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Gallery Players plan fearless season; Family Theatre to do new and classic works

for The Brooklyn Paper

Mary Ruth Goodley, who heads the Gallery Players’ selection committee, says it’s always "about the work." This season "the work" includes dramas, comedies and musicals - with many tackling controversial topics.

"What appeals to Gallery Players is doing plays that not everybody else will do," she told GO Brooklyn. As an example, Goodley said, "We try to do three very different musicals every season."

The first play of this season, "The Laramie Project," by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project, is decidedly not a musical. It is a theatrical collage that explains the 1998 murder of a 21-year-old gay college student who was savagely beaten and left to die tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming.

Faithfully transcribed from some 200 hours of interviews, police records and court testimony collected over six trips to Laramie, "The Laramie Project" is an attempt to understand how and why such a heinous crime could have been committed. The play premiered in Feb. 2000 at the Denver Center Theater, close enough to Laramie for many of the people who lived in that sleepy college town to come see the play. In May 2000, "The Laramie Project" moved to the Union Square Theater, in Manhattan, and six months later the production went to Laramie. In 2002, the Sundance Film Festival screened the world premiere of the HBO film version.

Neal Freeman directs the Gallery Players production, which runs Sept. 10-25 at its Park Slope theater.

Since that time there has been some controversy over whether the murder really was a hate crime, as was thought at first, or the result of a robbery.

"We weren’t certain we still wanted to do it," says Goodley. "But then we decided, yes, we like controversy."

"The Fantasticks," which ran from May 3, 1960 to Jan. 13, 2002, is considered the longest running musical in the world, but according to Goodley, "You’d be surprised how many people haven’t seen it." This season many of those people will at last have the opportunity to see Tom Jones’ (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt’s (music) masterpiece.

Dominic Cuskern will direct the Gallery Players’ production of this all-time favorite about the triumph of love over life’s vicissitudes, which features such standards as "Try to Remember" and "Soon It’s Gonna Rain."

"It’s a simple, sweet musical. It appeals to the family," says Goodley. But the Gallery Players will have a short run of it - Oct. 15 through Nov. 6, so save the date.

The third play of the season, Christopher Durang’s "The Marriage of Bette and Boo," is the story of a quintessentially dysfunctional marriage - the playwright concedes that his absurdly funny and sad play is based on the marriage of his own parents - told in 33 mostly quick scenes.

Joseph Papp first presented the show at the New York Shakespeare Festival on May 16, 1985, and since then it has been considered Durang’s best work. The Gallery Players’ "Marriage of Bette and Boo" will run Nov. 26 through Dec. 11.

"[It] is a dark comedy," says Goodley. "That’s the funniest of comedies if it’s well done. Heather [Curran] is directing, and I’m not worried at all."

These days we seem to be in the midst of a spate of "As You Like It" productions. Back in January The Royal Bath Theater presented the play, directed by Peter Hall, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Fort Greene, and most recently the Brooklyn Theatre Arts Project staged the play in Bay Ridge.

Neal Freeman will direct the Gallery Players’ Jan. 14-29 production, of Shakespeare’s sylvan comedy in which four couples eventually unite in love.

Goodley says that for awhile the committee was torn between "Blood Brothers," a musical about twins who are separated at birth, and "Side Show," a musical based on the true story of Violet and Daisy Hilton, a set of conjoined twins who were connected for life.

"We discussed back and forth and finally decided to do ’Side Show,’" says Goodley, although the Players have yet to choose a director to helm the ’Show’ which runs Feb. 18 through March 12. "It’s a little more risky and groups like ours generally don’t do it."

First produced at the Richard Rodgers Theater in 1997, "Side Show," with a book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Harry Krieger, ran for 91 performances and earned four Tony nominations including one for Best Musical.

Goodley says that "Take Me Out" was "about the first play everyone wanted." As the recipient of the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play and a nominee for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, "Take Me Out" was certainly a desirable choice and Goodley says the Gallery Players went through considerable lengths - such as sending reviews and articles - to convince playwright Richard Greenberg’s agent to allow them the rights.

"Take Me Out," which will be directed by Matt Schicker April 1-16, is about what happens when a star baseball player goes public with his homosexuality at a press conference.

