‘Room­mate’ kicks off sea­son

Sil­ver­man com­edy opens Wed­nes­day at Long Wharf

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - A+E - By E. Kyle Mi­nor

As Long Wharf Theatre fast ap­proaches the open­ing of Jen Sil­ver­man’s com­edy “The Room­mate” and a new sea­son, the­ater­go­ers may well won­der just how the Tony­win­ning re­gional the­ater selected its six-play slate in the ab­sence of an artis­tic direc­tor.

A tri­umvi­rate of the the­ater’s artis­tic staff — Lit­er­ary Man­ager Chris­tine Scar­futo; As­so­ci­ate Pro­ducer Drew Gray; and Artis­tic and Man­age­ment As­so­ci­ate Emily Goeler — found it­self charged with this mis­sion since Long Wharf fired Gor­don Edel­stein Jan. 22 for sex­ual mis­con­duct.

“It’s al­ways a col­lab­o­ra­tive process,” said Scar­futo, who, along with Gray and Goeler, com­posed the fol­low­ing slate for the 2018-19 sea­son: “The Room­mate (Wed­nes­day throug h Nov. 4); Do­minique Moris­seau’s “Par­adise Blue” (Nov. 21 – Dec. 16); Boo Kille­brew’s “Miller, Mis­sis­sippi” (Jan. 9 — Feb. 3); Nia Varda­los’ “Tiny Beau­ti­ful Things” (Feb. 13 – March 10); Homer’s “T he Iliad” (March 20 -April 14); Lu­cas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2” (May 1-26).

“We had al­ready com­mit­ted to four of the sea­son plays,” said Josh Boren­stein, now in his eighth sea­son as Long Wharf ’s man­ag­ing direc­tor. “‘The Room­mate’ is one of them. Gor­don was slated as the direc­tor, so we had to find a new direc­tor.

“I asked Drew and Chris­tine is they’d be will­ing to step up dur­ing this pe­riod.”

Boren­stein said all depart­ment heads weigh in on pos­si­ble sea­son selec­tions, so that most of the wheels that haul the process around from sea­son to sea­son are in place — ex­cept­ing the artis­tic direc­tor, of course.

Scar­futo said it was easy to ac­cept Boren­stein’s in­vi­ta­tion to spear­head the play se­lec­tion process per­son­ally.

“Unlike and other the­ater I’ve ever worked for, Long Wharf has al­ways had a col­lab­o­ra­tive process,” said Scar­futo, who has worked at The Good­man Theatre and Wil­liamstown Theatre Fes­ti­val among oth­ers since earn­ing her MFA from the Univer­sity of Iowa. “A lot of times it hap­pens be­hind closed doors and no one re­ally knows what the con­ver­sa­tion is.

“With our sea­son plan­ning con­ver­sa­tion,” she said, “we in­vite some­one from ev­ery depart­ment. We’re able to ex­am­ine a play from many dif­fer­ent an­gles.

Gray, in his eighth sea­son at Long Wharf, agreed: “We talk with the ed­u­ca­tion peo­ple. We have a group of peo­ple we bounce ideas off.”

The staff ’s first day of own­er­ship for this sea­son was im­me­di­ate on the heels of Edel­stein’s de­par­ture. All scripts pass­ing through Long Wharf cross Scar­futo, who reads all the scripts un­der con­sid­er­a­tion and deals out the ones worth con­sid­er­a­tion to Goeler and Gray. When all three agree that a script de­serves se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, they en­gage Josh Boren­stein, Long Wharf ’s man­ag­ing direc­tor who has ab­sorbed many of the artis­tic direc­tor’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“The four of us meet once a week as an artis­tic depart­ment,” said Goeler. “Then we meet also once a week as the sea­son plan­ning group with plays we’ve dis­cussed and pass

on (to the larger group).”

Of the myr­iad fac­tors to ex­plore in the play se­lec­tion process, bud­get is boss. Still, all three agreed, where there’s a will there’s a play.

“Well, this hap­pens ac­tu­ally all the time,” said Scar­futo. “I think we’re ar­tis­ti­cally try­ing to move the or­ga­ni­za­tion along, and a lot of times (se­lect) these plays that could be chal­leng­ing in a good way for our au­di­ence. They might not be as com­mer­cially pop­u­lar as some­thing less chal­leng­ing.”

