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Theater

Shining a light on new plays: Montclair Kimberley Academy in the city

in Arts/MKA/Theater
Kurtz (Patrick Napolitano) surprises Kiki (Casey Rae Borella) and Loony (Katie Kunka). Courtesy Robert Gelberg.

‘They Say We’ll Have Some Fun’
By Robert Gelberg

Actors and crew from Montclair Kimberley Academy

Show presented by MirrorMaker Productions and The Montclair Kimberley Academy Fine and Performing Arts Department as part of Planet Connections
Theatre Festivity

Saturday, June 24, 7:45 p.m., Thursday, June 29, 8:45 p.m.;
Saturday, July 1, noon

Flamboyan Theatre at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center
107 Suffolk St., New York, New York
robertgelbergwrites.com; planetconnections.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

An eager crowd gathers around the door of the Flamboyan theater, in the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center in New York City, on Friday, June 16, at 5 p.m. Some people are holding flowers. Others hold cameras.

Parents and friends and some random theatergoers have gathered to see the premiere of Robert Gelberg’s play “They Say We’ll Have Some Fun,” in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

The play, which clocks in at about an hour, is about a group of teenagers at a summer camp. As the teens navigate the transition from CIT (counselor in training) to counselor, and tensely wait out the news about a camper in the infirmary, they also face the awkwardness of the transition from child to grownup.

The cast and crew are all students at Montclair Kimberley Academy, or recent grads: Liam Gerard, Caitlin Ladda, Patrick Napolitano, Casey Rae Borella, and Katie Kunka perform. Sydney Abraham is assistant director, Alex Golub is stage manager and Paul Korfhage is technical director. The performers all took Gelberg’s playwriting class.

The playwright himself is an MKA alumnus. He first became interested in theater at MKA, he said. “Nicole Hoppe was the person who got me interested in theater. I owe my career to her in a lot of ways.”

Hoppe, the fine and performing arts department chair at MKA’s upper school, offered Gelberg a job as MKA’s first playwright-in-residence.
A colleague had retired, Hoppe explained, and though MKA filled the position, they did not have a playwriting course. She had kept in touch with Gelberg, and called him when she knew he was back in the area. “I wanted to see if by chance he would want to come help his old alma mater out.

“We thought maybe four or five students would sign up. It ended up being 28.”

The cast and crew compete a food drive to support Human Needs Food Pantry. From left, Sudney Abraham, Alex Golub, Paul Korfhage, Patrick Napolitano, Liam Gerard, Katie Kunka, Casey Rae Borella and Caitlin Ladda. Courtesy Robert Gelberg.

Some of the work the students wrote will be produced in MKA’s new amphitheater in September.

One responsibility of the playwright-in-residence position would be writing a play for teenage actors that would perform in a New York City festival.

And that’s just what Gelberg did.

ROBERT GELBERG

“It was extremely exciting for me,” said Gelberg, talking fast and excitedly as he sat with the cast and crew at a Burger King after the premiere.

“I had never been under commission before. Getting the chance to write a play for teenage actors, and create a role I would have wanted to play, was an exciting opportunity for me.” At 25, Gelberg finds it easy to remember what he felt as a teen. His goal in writing this play — which he did before the semester began — was to set teens in an environment where he hadn’t seen them before.

Liam Gerard, 18, is going to study musical theater at the University of Hartford in the fall.

“To get a New York credit under my belt before college starts is a really excellent and amazing opportunity that we got from the school. I’m immensely grateful.”

There was a pause, then “I’m all verklempt,” Gelberg said, to a warm laugh. Patrick Napolitano, who plays 13-year-old Kurtz, said “I think this is what a lot of theater is in New York in general. This is a lot more like guerrilla style in a way.”

Gelberg said that when he was a junior at MKA, the drama teacher took students to the Planet Connections Festivity to do a play as well. Growing up in Montclair, exposure to theater can mean just Broadway, he said. “But there are so many other kinds of theater out there. ‘Hey, you can do this too. You don’t have to just be Equity [the actors and stage managers union] to do a show in front of a New York theater crowd.”

While the play is set at summer camp, the company discovered it is not really about camping.

