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.

Playing on Air Podcast Featuring RULES OF COMEDY by Patricia Cotter

Caroline can’t find anything funny — not her awkward love life, not her jaded standup coach Guy, and definitely not the punchlines she’s been reading in 101 Dirty Jokes. 

Originally produced at the Humana Festival at the Actors Theater of Louisville, Patricia Cotter‘s RULES OF COMEDY is a playful, wry look at the lives of comedians when they dare to go offstage and off script. Directed by Jonathan Bernstein, Cotter’s short comedy stars Louisa Krause (The Flick, Billions, PoA’s Winter Gamesand Michael Esper (Trust, The Last Ship, PoA’s Anniversary). After the play, stay tuned for an artist interview about the playwright’s background in comedy, avoiding the pull towards bitterness, and toeing the line with your material.

“Cotter’s script is lush with the knowledge of standup comedy… this play is a scream” – Todd Zeigler, Broadway World Reviews

More about Playing on Air here.

Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Premiere of GRUMPY OLD MEN

The legendary Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to produce five spectacular musicals for its upcoming season that includes … the U.S. premiere of the hilarious new musical Grumpy Old Men.

We have also been following the development of the brand new musical version of Grumpy Old Men and are delighted and honored to produce the U.S premiere of this hilarious new production for Playhouse audiences this season.

Season ticket subscription packages are on sale now and the only way to guarantee the best seats for the best price to these five exciting shows! Prices start at only $247 for a five-show package and $147 for a three-show package. Gift certificates and Flex Passes are also on sale online and through the Box Office. Individual tickets are on sale exclusively for Ogunquit Playhouse members beginning Tuesday, February 20. Individual tickets sales begin Monday, February 26 with prices starting at $52.

Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a grumpy ride! The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to produce the U.S. premiere of the new musical-comedy, Grumpy Old Men: The Musical – on stage August 8 to September 1 and just in time to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the classic 1993 Warner Brothers film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret. This hilarious new show was penned by Dan Remmes, with music by Neil Berg and lyrics by Nick Meglin. Two aging neighbors, Max and John, have been feuding for more than fifty years until the beautiful and charming Ariel moves in across the street -raising the rivalry to new heights! Don’t miss this laugh-out-loud story of family, friendship, love and romance in a fresh new musical that’s guaranteed to delight!

Learn more here from Maine Broadway World!

Emma Stanton Announced as a Premiere Stages at Kean University 2018 Finalist

(UNION, NJ) — Premiere Stages, the professional theatre company in residence at Kean University, has selected its four finalists for the 2018 Premiere Play Festival and will increase its cash awards for honored playwrights by one-third, the theatre announced. Premiere Stages received a record 572 submissions for the festival, an annual competition for unproduced scripts that offers developmental opportunities to playwrights with strong affiliations to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  The 572 submissions marked a 43% jump from 2017, and represented playwrights of all backgrounds and ages. For the first time in the festival’s 14-year history, three of the four finalist scripts selected were requested from synopses submitted by playwrights.

“We are very excited to be developing an eclectic and topical mix of plays as part of the 2018 Play Festival,” stated John J. Wooten, producing artistic director of Premiere Stages. “Interest from playwrights and audiences in the Festival has grown substantially in the past few seasons and we are pleased to feature some impressive writers whose dramatic voices are just starting to emerge.”

No Candy by Emma Stanton, a former recipient of the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship and resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists.  Sunday, March 18 at 3:00pm – No Candy by Emma Stanton – A multi-generational community of Bosnian Muslim women copes, both privately and publicly, with the trauma they experienced during the war. Set in a gift shop near the Srebrenica massacre memorial, the play follows how each woman seeks redemption: one dreams of Julie Andrews, one sings grunge music at karaoke bars, one dresses drag in her father’s clothes. No Candy provides a thought-provoking exploration of the persistence of humor, art, and absurdity in an unimaginable time.

All finalists will receive professional readings as part of Premiere’s 14th annual Spring Reading Series (March 15-18), directed by Mr. Wooten and Jessi D. Hill, Literary Team Chair for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and will be considered for expanded development in Premiere’s mainstage season. One of the four plays will be selected for an Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) 29-Hour Reading in June, and the most promising play will be awarded a full AEA production as part of Premiere’s 2018 season. All finalists receive cash awards ranging from $750 to $2,500.

Read more about the nominations here.

School Shooting Brings Lessons of ‘Mockingbird’ into Sharp Focus

On the first day of rehearsals for its upcoming production of “Mockingbird,” Nashville Children’s Theatre Executive Artistic Director Ernie Nolan spoke to the cast and crew about the play’s themes of understanding and healing in the wake of school violence. But there’s no way he could have known just how timely that conversation would be, in light of the recent shooting that took place in Parkland, Fla.

“Usually, we tell stories that are very ‘Once upon a time,’” Nolan says. “But ‘Mockingbird’ is so current, so of the moment. It’s shocking to think that we are literally responding to what is happening in our schools right now.”

"Mockingbird With Red Beak" is one of the drawings
“Mockingbird With Red Beak” is one of the drawings by local artist Sarah E. Vaughn featured in “Mockingbird” at Nashville Children’s Theatre. (Photo: Sarah E. Vaughn )

Based on the award-winning book by Kathryn Erskine and adapted for the stage by Julie Jensen, “Mockingbird” centers on Caitlin, an 11-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, who must navigate the complicated emotions surrounding grief and loss when her older brother is killed in a school shooting.

“For me, this show is really about empathy. It’s about a community responding to violence. But because of the specific difficulties facing our main character, she is quite literally discovering what it means to have empathy. She’s dealing with her own feelings, while trying to understand her father and everyone else searching for closure. It’s such a beautiful story, and I think it really offers an important springboard for conversation for both children and parents.”

Nolan has enlisted a pair of Broadway designers to bring “Mockingbird” to life, including scenic designer Court Watson (“Guys & Dolls,” “The Coast of Utopia,” “Grease!,” “Little Women,” “High Fidelity”) and sound designer Joanna Lynne Staub (“Angels in America,” “The Color Purple,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”).

“It’s been so exciting to work with these amazing artists. We’re really thrilled to have Court and Joanna on board, along with the rest of our incredible cast and design team.”

 

Read the full article from the Tennessean here.