Arts Around Town: 'Mommalogues' premiere in New York is Lehigh Valley writers' dream come true
It’s a writer’s dream come to life. It’s “Mommalogues,” whose evolution from world-premiere in Allentown to debut on the New York stage culminates Wednesday with a new production presented by Marvell Repertory Theatre at The Barrow Group Mainstage Theatre, 312 W. 36th St., 3rd floor, New York. The play runs through June 2.
“Mommalogues” was the subject of this blog for Mother’s Day Weekend 2012, and fittingly so, with a successful, world premiere at Civic Theatre of Allentown’s Theatre514. Lehigh Valley playwrights and close friends Sharon Lee Glassman and Gretchen Klinedinst Furst joined their life experiences based on their own mothers and mother figures – including aunts, grandmothers and teachers -- influential in shaping their lives and produced 20 original, emotionally-charged monologues that held universal appeal as they honored the infinite bond. The 111-minute project with eight actresses and three performances was produced as a benefit for Civic Theatre.
What Glassman and Klinedinst Furst never expected was that their script would reach the hands of a New York company who wanted to offer the play in their season offerings. An actress had sent “Mommalogues” to Lenny Leibowitz and Amy Estes, founders of Marvell Repertory Theatre, recognized as New York’s only professional theater devoted exclusively to producing new and enduring works in rotating repertory. After a meeting with the two playwrights, it was agreed that William Sanders, Civic Theatre’s artistic director and the original director of “Mommalogues,” would continue with the project.
According to Estes, Marvell was seeking “a contemporary piece with commercial appeal” to help expand its offerings. What proved attractive, she said, was the play’s “flexible cast size, humor and emotional power, and almost universal appeal. I knew it was the perfect fit, and I felt we were in a position to help it reach the larger audience it deserves.”
Glassman was an English/Theater teacher at Emmaus High School when she first met Klinedinst Furst, a student teacher from Kutztown University who was assigned to her classroom. The two formed an immediate bond. Having their play hit the New York stage “was not in our pipeline,” Glassman explained. “Its purpose was to raise money for Civic. What’s happening now is overwhelming and really exciting. It’s put a new eye on the work.”
Some serious editing by Glassman and Klinedinst Furst of the original production pared the monologues, as well as the cast to four actresses, and a run time of 85 minutes with no intermission. They agree that the heart of the play has remained intact.
It was Glassman who conceived the idea of “Mommalogues” during a morning walk along a Florida beach. “There’s nothing like the ocean to make one contemplate the most meaningful and profound parts of life,” she recalled. “As memories of my own mom (Elizabeth) and ones I am making with my daughter (Lee) are so important in my life, I guess it was natural that I just started writing in my head. I walked a really long time that morning, and by the end of the walk, ‘Mommalogues’ was born.”
Glassman said she called Klinedinst Furst, the mother of two daughters who also was passionate about writing, and asked her if she would like to collaborate on the project. Klinedinst Furst shared a wonderful relationship with her own mother (Ruthie) and had no hesitation in coming on board.
The next step in the journey was the audition process in New York, beginning with “a huge, virtual open call,” Sanders explained, on the Internet site, Actors Access, and some 2,000 resumes answering the call. Glassman and Sanders selected 110 actresses who would audition within a three-day schedule. Glassman said she sat through hundreds of auditions in her life, but “auditioning people to perform Gretchen and my personal work added a unique dimension to the process, and it was quite an emotional experience.”
The New York cast of “Mommalogues” features Claire Duncan (Momma 1), Elizabeth Stahlmann (Momma 2), Lisa Riegel (Momma 3) and Sheila Stasack (Momma 4). Klinedinst Furst and local actress Kathy Patterson of Allentown, who has appeared in Civic Theatre productions including “A Christmas Carol” and “Little Women,” will serve as understudies.
Duncan, Stahlmann and Riegel collectively have performed in New York and regional theater, film and television. Duncan received Honorable Mention for Best Actress in “End of the Line” at West Village Musical Theatre Festival and in the Drama Desk-nominated “Three Penny Opera” with Marvell Repertory Company. Stahlmann most recently toured with The Acting Company/Guthrie Theatre’s “As You Like It.” Riegel performed with Jeremy Irons and Brian Stokes Mitchell as part of the ensemble in “Camelot” and “Oliver,” respectively, at the Schubert Theatre. Stasack has performed on international and national stages in such classic roles as Lady Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet,” Gertrude in “Hamlet” and Polina in “The Seagull.” She has appeared in the TV series, “Law and Order,” and TV soaps, “One Life to Live” and “The Guiding Light.”