For 16-year-old rising junior Caitlin Ladda, who plays Sarah, a full counselor and a long-time camper who’s keen to see the rules respected, the play “draws on the tension between people being CITs and becoming counselors. When you’re friends with someone it’s like a power struggle a little bit. The show captured that. I’ve seen a lot of kids go through the thing where you’re best friends with someone and the next year they’re your boss.”

Casey Rae Borella, who plays Kiki, also a long-time camper and a counselor, relates to “the way we as teenagers grow up and change. You see these things that you’ve been doing forever with all these different people and you start to grow out of it, and other people aren’t there yet.” The play, Borella said, is about the “way that we all develop and change and figure out what we want at different paces.”

Sarah (Caitlin Ladda) scolds Kurtz (Patrick Napolitano) and Martin (Liam Gerard). Courtesy Robert Gelberg.

Montclair Kimberley Academy students to appear in teacher’s play Off-Broadway

in Arts/Theater

Five students from Montclair Kimberley Academy — Liam Gerard, Caitlin Ladda, Patrick Napolitano, Casey Rae Borella, and Katie Kunka — with three MKA crew members, are performing in a production by Robert Gelberg, MKA playwright-in-residence, in a performance of Gelberg’s play “They Say We’ll Have Some Fun” as part of the eighth annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

The Festivity itself takes place at the Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center, 107 Suffolk St., New York, New York.

The play, which is about a group of camp counselors at a summer camp in the Adirondacks, has its first performance on June 16, and performs on an irregular schedule through July 1. According to a release, the play is “an examination of what it means to be in transition.” For tickets, visit this site.

Finding roots onstage: Montclair’s Penny Paul is at home at NLT

in Arts/Theater
Tibby McCullough (Penny Paul) and Hank Hadley (Frank Blaeuer) observe Spencer McCullough (Brittany Haydock) as she panics over her wedding. Courtesy Nutley Little Theatre.

‘Regrets Only’
By Paul Rudnick

June 9-24
NLT Barn, 47 Erie Place, Nutley

nutleylittletheatre.com

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Growing up in New York City, Penny Paul never even knew there was such a thing as community theater.

“It was Broadway or nothing,” said the blonde leading lady, sipping a cold drink on the porch of her Montclair home. Paul is appearing in “Regrets Only,” by Paul Rudnick, at Nutley Little Theatre, which runs from June 9 through the 24th.

After graduating from Yale, studying English and theater, Paul went to Los Angeles to pursue work on-screen. Eventually she returned east for law school.

“When I settled, I was amazed at how many opportunities there were to do theater,” she said. She did some ushering at Montclair’s Studio Playhouse and tried out in 1999 for an NLT production of “Drop Dead!” by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore. Van Zandt, Paul explained, is the brother of Steve Van Zandt, the rocker.

Being cast on her first audition “was thrilling!” Paul said.

Since then she’s done at least 10 shows at NLT. Ten years ago she began directing, and she has also served on NLT’s board.

In “Regrets Only,” Paul plays Tibby, the socialite wife of a high-powered attorney, whose daughter is getting married. Tibby’s best friend is a gay fashion designer, and her husband is working on a bill that would define marriage as between heterosexuals only.

So the friend helps lead a strike of gay people, the day before the wedding.

The show dates from 2006, during the George W. Bush era.

“The director who chose the show was concerned it might be dated. That was before the election,” Paul said with a laugh. “The jokes apply today.”

Next year, NLT will have its 80th anniversary, she said. Like Studio Players, NLT has its own space, which is unusual for community theater troupes.

“There’s a sense of place and history,” she said. The space is small and intimate: not even actors get comps [complimentary tickets]. The season always includes a musical, a crowdpleaser, and something more cutting edge as well.

“I’m really impressed by the level of talent,” Paul said. “Most people understand it won’t lead to a career on Broadway. They are doing it for the love of it.” The passion and commitment are there from people who’ve never acted before, to the people who build the sets, to people who perform in show after show: “It’s amazing.”

Becoming a regular with NLT has also helped root her to Montclair and its environs, she said. Now that her children are in their 20s, she doesn’t necessarily have her kids’ friends’ parents for friends. “I have more in common with other theater people. It’s why I’ve grown such deep roots in the area.”

