Westchester Collaborative Theater! 2013 Summerfest Success
The Westchester Collaborative Theater‘s innovative work never fails to amaze me. A collaborative of mostly professional artists, directors, actors and writers who gather each month to share, develop, promote and exchange ideas about their work, they are a vibrant regional theater laboratory. Instead of trying to “reinvent” shows that have been done before, often with lackluster results (I’ve seen more than my share of regional theater revivals and few are worth the trip and the time.) this group has persisted in what it does best: experiments, creates, dares to risk.
WCT premiers works, mostly one act plays, some longer. Many of these are developed through the lab which is the petri dish through which all the collaborators can hone their skills and perfect their craft. Oftentimes, the works continue being developed after premiers at their performance base in Ossining, with the thought of entering them in festivals in NYC and/or in other areas of the country or developing them further perhaps into full length works.
The WCT holds two major performances of plays, one in the summer and the other in the winter. This 2013 Summerfest of 5 one-act plays which was produced in late June reveals how far this collaborative has extended its reach, creativity and will. Each of the one-act productions showed the collaborators’ manifest effort and enjoyment with expressing their talent and artistry. It was obvious they were having fun and the crowd which was the largest I have seen to date at the WCT, demonstrated their enthusiasm and pleasure with the offerings.
I brought along three of my friends who are Broadway goers and who enjoy live theater. They are not dilettantes and each has a discerning nature and circumspect opinions. In other words they do not suffer through mediocre theater eagerly and two of them are “walk-outs.” They would rather sit in the lobby or go home than sustain performances that are slap-dash with little deliberation and effort or those that are misguided and whose logic is so skewed, the production just doesn’t work to uplift, entertain or enlighten.
They agreed that the night they spent at WCT was so much better than paid performances they’ve attended in Queens and even some on Broadway. (One walked out of Mary Stuart, and the other fell asleep during Beyond Miss Julie, to name a few.) Two of them especially expressed surprise at the energy, camaraderie and esprit de corps of the company which is a testament that not only is regional theater not a bust, it is thriving in the New York City area. They agreed with me that a collaborative is the right way to go, offering a continuum of progression that is free and integrated away from the constraints of ego machinations, financials and politics that unfortunately stifle NYC theater’s creative, innovative, risk-taking. In NYC though celebrity names are king, they do not provide insurance against ill-conceived or misdirected productions circled by fans and tourists out for a night of forgettable entertainment that is more for “show” and tourist talk-back to friends at home. Off Broadway presents more innovation, still with the caveat of expenses.
Here was WCT’s 2013 Summerfest roundup, all varying degrees of delightful, insightful, humorous, telling and clever.
Facebook Friends by Marshall Fine, directed by Karina Ramsey revisits for all school graduates the possibility of reunions with former lovers and friends awakened by the Facebook revolution. Facebook has brought us “face-to-face” online with those we thought we might never see again, and if we take it further, like characters Simon (Sherman Alpert) and Arlene (Tracey McAllister) do, we’ll dare to meet them in person with funny, poignant and awkward moments and final or not so final resolutions to part ways or see each other again.
Wander Inn by Virginia Reynolds, directed by Elaine Hartel is every woman’s dream of vindication come true. Charlotte (Sandra Lucas) returns to visit a former partner Tim (Deacon Hoy) at his financially down-and-out Wander Inn. She continually surprises him with a series of truths which peel back the onion on their past. Charlotte’s revelations are gleefully, ironically delivered and she relishes her triumphs over her past and him. Each reveal jolts him like a prod leading him to the final realization that he has made a complete mess of his life. It is a reversal of fortune with Charlotte on the top ladder rung and Tim on the bottom. When she proclaims that her final order will be to torch the place (She became the owner unbeknownst to him.) where their past was staged and he’s been in a cage ever since (at the Wander Inn) we are shocked and somehow relieved. Things can only get better for both of them, unless Tim devolves further. Based upon the clues, the play leaves it for us to decide the probabilities.
Excess Baggage by Carol Mark and directed by Joe Lima is a joyful, humorous play with which all can identify, especially if they come from a larger family which is the clinging type whether in one’s mind or in actuality. Steve (Matt Silver) and Pam (Sara Colten) are on their honeymoon but their parents, Francine-Janice Kirkel, Edward-Jim Coakley, Margaret-Nancy Intrator, Chuck-Nick Pascarella, show up at the newlyweds’ hotel room to watch, supervise and help launch the marriage. The couple, ready for this “big night,” have to contend with their folks who interject, proclaim and interfere until they’re over themselves, and are ejected so Steve and Pam can finally be alone together. However, the question remains, will Steve and Pam ever be able to shed the carcass of childhood and parental intrusion? We are reminded, as the title suggests, that when we are united with our significant others, we also bring along the generations that have gone before us and this baggage, for good or ill, remains in ourselves and our relationships, unless we “jettison” it. The underlying message affirms that when it gets to be “crazy” with all the competing voices in our heads and our interactions and self become befuddled, then we need to take charge as Steve and Pam humorously and finally do. Do the couple continue this path during their marriage? The answer leaves us smiling and shaking our heads.
