Playhouse in the Park review: ‘Last Wide Open,’ by Audrey Cefaly, is Hard to Describe but Easy to Experience

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) star in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of “The Last Wide Open,” written by Audrey Cefaly. The show runs in the Shelterhouse Theatre through March 10.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) star in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of “The Last Wide Open,” written by Audrey Cefaly. The show runs in the Shelterhouse Theatre through March 10. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner)?

There is something wonderfully effortless about “The Last Wide Open,” which had its world premiere at the Playhouse in the Park Thursday evening.

That’s not a very compelling description, I know. But it’s a compliment. You see, Audrey Cefaly’s play defies all those laws of time and logic that we grew up with. It’s a play that should, by all rights, be utterly confusing. And, I suppose, if you’re one of those people who insists on grasping every last shred of reason out of a script, it still can be.

But why would you go to the theater and battle the playwright? This is the person you’ve asked to take you on a journey. Give in. Trust your playwright. Give yourself a chance to be enriched by the ride. And what an enchanting ride Cefaly and her cast – and director Blake Robison – take us on.

It all takes place in a small Italian restaurant called Frankie’s. There are just two characters; Lina and Roberto. He’s an Italian immigrant, while she is someone always wanting something she doesn’t have. That has the makings of a story. But Cefaly isn’t content with that. She’s leading us into an adventure.

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) are seen in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open,” which runs through March 10 in the Shelterhouse Theatre.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) are seen in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open,” which runs through March 10 in the Shelterhouse Theatre. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner)

“The Last Wide Open,” you see, is more than a love story. It is three variations on the same story. All three take place on the same day in the same place. What does that mean, exactly? Well, in the first section of the play, Roberto has spent five years as a dishwasher at Frankie’s. In the second, he’s still the same man, but he is a teacher who is helping out at his uncle’s restaurant – Frankie’s. In the third, he is a bus boy who has only just arrived in America. We meet three different faces of Lina, too; as an impatient, directionless server, a nurse and finally, a part-time server who is a week away from being married.

Confused? Probably, because this sounds much more complicated on paper than when it is played out in front of us. Cefaly has created characters who are, in many ways, just like the rest of us. Sure, there are actorly demands. But Lina and Roberto are people coping with anxiety, longing, uncertainty and the greatest burden of all, trying to find meaning in the humdrum of everyday life.

Is there sadness? Definitely. And apprehension and anger, too. And love? We hope there will be, because by the time we’re a few minutes into the play, we really like these characters. A lot. Kimberly Gilbert (Lina) is a bundle of . . . well, I was going to say “nerves.” That’s true. But there is so much more. Not only does she feel immobilized by the pressures of life, but she is also in a constant dither. Her greatest pride, it seems, is in the precision with which she mops the restaurant floor. And as Roberto, Marcus Kyd seems unflappable, no matter how muddled and chaotic the situation around him. Perhaps he has learned that, as a man with only a rough understanding of English, the safest way to proceed is to smile a lot. And nod occasionally. And be charming. 

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert, L) is seen here Debra Hildebrand, the properties running crew chief of the Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse Theatre. Gilbert is one of the two actors in the world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open.” While Hildebrand isn’t formally a cast member, she repeatedly steps in and out of the action of the play, which runs through March 10.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert, L) is seen here Debra Hildebrand, the properties running crew chief of the Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse Theatre. Gilbert is one of the two actors in the world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open.” While Hildebrand isn’t formally a cast member, she repeatedly steps in and out of the action of the play, which runs through March 10. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner.)

Oh – there is one more person on the stage, as well. Debra Hildebrand is the chief of the theater’s properties running crew. She’s the one in charge of making sure all that “stuff” on the stage is in the right place at the right time. Usually, the role would have her hidden backstage. But Cefaly wants everyone to be a part of the mix. So Hildebrand wanders in and out at significant moments, moving errant forks or handing the actors musical instruments – just being there when she’s needed. And she has a lovely presence, like a favorite aunt wafting in and out of the room.

There are a handful of songs, too. Written by Matthew M. Nielson, they’re not big musical numbers. They’re more like musical ruminations, except that they’re funnier and more clever than that description makes them sound. 

“The Last Wide Open” is much harder to describe than it is to experience. Remember, it’s “effortless,” even in its unusual dramatic format. Should it be three separate plays? Played by separate actors? Who knows? That’s up to Cefaly. And the world she chooses to wrap us all up in is one that manages to be mystical and real. And charming. As I mentioned earlier, trust her. And trust her writing. And while you’re at it, trust her characters, too, no matter where they take us.

Read the full review from the Cincinnati.com here.

The WIZ is Coming to the Muny!

The Wiz

June 19 – 25

FIRST MUNY PRODUCTION IN 36 YEARS!

Based on L. Frank Baum’s nostalgic classic, The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wiz is considered a cultural phenomenon sparkling with heart-pounding soul, unforgettable gospel and infectious rock rhythms. Grammy Award-winner for Best Cast Show Album, and ranked as one of the highest watched live television musicals, this reimagined familiar favorite will have you ready to “Ease on Down the Road” to meet The Wiz for yourself!