In “Regrets Only,” the actors laugh constantly at Rudnick’s jokes — but the timing of his set-ups and punchlines must be precise “for the jokes to sing,” she said. Snapping for emphasis, she explained that there might be five people on stage, and “if someone drops a line, others jump in. It’s cohesion. It’s a well-oiled machine.”

She loves that Tibby changes during the play: “She develops a social conscience. She puts her foot down.” And she tells her husband to lay off the bill not only because her daughter’s wedding can’t go forward, but because it’s the right thing to do, she said. “She’s sort of flighty at the beginning. She didn’t realize her friend was not always treated equally. She’s forced to take a stand.” The play is about friendship, and about respect. “I just love it so much.”

Paul said she hopes people will realize that seeing a show at NLT is “easier than going to the city and spending hundreds on a Broadway play.

“It’s a fun night out.”

‘Mary Poppins’ at Millburn’s Paper Mill lifts the heart

in Arts/Review/Theater

‘Mary Poppins’
The Broadway Musical
Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film

Music and lyrics by Richard M.
Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes

New songs and additional
music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh

Through June 25

Paper Mill Playhouse,
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn
973-379-3717, or visit papermill.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Bert (Mark Evans) has tricks up his sleeve. Watching, from left, are Mary Poppins (Elena Shaddow), Michael Banks (John Michael Pitera) and Jane Banks (Abbie Grace Levi). Courtesy Matthew Murphy.

Just try not to clap (and maybe sing) when “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” comes round for its third or fourth chorus in the gorgeous and satisfying production of “Mary Poppins” at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Children can’t help themselves. Their parents, who likely grew up with the 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, tremble with excitement — director Mark Hoebee wisely begins the song softly so by the time it gets to its thumping “um diddle iddle iddle um diddle aye” there are (I am not making this up) whoops.

On top of that, the choreography uses letter cards that the chorus puts up like some weirdly happy North Korean crowd, spelling other words (“gross!”) (to comment on a scatological joke) before spelling the main word, “supercali…” again. Denis Jones choreographed and Mark Hoebee directed; credit goes to them both. Because it’s brilliant. It’s one of the most inventive pieces of fun you’ll ever see onstage.

It would be a great family show if it were all like that — but the musical, with a script by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, some music from the movie and some original songs, has more heart.

In fairness, the movie addresses the ideas of heart and connection too. But in the musical and in this production these themes emerge as solid grounding for the fluffy colorful coating that includes a magical nanny, statues that come to life inside of sidewalk paintings, singing chimney sweeps and cordial that tastes like rum punch.

When Mary Poppins (Elena Shaddow) sings “Feed the Birds” to her charges, in the presence of a raggedy birdseed seller (Liz McCartney), in her clear, pure soprano, it’s sweet, and pretty. When George Banks (Adam Monley), the uptight paterfamilias, meets the bird woman late in the play, having been humbled and yet strengthened, people grabbed tissues. In this day and age, the lines about choosing value over return, about worth being more than money, hit home.

The musical adapts P.L. Travers’ story of a mysterious nanny who stays for a while with the Banks family. The children, Jane (Abbie Grace Levi, alternating with Madi Shaer) and Michael (John Michael Pitera, alternating with Maddox Padgett) have driven off lesser nannies. Their mother, Winifred (Jill Paice), is a former actress who would prefer to take care of the children herself (in the movie, she’s a suffragette) while husband George is an up-and-coming banker who wants everything shipshape. Sidewalk artist, chimney sweep and jack-of-all-trades Bert (Mark Evans) somehow knows Mary, and has a few tricks of his own.

Mary Poppins (Elena Shaddow) flies off, watched by, from left,
Jane Banks (Abbie Grace Levi), (Jane Banks), Winifred Banks (Jill Paice), George Banks (Adam Monley) and Michael Banks (John Michael Pitera). Courtesy Matthew Murphy.

All of the 34-strong cast are wonderful, but Evans steals the show, with his deadpan Cockney commentary and confident yet sweet, charm. He is a terrific dancer (his pirouettes early on give him away) and singer, but it’s his charisma that draws you in and keeps you. Paice’s Winifred is sweet, with a lovely soprano, but believably not too meek, and Monley’s George has a sweet child inside. We even get to see glimpses of the child that was when horrible nanny Miss Andrew (also played by Liz McCartney) comes for a spell.