“Anyone who has a ‘momma’ will relate to ‘Mommalogues,’ especially mothers and daughters,” said Sanders, who’s been at the helm of Civic’s productions for more than 20 years. In addition to his offerings of classical and comedic, and musical theater in the Lehigh Valley, he’s also recognized for his cutting-edge theater and premieres of many plays immediately after they leave Broadway. He has directed Off-Broadway and regional theater, and has served as an assistant director on Broadway.
For the New York production of “Mommalogues,” Sanders enlisted former University of North Carolina School of the Arts classmate Deann Simmons Halper as associate director. The mother of two adult sons, she is an actor, director and producer both Off-Broadway and regionally. She produced the OBIE-nominated “Incommunicado” and “The Vagina Monologues,” and also has served on the boards of Circle Rep Theatre Company in New York and the TriArts Sharon (CT) Playhouse.
“I hope people who see ‘Mommalogues’ are moved and in some way changed by the material,” Simmons Halper said. “The team has been wonderful to work with. They’ve been open to suggestions. They’re warrior moms, fighting for their baby. We just want to make it happen for them.”
Sanders said those who come to see the production should leave “appreciating their own mothers and mother figures and spending some time in honoring their own stories. ...Anyone who has a spot in their heart for how they came to be who they are, and who helped them along the way, will be moved. That road always leads back to parents, or parent figures…Mommas, daughters, mentors, friends. …We can learn the risks we take in our parent-child relationships and take the time to remember how precious they are.”
If nothing else comes of the project, Klinedinst Furst said “the journey from the very beginning has been total creative joy starting from its conception in Sharon’s head. I personally needed a creative outlet as a stay-at-home mom. We brought stories to the table and connected back to our own families. The response from Civic audiences was humbling. The New York project is icing on the cake, and if it ends here, I can truly say it has been a wonderful, incredible journey.”
“Wicked Divas” bring Broadway favorites to the local stage on Saturday at 8 p.m., when Elphaba and Glinda from Broadway’s “Wicked” join with the Reading Symphony Orchestra in the final program of its 100th anniversary season at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center. The showcase also will feature favorites from “Gypsy,” “Ragtime,” “Titanic,” and opera selections from George Bizet’s “Carmen.” Guest conductor is Kayoko Dan, currently with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.
For further info: readingsymphony.org
It’s time to dust off those tap shoes and join National Tap Dance Day, with local Tap Ties 8th annual celebration Saturday and Sunday with master tap classes and a performance showcase at Cedar Crest College in Allentown.
Guest faculty includes Shelley Oliver, Germaine Salsberg, Robert F. Burden, Jr., Corinne Karon, Jeremy Arnold, and Tap Ties company member Melody Kline. The Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers performance is possible in part by a Project Stream Grant from the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. Tap Ties is tap company-in-residence at Cedar Crest College.
For further info: tapties.com
Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem is the scene of Touchstone Theatre’s 8th annual Young Playwrights Festival on Saturday at 7 p.m., a showcase of new plays written by local elementary and middle school students. A gala reception will follow.
The evening is a culmination of an eight-week, after-school residency, Young Playwrights Lab, developed by Touchstone and the Bethlehem Area School District. This year’s participating schools in Bethlehem and Allentown include Central Elementary, Donegan Elementary, Dual Language Charter School, Freemansburg Elementary, Harrison Morton Middle, and Lincoln Elementary.
For further info: touchstone.org
Camelot for Children, based in Allentown, will be doing another fundraising “Shindig” with plenty of dancing on Nov. 16, with a musical act soon to be announced. In the meantime, a Magical March is set for Saturday on the SteelStacks campus in South Bethlehem. Presented by Josh Early Candies, the event benefits the nonprofit organization which provides a social gathering place and support network for youngsters who are seriously, chronically or terminally ill or disabled, as well as their families.
Registration kicks off at 8:30 a.m., at the Air Products Town Square at SteelStacks, with welcoming ceremonies at 9:30 a.m., and the March step-off at 10 a.m. The route is stroller and wheelchair friendly; there will be a Resource Fair, refreshments and entertainment.
For more info: camelotforchildren.org
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