CHATHAM, NJ – A bus station, a swimming pool and a war zone are just some of the unlikely places that make up the19th season of “Jersey Voices” at The Chatham Playhouse.
Although most of the plays are on the serious side, there are light moments as well. Loretta Napolitano’s “Aquasize” is set at a YMCA pool during a senior water aerobics class. While riffs on the elderly can often be more annoying than amusing, the playwright has injected enough humor and levity to keep it all moving along. Directed by Stephen Catron, the strong cast takes pot shots at each as they complain about sanitary conditions, body issues and a host of observations that are both hilarious and have the ring of truth. Directed by Stephen Catron and cleverly choreographed by Roxanna Wagner, this warm and entertaining play may have an afterlife in other venues.
“Fool Me Twice” also has a light touch. Set in the Middle Ages, the plot centers on a queen, her devoted Tyramius and the court jester. It seems the jester (Jeffry Foote) doesn’t quite measure up to the job, especially when it comes to juggling. Foote, however, does have a strong comic approach to the role. Jim Clancy plays Tyramius with great aplomb and dignity, while Miriam Salerno is the distraught Queen Helena. She really doesn’t want to lose the jester (or his head) and eventually finds a solution. Written by Jerrod Bogard and directed by Paul Bettys, the play has a clever twist.
The evening starts off with “The 5564 to Toronto.” Written by Karen JP Howes and directed by Ron Mulligan, this fast paced scenario features just two actors: Chip Prestera as Gavin and Anna Francis McCabe as Molly. Tension builds as Gavin tries to prevent Molly from boarding that bus from Buffalo to Toronto. Although they’re strangers, he has a premonition that something could go terribly wrong. The special effects are eerie and Gavin is all hyper energy, in an entertaining way, as he tries desperately to ‘save’ Molly.
“One Woman’s Onions” by Mark McCarthy and directed by Arnold J. Buchiane centers on two women and their contrasting views on relationships. Tara Cioletti as Karen and Alexandra Landau as Phyllis expertly wield the kitchen knife as they banter back and forth about choices, challenges, loves and acceptance.
“The Most Beautiful Rock” by Eric Alter is a moving, intense piece about Sergeant Deehan, played by Jeff Maschi, and his time in the service. The love of his life, Beth, played by Cara Heary, is crucial to his view of the world. Directed by Joann Lopresti Scanlon, the cast includes Jon Beeler, Jim Clancy and Lewis T. Decker. There are poignant moments as we see Deehan’s struggles during the ravages of war.
“Keli Richards” by Ormar Kozarsky is an odd, disturbing piece about an actress and a man who has had a crush on her for years. You don’t know quite where this is going, but there’s enough fear and uncertainty to build suspense. Scott Tyler as Noah is especially convincing in his efforts to befriend the voluptuous Julie Anne Nolan, who is torn between feeling sorry for him and fearing him. Lewis T. Decker is Max, her bodyguard who has his own suspicions about Noah. Director Megan Ferentinos keeps the suspense building in this cliff hanger of a play.
Following the play was a talk-back, when audience members could ask about the process, play selections, casting and more. Bob Lukasik noted the Players received about 120 scripts, reducing them to 50 and ultimately to 12. Then directors were invited to select the plays they might like to direct. Auditions were held, he said, somewhat like speed dating. Actors would go from room to room and the directors would make notes on who would fit a particular part.
Because they are new plays, not all of them are perfect. But it’s a terrific showcase and an opportunity to see vivid imaginations at work, tackling a host of issues and themes. For more information on the Chatham Playhouse, visit chathamplayers.org or call 973-635-7363. Opening in October is “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” by Tony Kushner and directed by Bob Pridham.