The movie used animation for some numbers; the stage uses the chorus instead to show us a magical world, and bright and clever set design by Timothy R. Mackabee.

As the gingerbread seller Mrs. Corry, who leads “super,” Danielle K. Thomas, with a Jamaican accent and a hearty laugh, shows us the character’s warmth. “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” the catchy song that closes the film and shows us young Michael’s hunger for connection with his father, is a sweet number. Other standouts include the tapline of “Step in Time” and the wistfulness of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” led by Bert in chimney sweep mode. (For some reason I had never realized that ‘chim chim-in-ee’ was ‘chimney,’ and I’ll credit Hoebee with that too.) The new-to-the-stage version songs, including “Being Mrs. Banks” and “Anything Can Happen,” are less catchy, but the actors make them involving nonetheless.

As Poppins, Shaddow is indeed, as she sings, “practically perfect”: dainty, pretty, firm and still kind.
When at one point Mary Poppins tells the children, “When will you learn to look past what you can see with your eyes?” she might be speaking of the production itself.

Studio Playhouse presents ‘The Twentieth Century’

in Arts/Theater
Nicholas Hudson, as Oscar Jaffe, emotes, whileAngela Grippo, as Ida Webb, watches, in a scene from “The Twentieth Century” at the Studio Playhouse. Chris Shannon/For Montclair Local

The final show in Studio Playhouse’s season is “The Twentieth Century,” adapted by Ken Ludwig from on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, based on the unproduced play “Napoleon of Broadway” by Charles B. Millholland, from June 2 through June 17.

“Come along as we ride the stylish Twentieth Century, LTD as it speeds from Chicago to New York. Meet the flamboyant and egocentric theatrical impresario Oscar Jaffe,” Studio Playhouse writes in a release. “Being broke won’t stop Jaffe. He just got the rights to a new play, and plans to lure the famous Lily Garland back onto the stage.—not to mention back into his bed.”

Studio Playhouse is at 14 Alvin Place. For more information visit studioplayhouse.org, or call 973-744-9752.

Review: Nobody wins in ‘Merchant of Venice’

in Arts/Review/Theater
Shylock (Andrew Weems) importunes Jessica (Amaia Arana).
Courtesy Jerry Dalia.

The Merchant of Venice’
By William Shakespeare

Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
Through June 4
F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
36 Madison Ave., Madison

ShakespeareNJ.org, 973-408-5600

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

The role of Shylock towers. It’s up there in the nosebleeds with Iago, Hamlet, Willy Loman: Shakespeare’s Jewish banker utters a retort to bigotry that can only be answered with silence:

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge?”

Shylock’s poetry and anger have attracted theatrical heavyweights: Dustin Hoffman played the role on Broadway in 1989. Al Pacino played him in a film adaptation in 2004. In the 19th century, Edmund Kean and Henry Irving took on the role.

At Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, STNJ veteran Andrew Weems doesn’t so much tower as seethe, down here on earth. As directed by Robert Cuccioli, Weems’ Shylock feels more like a put-upon small businessman than a tragic figure. That’s a solid approach in what is a solid production of the play.

It’s a complex one: Shakespeare’s 1596-99 play draws on a tradition of the Jew as villain (see, for example, Christopher Marlowe’s “The Jew of Malta,” 1589), and Shylock is hard to like. When he first appears, he comes bearing a grudge, refusing to be polite to the gentile Antonio (Brent Harris) who needs a loan. When his daughter elopes, we hear that he is equally angry about losing his daughter, Jessica (Amaia Arana), to elopement and losing his ducats. In that context, Shakespeare’s humanizing lines are shocking.

The headline of this review refers to this story as a “tale.” In Shakespeare’s day, “Merchant” was classified as a comedy: it ends with happy couples. Happy-ish, anyway.

It’s hard to get the balance right, accommodating the 16th-century point of view and contemporary sensibilities. Productions set in Weimar Germany to bring out society’s antisemitism, for example, often go astray. And obviously a play where bigotry seems justified won’t fly in 2017.

Cuccioli walks the fine line beautifully. He’s set the world of the play at a little distance: we’re in the teens or 1920s, to judge by the costumes (very pretty and intricate, by Candida Nichols). People are polite but prejudice is everywhere. But it’s not so specific that we find errors in the attitudes.

