CHATHAM, NJ – “Jersey Voices” is now in its 25th season, presenting new works by area playwrights at its intimate theatre on North Passaic Avenue. This year’s selections are also an homage to Artistic Director Bob Lukasik, who recently died. As president of the Chatham Community Players, he was instrumental in initiating and developing “Jersey Voices.”
This year’s selections range from young to old, healthy to infirm, nostalgic to in-the-moment connections. “A Visit in the Afternoon” by Fred Dennehy features Maya Lerner as a young teen who reluctantly pays a visit to her grandfather (Christopher C. Gibbs) He’s bedridden, but still longs for company. In her typical teenage attitude, Mara has little use for this grumpy, elderly man. But when he asks her to trim his beard, we begin to see a gradual change in both of them. Mara realizes she can bring value to his life, while he gives her the gift of a long-ago photo. We learn about his trek in the Himalayas and more. This short, moving play, directed by John A.C. Kennedy, raises more questions than answers, but its tensions hold us in thrall.
Another one-act dealing with physical limitation is “Chair Dancing” by Steven Ruskin. Director Joann Lopresti Scanlon has built an appealing rapport between Jean Kuras as Sarah and Dan De Guzman as Michael. She is rigid and fearful, while he is the physical therapist who encourages her to break out of her shell.
On a lighter note, we have “Rearranging the Ham” by Eleanor Kennedy. Terri Sturtevant as Doris and Jim Clancy as Frank are an elderly couple who are dealing with everyday life, such as microwaving their dinner, while also pondering changes in their will. Arnold Buchiane has directed this touching piece with care. Sturtevant always manages to bring a humorous twist to the smallest task, even ‘rearranging’ the ham, according to the instructions. It’s an intriguing glimpse at the mundane yet profound mix of everyday life.
“On Pause’ by Lauri MacMillan features Gloria Lamoureux as Mom and Alexander Wolfe as her son Trevor, ultimately finding a sense of companionship while engaged in a video game. Yes, there are generational differences, but the gulf isn’t as wide as most of us believe. This mixed generation piece was directed by Roseann Ruggiero.
“Infinite,” which opened the evening, was written by Jackie Jacobi. Bri (Sarah Pharaon) and Eliot (Brian Merrill) have their differences and conflicts, some centered on issues of fertility, but ultimately, we see that the bond is stronger than any particular issue. The play is nicely directed by Julie Anne Nolan.
“Meet Millie” rounds out the evening. Amanda Sage Comerford’s script is full of surprises as we learn about Millie (Ali Archetti) and her parents, Karen (Colleen Grundfest) and Harold (Charles Grayson.) At first, Millie is alone on the stage, practicing how she will introduce herself to a prospective client. We soon learn that she’s a new real estate agent, determined to sell this house. But that plan is in jeopardy when her parents arrive, with lawn chairs and snacks. They’ve come to ‘cheer her on,’ or so they say. There are other surprises in store and it all evolves on a light note. High energy direction by Karen Thornton keeps the plot moving along.
Audiences will surely find their own favorites in this taut, well written collection of new plays. It’s a pleasure to discover the works of talented playwrights and a chance to see them as their careers evolve. “Jersey Voices” continue through August 4 at The Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue in Chatham. For tickets, call 973-635-7363 or visit cathamplayers.org.