Gray said that com­mer­cially pop­u­lar shows, of­ten with large en­sem­ble casts in clas­sic mu­si­cals, tend to spike pro­duc­tion cost.

“I think you al­ways want to ad­vo­cate for the best art the the­ater can do with its re­sources, Gray said. “One thing we’ve got­ten bet­ter at is tak­ing on am­bi­tious ideas and not im­me­di­ately ar­tic­u­lat­ing all the rea­sons we can’t do them. We say, if we’re go­ing to this, what we need to do is ad­di­tional fundrais­ing.

“The more we do this, most of us can read a play and kind of sense what your pro­duc­tion bud­get’s go­ing to be within a few thou­sand dol­lars or so,” he said.

“Just be­cause some­thing’s ex­pen­sive doesn’t mean we can’t pro­duce it,” said Scar­futo. “We just bal­ance it with an­other show that’s not go­ing to cost us a lot of money.

‘The Room­mate’ setup

Long Wharf leads with Jen Sil­ver­man’s com­edy “The Room­mate,” which Scar­futo said, “seems like a re­al­is­tic, tra­di­tional play. Sharon, re­cently di­vorced and an empty nester with a big Iowa farm­house, de­cides to split cost with Robyn, a Bronx trans­plant who couldn’t be any more dif­fer­ent in tem­per­a­ment from Sharon.

“Each in­spires this great trans­for­ma­tion in the other,” said Scar­futo.

“Jen has a great sense of com­edy and play­ful­ness,” said Scar­futo, who went to grad school with Sil­ver­man and dra­maturged each of her plays there. “She has a real sense of the­atri­cal­ity. And there’s al­ways some­thing that’s a lit­tle danger­ous, or dark.

“It was kind of a co­in­ci­dence that as I was in­ter­view­ing here,” she con­tin­ued, “they were think­ing about ‘The Room­mate’ and didn’t know that I had worked on it for about a year.

“These woman are usu­ally por­trayed on stage and in movies as be­ing like kind of safe and set in their ways and not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing on a great ad­ven­ture or trans­for­ma­tion,” she said. “Jen por­trays them as re­ally strug­gling with who they are, who they want to be, and re­ally em­brac­ing this great change in their lives.”

Though Long Wharf reg­u­larly com­mis­sions play­wrights to de­velop new projects, none are due for pro­duc­tion this sea­son. Still, all three said, Long Wharf first pur­sues plays and ac­com­plished, young play­wrights whose best work may be yet to come.

“We’ll start with a play,” said Gray, “then we’ll think di­rec­tors, the most ex­cit­ing di­rec­tors out there right now. And Chris­tine has a broad knowl­edge of all the stuff go­ing on in New York. We’re think­ing, ‘how can we bring the best artists we pos­si­bly can right now?’”

“I think we fo­cus more on bring­ing play­wrights we re­ally want to in­tro­duce our au­di­ence to,” said Scar­futo.

“Miller, Mis­sis­sippi,” di­rected by Mike Don­ahue, comes in­di­rectly from Long Wharf’s an­nual New Play Fes­ti­val, where Kille­brew worked on her play dur­ing its work­shop process. “Par­adise Blue,” di­rected by Awoye Timpo, is the sec­ond in­stall­ment of Moris­seau’s “Detroit Projects,” a Mo­tor Town tril­ogy in­spired by Au­gust Wil­son’s cen­tury cy­cle.

Scar­futo, Gray, and Goeler may ease off of the pedal once “The Room­mate” of­fi­cially opens on Wed­nes­day, but this is no time for chore­ographed cel­e­bra­tions or end zone dances. Long Wharf has yet to hire a new artis­tic direc­tor, and the 2019-20 sea­son will be upon Scar­futo, Goeler, and Gray be­fore long. The play se­lec­tion process waits for no one.

“The show must go on,” said Scar­futo.

Long Wharf / Con­trib­uted photo

Linda Pow­ell, left, and Tasha Lawrence star in “The Room­mate.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.