News Column

Four theater season openings and one regional premiere

June 19, 2014

By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

June 19--There's already been a lot of theater options on Cape Cod and the Islands, but the summer wealth of choices kicks into even higher gear this week as more companies begin seasons and a highly praised Broadway comedy has its regional premiere.

The Cape start-ups (and I'll list them east to west):

--Peregrine Theatre Ensemble opens "Hamlet" Monday, with Ben Berry in the title role of the Shakespeare tragedy. In its first full season, the company performs at Provincetown Theater, adding the musical "Rent" and a youth version of "Hamlet" in July. Information: peregrinetheatre.com.

--Harbor Stage Company, a theater run by its actors, is back with "Uncle Vanya," in previews Friday and opening on Saturday. This is another new Chekhov adaptation by artistic director Robert Kropf, with a cast that includes company members and Jeff Zinn, former artistic director of Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. Harbor's other two shows are a Tom Stoppard radio play and a world premiere. Information: harborstage.org.

--On Tuesday, College Light Opera Company opens its season of nine shows in nine weeks with "The White Horse Inn," a 1930 European operetta -- another in a line of shows you're not likely to see elsewhere in the area. The rest of the season includes Sondheim, Gershwin, Gilbert and Sullivan and "Les Miserables." Information: www.collegelightoperacompany.com.

--Martha's Vineyard Playhouse (formerly Vineyard Playhouse) in Vineyard Haven opens its theater after more than two years of renovation and expansion with, and does it with a world premiere of "The Whaleship Essex," which was inspired by a Nantucket-connected tragedy at sea s. Following that will be other premieres as well as its weekly Monday series of staged readings. Information: vineyardplayhouse.org

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The regional premiere: Fred Sullivan saw "One Man, Two Guvnors" on Broadway in 2012 and thought it was the funniest show he'd ever seen. The first scene could have used a little work, but he recognized that the show wouldn't likely be the right fit for his longtime acting/directing home at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, so put the show out of his mind.

Until he got a call out of the blue from Maura Hanlon, with whom he'd done shows as kids together decades ago at Harwich Junior Theatre.

Hanlon is associate artistic director at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster and wanted Sullivan, whom she considers "a comic genius," to direct the company's premiere of that award-winning Richard Bean comedy. "He was brilliantly funny, creative and imaginative as a teenager," she says in an email, and she and husband Art Devine saw that "his work and that brilliance continued to grow" at Trinity when they attended classes there. Hanlon clearly remembers laughing and crying in the early 1990s when Sullivan directed and acted in "Waiting for Godot" at Harwich Junior Theatre, a show that strongly influenced her own career.

"Clearly, once we had the rights to 'One Man, Two Guvnors,' Art and I both knew Fred would be a great director for the piece and for the theater."

When Hanlon called, Sullivan checked his calendar and realized there was some time between celebrating his 30th anniversary at Trinity Rep and playing Malvolio in "Twelfth Night" for Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's outdoor show in Boston.

Sullivan's a busy working actor/director/teacher, describing his many projects as planes passing at an airport. Besides playing well over 100 roles at Trinity -- from Falstaff to James Tyrone Jr. to Harold Hill to Scrooge -- and directing there, he is resident director at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, and regularly works with the Shakespeare company. Last winter, he stepped farther into Rhode Island theater to play Max Prince in "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" for Ocean State Theatre Company in Warwick, and was playing that character based on Sid Caesar on the day the comedy legend died.

That show was a great enough experience outside his usual three-theater-home orbit that he figured "Why not?" when considering the Cape Rep show. It would be his first return to Cape theater in two decades: While Sullivan grew up at HJT and also was involved with winter, adult-oriented shows there (including "Godot") for years, he hadn't worked on the Cape since the early 1990s with brother John Sullivan'sBarnstable Summer Family Theatre. The Cape Rep show also would give him more time here with John, and Fred's enthusiasm for "One Man, Two Guvnors" makes it clear that directing in Brewster was the right choice all around.

The show is based on Carlo Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters," updating to 1963 Brighton, England. Frances Henshall somehow becomes right-hand man to two employers at the same time, and must try to keep them apart, despite all the coincidental connections between them. The action is set up in a commedia dell'arte style, which Sullivan says is "right in my wheelhouse," and his staging has "really embraced that" idea of a traveling troupe with stock characters and physical comedy.

"It's really laugh out loud," he says of the show in a phone interview. "We've got a really extraordinary cast ... (and) there's some really great comedy going on."

The show involves a lot of talking to the audience and interaction with members, so Sullivan is enthusiastic about the show being different for every performance.

Besides the dozen actors, some of whom are from New York City, Boston and San Francisco, there is a live band, led by music director Chandler Travis, well-known in Cape music circles for fronting several bands. The intent is to re-create a "skiffle band" popular at the time in England, a precursor to the sound of the Beatles. Sullivan says the band plays between scenes, and the actors often join in in some way, including by playing other instruments.

"The whole thing is kind of circus-y, like a county fair on a beach in England," he says. "It's utterly delightful."

Hanlon agrees. "The songs are really funny; the show is really funny," she says in an email. "It's been so much fun having this group around the theater."

For more theater news, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor.

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(c)2014 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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Source: Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA)


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