Bassanio (John Keabler), with, in background, Nerissa (Rachel Towne), Portia (Melissa Miller), Tubal (Joe Penczak) and Gratiano (Ian Gould).
Courtesy Jerry Dalia.

Brian Ruggaber’s revolving set of many levels becomes a Venetian café, or the terraced estate of young heiress Portia (played with humor and charm by Melissa Miller). The revolve makes the point that the elements of society are everywhere, though watching the poor actors muscle it around sometimes didn’t seem worth it.

The actors are solid too, sometimes surprising: Miller’s Portia has spirit. John Keabler plays Bassanio, a young man who needs a loan, as a decent man with uncouth friends. All of his instincts are good.

The merchant of the title is Antonio, suave and urbane Brent Harris, who has ships at sea but no liquid cash to lend his friend — without a loan from a moneylender. Shylock agrees to the loan and instead of interest asks for a pound of flesh if the loan isn’t repaid on time.
Well, you can guess the rest. There’s a subplot involving Portia and suitors choosing the right casket — gold, silver or lead — which anyone who’s ever read a fairy tale can figure out in a jiffy. Apparently however that doesn’t include her suitors, amusingly played by Ademide Akintilo as a vain Moroccan prince and Jeffrey M. Bender as an insufferable prince of Arragon, with a hilarious Spanish accent. Shakespeare did love his accents.

Later, Portia and her maid, Nerissa (Rachel Towne), disguise themselves and attend the trial of Antonio. Portia seems at first to justify Shylock, then outwits him. (There’s another subplot about rings the two ladies gave their husbands, never to be given away, that is straight out of a ballad.)

There are hints in the text and in Arana’s performance too that Jessica has misgivings, if not regrets. On a moonlit night, as she and Lorenzo reminisce, she says: “In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.”

She has no lines when she hears of Shylock’s disgrace and forced conversion. Her silent moment is a sucker punch. Cuccioli lets it linger, before closing the play with Antonio sitting by himself, thinking.

All’s well that ends well — at least for some.

Studio Players: All aboard for the Twentieth Century

in Arts/Theater
Angela Grippo, as Ida Webb, left, and Nicholas Hudson, as Oscar Jaffe, emote in a scene from “The Twentieth Century” at the Studio Playhouse. Christopher Shannon/For Montclair Local

Adapted by Ken Ludwig from on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, based on the unproduced play “Napoleon of Broadway” by Charles B. Millholland

Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place
June 2-17

Studioplayhouse.org, 973-744-9752

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Before he played Donald Trump, Alec Baldwin played another colorful New Yorker, the egotistical Broadway producer Oscar Jaffe, one of the main characters in “The Twentieth Century.”

Baldwin performed in a Ken Ludwig adaptation of the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (authors of “The Front Page”) on Broadway in 2004. (A musical version, titled “On the Twentieth Century,” ran on Broadway in 1978 and in 2015).

Studio Playhouse presents the comedy as its season closer, beginning on Thursday, June 1, continuing through Wednesday, June 17.

The title of the play is the name of the train that various theater people travel aboard from Chicago to Grand Central Station. Aboard the 20th Century Limited, larger-than-life producer Oscar Jaffe tries to woo former flame, the star Lily Garland (née Mildred Plotka) into signing a contract with him.

According to Wikipedia, the unproduced play by Charles B. Millholland on which Hecht and MacArthur based their comedy was titled “Napoleon on Broadway.” The character of Jaffe was based in part on the Broadway producer David Belasco.

With a cast of 12, and a set that demands several train cars with working doors, it’s a complicated show. The Hecht/MacArthur play, before the Ludwig adaptation, bowed in 1932, and includes period language, style, jokes and the fast pace of a farce.

AMY FOX

Director Amy Fox, of Verona, said she was drawn to the piece after she saw the musical. Once she read the play, she found it “as much fun without the music.”

And, she added, “it’s a show about theater people. That’s always a fun piece of the puzzle.”

The set reminds Fox of the kind of puzzle that has sliding tiles in a frame with one tile missing.

Designer Ken Budris, of West Caldwell, who played Algernon in a 2014 production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Studio Playhouse, came up with a way to put three full-sized train car interiors on a less-than-Broadway-sized stage: casters. One of the cars moves left to right, and two move up and down stage.

