News Column

County playwright 'content' with new show Off-Broadway

November 23, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 23--NEW YORK - After a preview of his new play, "The Preacher and the Shrink" last week at the off-Broadway Beckett Theatre, playwright Merle Good called his wife back at home in Lancaster.

"I told her I was content," he says. "I never dreamed that we'd have such a good venue, such a good cast and such a good director. Whatever happens next, I am content."

Contentment is a good state to be in after the seven-year journey Good and his play have taken on their way to the Big Apple.

Good and his bestselling-cookbook-author wife of 44 years, Phyllis Pellman Good, are well known in the area for running a number of businesses in the Intercourse area over the years - including The Old Country Store, the Quilt Museum, the Good Cooking Store and the People's Place Amish-Mennonite heritage center.

The couple operates the Good Books publishing company, which produces works from a variety of genres, including health-related books and the "Fix-It and Forget-It" meal series.

Merle Good is also known for having written books including "Who Are the Amish?" and P. Buckley Moss-illustrated children's books such as "Reuben and the Fire" and "Reuben and the Blizzard."

Good wrote and produced plays as part of the Dutch Family Festival here in 1968-77.

But this is the first time one of his plays has been performed off-Broadway.

"The Preacher and the Shrink," about a psychiatrist who tries to help a minister and his daughter work through their estrangement, is set to run through Jan. 2 at the Beckett Theatre, part of a group of small New York City theaters called Theatre Row that often produce new works.

"The word of mouth has been strong," Good said. "People like that they can't tell where the story is going, that we are delivering something they didn't expect."

The play, which had a staged reading in Lancaster County about seven years ago, opened Monday after several weeks of previews.

Houses at the 99-seat Beckett, 410 W. 42nd St., have often been sellouts or near-sellouts.

He added he has heard positive feedback from psychiatrists who have seen the show. There's a possibility the show may be taken to other theaters.

The New York Times sent a reviewer to see the play, but, because of the busy theater season, the review has not run yet.

"Whatever happens happens," Good said. "We have done all that we could."

Having a three-time Tony nominee starring in your first New York-produced show is certainly pretty wonderful for Good.

Dee Hoty, who plays Dr. Alexandra Bloomfield (the shrink of the title), earned Tony nominations for her starring roles in "The Will Rogers Follies," "Footloose" and "The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public," a sequel to "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

Hoty's Dr. Bloomfield is caught in the middle of a family tragedy, as she tries to treat the daughter of a minister who sets out to hurt her father by accusing his assistant minister of sexual misconduct.

The play is about grief, and how it can alienate people. It asks whether prayer truly can change things, and whether God is loving.

"There are no answers to those questions," Good says. "There is often pressure to write something that's politically correct. Or have an agenda."

The five-member cast is filled with other Broadway and New York theater veterans, including Tom Galantich, who plays the preacher and father, Dr. Michael Hamilton. On Broadway, he starred in "Don't Dress for Dinner," "Boeing-Boeing," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "City of Angels" and "Into the Woods."

Adria Vitlar is Constance, the troubled daughter who is consumed with grief. She recently appeared in "The Columnist" at the Manhattan Theatre Club and "Blood and Gifts" at Lincoln Center.

Mat Hostetler plays the assistant minister accused of sexual misconduct. He spent the last year in the national tour of "War Horse."

And rounding out the cast is Nicholas Urda, who has a small role as a parishioner whose son is ill with cancer.

The show is directed by Steven Yuhasz, who has worked in a number of off-Broadway shows and is the executive director of Shakespeare on the Sound in Connecticut.

"The cast portrays what I wrote in a very sensitive way," Good says. "The last table read they did was, wow, they have it. They understand all the tensions. And then on stage, it all came together."

Seen at a preview matinee Nov. 16, the cast is excellent and the play keeps the audience riveted as it unfolds.

Set entirely in either Dr. Bloomfield's or Rev. Hamilton's office, it is, for the most part, a series of dialogues between characters, as each tries to sort out the questions he or she has about God, grief and healing and deal with dysfunctional relationships.

Scenic designer Brian Prather does an excellent job, placing the set in a stone frame that juts out toward the audience, suggesting emotions that cannot be confined.

And lighting designer Kirk Bookman offers up varied moods and different-colored walls, from intense orange to passive blue.

Constance has come back to her small hometown in Pennsylvania to teach a poetry course at the local university.

She is filled with rage. Her mother died seven years earlier from breast cancer and she is convinced she will die of it as well.

She explains to Dr. Bloomfield that her grief is fused with anger at her father for not helping her through the experience.

He spent too much time at church, she says, selling the idea of a loving God to his parishioners.

When we meet Hamilton, he seems a kind and gentle man and he concedes that his relationship with his daughter is fraught with problems.

The play does not have an agenda. It does not come down on one side or the other of the arguments, and its view of faith and religion is open ended - a refreshing change from so many shows that deal with the topic.

But Constance seems to be a tough character to feel anything for. She needs to be developed more. As she stands now, she is filled with nothing but vindictive rage.

We are never quite sure why she treats Rev. Wheeler, the assistant, so badly. She could ruin his life.

Her visit to Bloomfield, which is the first scene in the show, seems too tentative and unresolved. It's probably the weakest scene in the show.

But once the characters are established, the play settles into a dramatic groove that draws us in.

The entire cast is solid, but Galantich, who seems to be living in Hamilton's skin, is especially good. It's not a flashy role, but the audience can feel his depth.

Hoty is excellent as well, though her role seems to be on the periphery at times.

We discover later in the show that she and Hamilton knew each other when they were younger and are attracted to one another. There's more of a story there that could unfold.

"The Preacher and the Shrink" is an interesting show and one that explores difficult issues. It will stay with you for a while.

If you are interested in going to the show, two bus trips will be offered - one on Sunday, and one on Sunday, Dec. 8. Cost is $121 for the bus and a show ticket. The show is approximately two hours long.

Go to thepreacherandtheshrink.com and click on "Coming from Lancaster?" For more details call 768-7171, ext. 221, and ask for Tony.

The website also offers ticket sales and more information about the show. Or you can call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.

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(c)2013 Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pa.)

Visit the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pa.) at lancasteronline.com

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