 

For more ticketing information, click here.

Paper Mill’s World Premiere of The Honeymooners Musical Began September 28

Laura Bell Bundy, Leslie Kritzer, Michael Mastro, and Michael McGrath

Paper Mill Playhouse, by arrangement with Jeffrey Finn, presents the world-premiere production of the new musical comedy The Honeymooners, based on the CBS television series of the same name, beginning September 28.  Music by Stephen Weiner and Lyrics by Peter Mills.

Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando, with choreography by Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse, and musical direction and vocal arrangements by Remy Kurs, the production continues at the New Jersey venue through October 29.

The cast is headed by Tony Award winner Michael McGrath as Ralph Kramden, Michael Mastro as Ed Norton, Leslie Kritzer as Alice Kramden, and Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy as Trixie Norton, with Lewis Cleale as Bryce Bennett, Lewis J. Stadlen as Old Man Faciamatta, and David Wohl as Allen Upshaw.

The ensemble features Holly Ann Butler, Chris Dwan, Hannah Florence, Tessa Grady, Stacey Todd Holt, Ryan Kasprzak, Drew King, Eloise Kropp, Harris Milgrim, Justin Prescott, Lance Roberts, Jeffrey Schecter, Britton Smith, Alison Solomon, Michael Walters, and Kevin Worley.

Read the full article from Playbill Online here.

MadLab’s Ohio Premiere Production of AND THEN THEY FELL by Tira Palmquist

MadLab’s Ohio premiere production of And Then They Fell by Tira Palmquist will take place Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 6 – 21, 2017, with a special preview performance on Thursday, Oct.5, at MadLab, 227 N. 3rd St., in Columbus. Admission is $18 for the general public, $15 for students and seniors and $13 for MadLab members. Tickets are available online at www.madlab.net.

JorDan Matthews would be fine, if her mother could hold down a decent job, or if her mother hadn’t been arrested on another DUI, or if her mother’s boyfriend wasn’t a skeevy bastard. But things aren’t fine, and Jordan’s life is falling apart. The adults in her life are either impotent or uninterested, and the only solace comes from out of the blue.

Tira Palmquist’s plays include Overburden, Two Degrees (Denver Center), Ten Mile Lake (Serenbe Playhouse), Age of Bees (MadLab Theater, Tesseract), And Then They Fell (Brimmer Street, New York Film Academy). Two Degrees had its World Premiere in the Denver Center’s 2016/17 Season and was also listed in the 2016 Kilroys Honorable Mention List. Ten Mile Lake, which premiered in 2014 at Serenbe Playhouse just outside of Atlanta, GA, was a finalist for the 2015 Primus Prize. Her work as a director and dramaturg includes several seasons at the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference and the New Territories Playwriting Residency, a program she developed with Brian Clowdus at Serenbe Playhouse in Georgia. More info at www.tirapalmquist.com.

Read more from Broadway World here.

Trinity Rep Announces New Artistic Director Title After Generous Donation

Trinity Rep has announced that it has received a generous multi-year donation from Arthur P. Solomon and Sally E. Lapides to support its company, community, and education-focused mission. In celebration of this commitment, Trinity Rep’s artistic director position, held by Curt Columbus, will be named “The Arthur P. Solomon and Sally E. Lapides Artistic Director” through June 2022.

“We consider Trinity Rep to be one of Rhode Island’s real jewels and Curt Columbus to be its outstanding artistic director,” said Solomon and. Lapides. “Therefore, both of us feel honored to be associated with such a world class theater and artistic leader.”

“It is a great honor for me, both personally and professionally, to be associated with both Art and Sally,” said Curt Columbus. “Sally Lapides and her family have been supporters of Trinity Repertory Company since its founding, and she is one of the premier corporate and philanthropic leaders of Rhode Island. Art Solomon is a world class businessman who has made his home in Providence. In getting to know him, I have been struck by his intellect, his heart, and his capacity for understanding art. They are people of taste, experience, and class. I know that their naming of the artistic director chair at Trinity brings their imprimatur with it, and I am beyond thrilled.”

Arthur P. Solomon and Sally E. Lapides’ gift supports Trinity Rep’s commitment to reinventing the public square and inspiring dialogue by creating emotionally-stimulating live productions and innovative education programs for all ages and abilities.

Rhode Island’s Tony Award-winning theater, Trinity Rep has created unparalleled professional theater for and with its community since its founding in 1963. Trinity Rep strives to facilitate human connection and has been a driving force behind the creativity that fuels and defines the region for more than 50 years.

Trinity Rep is committed to reinventing the public square and inspiring dialogue by creating emotionally-stimulating live productions that range from classical to contemporary and innovative education programs for all ages and abilities. Its annual production of A Christmas Carol has brought families together for 40 years and made memories for over a million audience members.

Subscriptions for the 2017-18 season are now on sale. The season includes Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morisseau, Into the Breeches! by George Brant, Othello by William Shakespeare, Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías, and Ragtime by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the box office at (401) 351-4242 or visit Trinity Rep’s website at www.TrinityRep.com.