Nicholas Hudson, of Brooklyn, plays Studio’s Jaffe, throwing around a scarf with abandon at a dress rehearsal Monday night. Hudson, as Jaffe, bemoans his sorry fate in a booming voice, and giggles with Garland about the ridiculousness of it all. It is Hudson’s first role with Studio Players, and one of few that he’s performed: despite his onstage confidence and happy mugging, Hudson is a newcomer to acting: he began only last year.

He began acting after accompanying his wife, and a good friend, on auditions. Both times, Fox got a role and the person he went with did not.

“I’m something of an audition vampire,” the actor said with a laugh.

But though he is new to treading the boards, he said his friends and family wouldn’t say the role of a big ham is a stretch. When he tells stories, Hudson said, “I do the voices.”

Working with Judy Wilson of Fort Lee, who plays Garland, is especially fun for Hudson, because when alone together the two thespians show that they understand each other’s schtick. “We don’t have much opportunity to be authentic people,” the actor said.

For Fox, Hudson owned the role from the moment he showed up.

In a scene with Garland, when Jaffe describes a play, and chants “olives, olives, olives,” Garland laughs — and so does the director, every time.

Audiences may laugh, and also feel good about going; with this show, Studio begins a tradition of community outreach. Box office for the first Thursday evening performance, on June 8, will be split with the Montclair Ambulance Unit.

In the future, one Thursday performance for every main-stage show will split the proceeds with a local charity or service organization.

From Left to right, Bill O’Brien, as Owen O’Malley, Matt Hayes, as the porter, Angela Grippo, as Ida Webb, Lonzel Wilson, as the conductor, and Mark Liebert, as Matthew Clark, act out a scene in On the 20th Century and the Studio Playhouse.
Christopher Shannon/For Montclair Local.

Eyes right: Montclair Public Library’s Open Book/Open Mind presents ‘Watched’

in Arts/Books/Theater
Fadoua Hanine, left, and Kesav Wable perform in scenes from “Watched” in Jackson Heights last October. Courtesy Joel Weber.

‘Watched’
Presented by the Montclair Public Library and the MPL Foundation
Open Book/Open Mind
Performed by Theatre 167
Friday, May 19, 7-9 p.m.
Montclair High School Little Theatre
141 Park St.

Author Marina Budhos in conversation with Arun Venugopal and Imam Kevin Dawud Amin of Masjid Al Wadud

Free, but preregistration advised
montclairlibrary.org/news-events/marina-budhos/
973-744-0500, ext 2235
Marinabudhos.com
Theatre167.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

There are 167 languages spoken in Jackson Heights, Queens.

That’s why Ari Laura Kreith named her theater company “Theatre 167.”

The artistic director moved to Montclair two years ago, and continues to make work that examines cultural intersections.

Maplewood author Marina Budhos writes stories that deal with immigration and cultural adjustment.

Originally from Queens, Budhos had set her book, “Watched,” in Jackson Heights.

When the two women met in 2015, at Montclair’s Bnai Keshet when it hosted a Jewish Syrian Christmas dinner, they knew they had a shared aesthetic, and were moved by the same stories.

“Watched,” published in 2016, tells the story of 18-year-old Naeem, who gets in trouble with the police and becomes an informant on his own Muslim community — in Jackson Heights.

On Friday, May 19, Theatre 167 will present scenes from Budhos’ novel “Watched” at Montclair High School’s Little Theatre. Afterward, Budhos will talk with Arun Venugopal, a WNYC/NPR reporter, about surveillance issues in Muslim communities in America. Imam Kevin Dawud Amim of Masjid Al Wadud in Montclair will also participate in the program.

MARINA BUDHOS

“Watched,” said Budhos, is a follow-up to her 2006 book, “Ask Me No Questions.” In that book, set in the era of the Patriot Act and the Muslim Registration Act after 9/11, a Bangladeshi family tries to flee America for Canada, and becomes separated. Two sisters end up having to fend for themselves.

“Watched” is about surveillance, the author said.

The book has won several awards, including the 2016/2017 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature YA Honor; and Honor Book for YA, The Walter Award.

For Budhos, a professor in the English department at William Paterson University, the nuggets of her books always come from something real.

