches by Liat Shuflita, Erin Williams and John Ryan Del Bosque.

There are 20 songs in this show and “it’s been kind of insane” rehearsing them all in one week, said Daniel Green.

This was the first time the creators got to see the play on stage in person and Laufer said, “It has been a dream of a collaboration.”

Saturday was a theatre nerd’s delight, starting at 11 a.m. with a reading of “El Otro Oz: La Maravillosa Adventure Of Dora Garza,” a bilingual take on “The Wizard of Oz,” written by Mando Alvarado and Tommy Newman, with music and lyrics by Jaime Lozano and Tommy Newman. It was directed by Rebecca Aparicio, with musical direction by Ricky Romano.

15-year-old Dora, played by Liz Neitge, is being prepared for her quinceanera by her mother, Maga, who is played by Florencia Cuenca. Dora would “rather have the new iPhone,” but Maga is determined to keep Hispanic culture alive in Dora.

Bruja the witch is played by Ariana Valdes, with gusto and an operatic voice. Chaparro, the Scarecrow character, is played by Jose Monge. Chelo, the Lion character, is played by Benji Santiago; Tino the Tin Man is played by Danny Lemache.

All the performers were dancing in place at their microphones throughout the staged reading on the Garden Patio stage, and the weather could not have been better.

In another sign from the Theatre Gods, Jaime Lozano, whose wife plays Maga, got approval for his green card during the festival.

“Todo tiene,” or “You already have what you need,” is the message of the witty and tuneful musical, written for young audiences but fully enjoyed by this older one.

The production was sponsored by Theatreworks USA.

It is exciting to think the history of entertainment in the Sullivan Catskills is about to enter a new age, with the development of new musical theatre at Forestburgh Playhouse. Bravo, all!

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