"Everyone had seen [’Take Me Out’] and loved it" says Goodley. "It’s different, and it’s good for us."

The last revival of the season is "Once on This Island," a musical with book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. This twist on the traditional "Little Mermaid" tale tells the story of Ti Moune, a peasant girl, who falls in love with Daniel, an upper class boy whose life she saves after a car crash.

Set in the French Antilles, the show reflects the myths and music of its Caribbean roots. It first opened on Broadway in 1990 and ran for 489 performances.

Goodley says that the big question with "Once on This Island" was "are we going to get the talent?" because the play uses ethnic actors who don’t typically audition for the Gallery Players. But after some discussion the committee decided "this is something we would like to do more of" and proceeded with the musical, which will be directed by Steven Smeltzer, May 6-28.

If the Gallery Players chooses plays that involve some risk, it’s to a great extent the result of an open-minded policy on the part of the selection committee.

"Gratuitous sex or foul language for the sake of it might not work for us," says Goodley. "But if the play has a good storyline and something to say, I can’t think there’s anything that would stop us."


Brooklyn Family Theatre

Brooklyn Family Theatre’s fifth season presents new and classic plays that are appropriate and entertaining for the entire family.

The excitement begins with a one-night-only production of "The Music Hall Revusical," an original musical with book, music and lyrics by Brooklyn Family Theatre co-founder Phill Greenland. Originally intended as a fundraiser for Jay Entertainment Music Society, "The Music Hall Revusical" is returning to Brooklyn after being developed and workshopped during what Greenland calls a "theatrical adventure in the Adirondacks."

"’Revusical’ was something we created from scratch," says Greenland, who will direct the show. "Our audience and people in this community wanted it to be performed in Brooklyn."

The Sept. 10 show re-creates an evening in a British music hall in the year 1905 and features 11 actual music hall songs from the era and an additional 11 written by Greenland.

The second show of the season (Oct. 28-Nov. 20) is a classic version of an old favorite - the Royal Shakespeare Company’s "The Wizard of Oz."

"I wanted to do something that was bigger and that’s become part of American mythology," says Greenland.

"There was a great deal of music and material not in the film because the movie could only be so long," Greenland explains. "The Scarecrow’s song [’If I Only Had a Brain’], the Tin Man’s song [’If I Only Had a Heart’] and the Cowardly Lion’s song [’If I Only Had the Nerve’] are all longer."

The BFT production, directed by Jonathan Valuckas, will also include an introductory verse to "Over the Rainbow" and the entire "Jitterbug," which Greenland says is "largely a dance piece Dorothy and her three friends perform in the forest right in front of the witch’s castle. The jitterbugs are crazy monsters in the forest."

On March 10, and continuing through April 2, BFT returns to the world of Charlie Brown with "Snoopy The Musical," directed by Greenland.

"In the spring we usually do a smaller more ensemble-based production," Greenland told GO Brooklyn. "We had so much fun with [’You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ during the 2003-2004 season] we figured let’s go do ’Snoopy.’"

With a book by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, music by Larry Grossman and lyrics by Hal Hackady, the show opened at the off-Broadway Lamb Theatre in 1982. When it was produced in London, more songs were added, and this is the version Greenland says "we’re going to be able to get a hold of."

"Snoopy, The Musical" is a 90-minute romp through the Peanuts world as seen through canine eyes. There’s the dramatic vigil to see the Great Pumpkin, Lucy’s psychiatric booth, a visit from the Easter Beagle, a book report on Edgar Allen Poe, Linus without his blanket on wash day and Woodstock falling in love with a worm.

 

A season’s subscription to the Gallery Players 2005-2006 season, which begins with "The Laramie Project" Sept. 10-25, is $90; single tickets are $15, $12 children under age 12 and seniors. The Gallery Players theater is located at 199 14th St., between Fourth and Fifth avenues, in Park Slope. For more information, call (718) 595-0547 or visit the Web site at www.galleryplayers.com.

Brooklyn Family Theatre performs at the Church of Gethsemane, 1012 Eighth Ave. at 10th Street in Park Slope beginning with "The Music Hall Revusical" on Sept. 10 at 7 pm. Tickets are $12. For more information, call (718) 670-7205 or visit www.brooklynfamilytheatre.com.

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