She had worked in nonfiction and journalism before she wrote her first published novel (she wrote her first unpublished novel at age 9, at summer camp).

She and her husband, Marc Aronson, wrote the recently published “Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro & the Invention of Modern Photojournalism” together, and discussed it at last month’s Montclair Literary Festival.

Her book “Tell Us We’re Home,” focuses on three daughters of immigrant nannies who live in a suburban town a bit like Maplewood, Madison or Millburn, and was chosen as the Essex County Young Adult Big Read book.

“I’m often writing about immigration,” Budhos said. Her own background is multicultural: her father is an Indian from the Caribbean, and her mother, who is Jewish American, spoke Yiddish for the first six years of her life, she said. Budhos grew up in an area of Queens called Parkway Village, that was built for U.N. families. The families she knew growing up were “mostly foreign born families. It was what I knew and felt comfortable in.”

When she spoke to us last month, Budhos was working on a new YA novel a novel set during the late ’60s and early ’70s, during the period of integration battles in the schools: “My characters are mixed race, caught in between what’s swirling around them.”

In October, when “Watched” launched, Theatre 167 put on an event —“not quite theater, not quite a book reading, something that sits

ARI LAURA KREITH

somewhere in the political action arena too” — on the streets of Jackson Heights, Kreith said by telephone from her Montclair home. “In light of everything happening in our country, how do we enter into a diverse community and catalyze conversation?”

Kreith said she is interested in “how we come together and sometimes don’t.”

When Theatre 167 performed “Watched” in Jackson Heights, “People would stumble on it. There were actors playing undercover cops. We had a permit, so there were police there, watching us do a performance with undercover cops. At a certain point we realized the police watching us thought the undercover cops were real. Here we were in a neighborhood where the police were patrolling but had never been invited into the conversation in this way. It was exciting to watch them hear the story and share it with them.”

Next Friday’s event is part of the Open Book/Open Mind series by the Montclair Public Library. Holding it at the high school makes sense, because the story is about a high school student, Kreith said. One of the things the book makes clear is “the universality of this story.” Everyone struggles with questions of how much of their family’s culture and tradition to be part of, and what to do with their own ambitions, she said.

“We live in a time when there is so much division, prejudice and fear. The understanding of family and prayer and connectedness are all very beautiful to me.”

 

EXCERPT

The watching, it seeps into everything in our neighbor‑hood. It’s like weather, the barometric pressure lowering. Before the monsoons came in Bangladesh, you could feel the air thicken and squat on your head. A constant ache behind your eyeballs.

For the past few years there’s been another kind of pres‑ sure: a vibration around us, the air pressing down, muf‑ fling our mouths. We see the men, coming down the metal stairs from the elevated subway, or parked in cars for hours on end: clean‑cut guys, creased khakis, rolled‑up sleeves. The breath of Manhattan steaming off their clothes. They aren’t from around here—that we can tell. Not like the young couples with their big padded strollers. Or the girls with peacoats and holes in their black tights, who moved to the nice part of Jackson Heights, carry yoga mats in cloth bags from stores I’ve never heard of. No, these people are different. They stroll into stores, finger the edges of the newspapers in their racks, check out flyers taped to the side of the fridge.

One day two of them came into my parents’ store, pre‑ tended to buy some gum, and then asked a few questions about the travel agency upstairs. Where is the man who runs the place? Mr. Ahmed? How often does he come in? Does he stay after hours?

Abba shook his head. “I do not watch my neighbor so much. He is from Pakistan, that is all I know.”

“Yet you hold packages for him?”

“Yes, but that is because they are not open all the time.

It is favor.”

The man consulted a tiny notebook. “You attend the same mosque? Al‑Noor Masjid?”

At this, Abba froze, fingers resting light on the regis‑ ter, staring at the door. “No, we are praying at different place.” It hurt my heart, hearing this. Abba’s English, when he spoke to strangers, was halting, yet proper. He’d studied some English in Bangladesh and hated sounding unedu‑ cated to Americans.

“Abba?” I whispered after the detectives left, and touched his arm. “You okay?”

He stirred and blinked. “I am fine.” But his voice was rough at the edges.

 

 

 

‘The Music Man’ at Glenfield

in Arts/Children/Community/Theater

Glenfield Middle School presents “The Music Man,” with music by Meredith Willson and book by Willson and Franklin Lacey, on Friday, May 5, and Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m.