Hedge Fund by Csaba Teglas, directed by Richard Manichello is a humorous look at the Venus/Mars relationship between men and women against the backdrop of the not so recent financial debacle and fiduciary mismanagement prevalent during the Lehman, Bear Sterns, Washington Mutual, Countrywide Financial mess which is most likely still occurring today in varying degrees. Miss Prune (Enid Breis) is the demur secretary of James (Howard Weintraub) the preeminent, arrogant, know-it-all boss. Miss Prune acts the subservient, dutiful, coffee-making assistant until the tables are turned and we discover she has been surreptitiously brilliant while James and others have been twiddling their thumbs while the Roman market has been burning. Only Miss Prune was prescient and common sensical enough to take clever positions, short and long the market, and walk away with millions while the blindly incompetent “professionals, didn’t see looming disaster on the horizon.By degrees, Miss Prune sheds her demur, “button-down” collar to reveal the hottie she is, single-handedly saving the firm and her boss with the ultimate final position, taking over fiduciary responsibility and setting herself up to be his rich girlfriend (a mild tweak on sexual harassment). By the end of the play, she is in the catbird seat and James is getting her coffee. All the women in the audience applauded loudly. One of my friends thought the play might go the distance adding another act and developing the premise.
You Were Awesome by Bob Zaslow and directed by Michael Muldoon explores the hangover theme. Steven (Jeff Virgo) had a fabulous party but can’t remember any of it, in a stoned blackout of alcohol reeling brain bombing. Ruthie (Suzanne Ochs) was there and has a memory for explicit details, though she didn’t party as insanely as Steven. Anyway, someone has to chronicle the events, “spill the beans,” and get her man. Ruthie is joined by partiers Leesa (Shelley Lerea) and Dirk (Femi Alao) and their expose grows as Steven hangovers his head in shame. Ruthie in a partial state of disrobement (tying in what probably happened between them.) gives Steven each “blow by blow” description of his humiliatingly funny antics on this wild, drunken spree.
Ruthie underwrites each mounting event description with, “You were awesome!” By the play’s end after we have laughed at the excesses we put ourselves through, knowing that, like Steve, we’ll regret it in the morning, we come to this realization. Yeah, maybe it was awesome. During a spree we might be able to shed restrictive, up-tightness and be ourselves. In vino veritas! Too bad we need the alcohol or whatever to “Be Awesome!”
WCT has scheduled events in addition to their bi-monthly labs, development of new work and guest speakers. In July guests Ossining Mayor William Hanauer (July 11th) and renown theater director Mara Mills (July 18th) spoke. Make sure to mark your calendar and try to attend the fun events and meet the WCT directors, playwrights and actors. This regional theater group enjoys schmoozing with the public and discovering those who appreciate the arts and innovative theater. Their annual fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday September 28 at 7:30PM at the OAC Steamer Firehouse, 117 Main St. in Ossining. Entertainment for the event will be cabaret inspired.
For the month of October, the WCT will present a Living Art Exhibit in conjunction with the Ossining Arts Council. The Exhibit is being held on Saturday October 19. Playwrights have selected artworks to inspire their imagination in creating new plays. They have been busily completing their submissions for an August 1 deadline.
Regional theater on the move, WCT will continue with its winter programs and labs. If you are in the area and are interested, first check out their Facebook page. You will always be welcome as a visitor to their performances and you may always donate as the WCT is a non profit and is carried along solely by public donations. And if you are a director, actor or playwright, you may apply to join the talented innovators of this collaborative.
I like to think of the WCT as riding over the top of the Philistines who have done much to suppress wonderful artists, writers, actors, playwrights by insisting on curtailing funding programs to the arts. Live theater inspires our humanity and keeps us involved, enlightened and purposeful in our culture. Whether you are an audience member, actor, playwright or director, the feeling communication is electric during a live performance. Here is a theater group which can be supported for their daring and enthusiasm in putting on quality shows, and doing it on the good graces of their supporters. Bravo WCT!