The musical first appeared on Broadway in 1957 and was released as a movie in 1962.
Tickets are available at gms.booktix.com.

SVPA’s ‘weird path’ in ‘A Chorus Line’

in Arts/SVPA/Theater
Sydney Miede, left, Amanda Harris, Lillie Herrick, Sofia Happonen and Julianna Wittman talk about their futures as performers, in a dance studio at Montclair High School.
GWEN OREL/STAFF

‘A Chorus Line’
Montclair High School’s SVPA
The Little Theater, 141 Park St.
May 5-6, 7:30 p.m., May 12-13, 7:30 p.m., May 14, 3 p.m.

Conceived and originally
directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett; book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban

Advance tickets at seatyourself.biz/montclairschoolarts

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news
Though “A Chorus Line” hit Broadway in 1975, long before the cast of Montclair’s School of Visual and Performing Arts were born, the company can relate.

The struggles of applying to college, the anxiety and the hope and the hard work, relate directly to the trials of performers auditioning to be in a musical, said a few of the company on Monday.

Sofia Happonen, Amanda Harris, Lilli Herrick, and Sydney Miede will perform with SVPA for the last time with “A Chorus Line,” and stage manager Julianna Wittman will call her last cue.

Monday was “College T-Shirt” day, so the five seniors were all wearing shirts announcing where they’ll be this fall — and all are going to BFA programs.

They are five of 11 seniors among the cast and crew who will be studying performing arts in the fall; the others are Maiya Blaney, Brittany Hurlock, Steven Davis, Zack Marzulli, Maya Stepansky and Kaitlin Griffin.

Harris, who will study acting at Boston University, said there’s a point in the play where the cast wonders what they would do if they couldn’t dance.

“Brenda [Pepper, director] made it real for us,” Harris said, adding that Pepper has helped her to dive into serious acting as well as musical theater. In “A Chorus Line,” her character, Diana Morales, sings “Nothing,” a song about wanting to be onstage. Harris said, “It’s about finding your truth in something.”

Herrick agreed, saying “I can’t see another alternative for myself.” She’ll be at Ithaca College this fall.

 

Dancers rehearse “A Chorus Line.” Courtesy Chris Joyce.

Putting on the show had its challenges, such as learning the ’70s references: “We learned that ‘Peyton Place’ was not a person,” Herrick said. Wittman, who will study film at NYU, had to make all the set pieces and changes fit and run smoothly.
Happonen, who will attend Muhlenberg, had to relate to her character, Val, who sings “Dance 10, Looks 3.” Happonen laughed that she would never get plastic surgery, like Val, for a role. She could imagine cutting her hair or gaining weight.

“A Chorus Line,” with its look into a performer’s life, the book was developed from workshops with Broadway dancers, some of whom were eventually in the show) has sparked reflection and nostalgia for the company. “In eighth grade I saw ‘Hairspray,’” said Wittman, who will study film at NYU. “Sydney [Miede] looked at me and said, ‘you’re going to do that.’” And now she does:
“You don’t realize you’re growing up.”

To show off the SVPA company of dancers, singers and actors, Pepper expanded the company of “A Chorus Line” from 18 to 33.
This is the biggest group of SVPA students who’ve chosen to pursue performing arts careers, and Pepper “wanted it to resonate in a big way.”

And it does: Though some of the roles in “A Chorus Line” are actors who’ve been around for a while, others, like Judy, the wide-eyed Texan played by Herrick, “seem to have just gotten off the bus. It’s a hopeful moment.”

Miede, in contrast, plays Sheila, an older, sassy dancer, who’s “been there and done that.” But Sheila also sings in the trio “At the Ballet,” displaying her vulnerable inside and love of dance. Miede, who will study dance at the University of Michigan, said she really connected with the character there.

A performer’s life isn’t an easy one: that’s the message of the long-running “A Chorus Line,” and it isn’t lost on the cast. To get into conservatory programs, the girls had to go on an “audition track,” said Harris. While you imagine a career as a straight line, Harris said she already sees that it’s “curved, backwards, upside down, circular. It’s a weird path. That’s what made telling this so relatable. It’s OK not to have a linear path.”

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