‘Exit the King’ is a Stimulating Piece of Theater

Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco and translated by Donald Watson. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 2016. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Pictured: Brent Harris. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco and translated by Donald Watson. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 2016. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Pictured: Brent Harris. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

Exit the King opened last weekend at Madison’s Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. The production will have a very short run as it closes on August 28. Written by Eugene Ionesco, it has been called a tragi-comedy, a dark comedy, and even a parable or allegory. This play stimulates a theater goer’s imagination to make connections to one’s own beliefs about death, life, and maybe even political situations. A visit to the theater to see this play will not only provide a show that is entertaining, but also loads of topics for discussion at a post theater chat and even later if one decides to go to an apres-theater dessert outing.

Directed by NJ Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Bonnie Monte, Exit the King is a story about the oncoming and inevitable death of King Berenger. The King does not realize or want to accept that he is about to die. The plot develops as the characters around him determine their own feelings about whether or not they are ready to let their King die. For example, his current wife, Queen Marie, demonstrates immaturity and dependency because her own position in life will be compromised when the King dies. But on the other hand, his first wife who is older, Queen Marguerite, understands where he is headed and helps him gain an understanding of the events to come.

b71af47a-0f96-4c0c-a7bd-595dbe5d502f
Pictured left to right: Kristie Dale Sanders, Brent Harris, Jon Barker, and Jesmille Darbouze. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

This is a very physical show where one sees King Berenger falling many times. Sometimes he is helped up and other times not. But a word of warning for some; the entire 90 minute show is about the man moving into death. If that is not a topic you can handle, then this might not be the show for you. However, the use of symbolism plays heavily into the action as it takes place. Perhaps if someone is not willing to think about that subject, they will allow their own view to go into other directions mentioned in the show such as the state of the country the King rules.  However, some of the major aspects explored deal with basic ways that people deal with when someone around them is dying. Do they let the person go easily or do they try to hold on maybe too long?

Although parts of the play are presented with lines that draw laughs, other parts are very serious and intense. The scene between Queen Marguerite and King Berenger is especially touching as she tries to reassure him that he has had a good life and it is okay to allow death to come. Perhaps because she is older, she is able to do this. And maybe because as an audience member, I am older and saw it in this way. The eventual state of death that the King appears to enter has a very serene quality about it. It is theater at its best.

In a fascinating post-show Talk Back with Director Bonnie Monte and the cast, after the Sunday night, Aug. 14th show, Ms. Monte explained that the play can have a variety of meanings. The thoughts of the audience were very interesting to listen to and to see how many different things were seen and imagined by different people. It lends credence to this play and is a perfect example of how theater can be for all. If you are going to see this show, make plans to stay for the post-show Talk Back as it is quite enlightening to hear.

Pictured left to right: Kristie Dale Sanders, Marion Adler, Jon Barker, Jesmille Darbouze, Brent Harris, and Greg Watanabe. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.
Pictured left to right: Kristie Dale Sanders, Marion Adler, Jon Barker, Jesmille Darbouze, Brent Harris, and Greg Watanabe. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

This production has a strong cast of actors who give intensity to their parts to help the audience feel the pain, sorrow, and in some cases relief that the characters are going through. This is an ensemble effort however, Brent Harris as Berenger the First, the King and Marion Adler as Queen Marguerite are indeed the two roles with the most effect on all that occurs. Their acting is splendid in every way. Jon Barker plays the role of the Guard with loads of finesse and dry humor. Kristie Dale Sanders plays a very comical Juliette, the maid. Greg Watanabe plays The Doctor who is analytical as well as practical. Jesmille Darbouze plays the role of Queen Marie with great heart.

Additional Information
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission – There is a Talk Back after each show.
Artistic Staff:Set Designer – Hugh Hanson, Sound Designer – Karin Graybash, Production StageMmanager – Christine Whalen
Location: Main Stage: The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), Madison, NJ
Performances: Tuesdays (7:30 p.m.): August 16 and 23, Wednesdays (7:30 p.m.): August 10, 17 and 24, Thursdays (8:00 p.m.): August 11, 18 and 25, Fridays (8:00 p.m.): August 12, 19 and 26, Saturdays (2:00 p.m.): August 13, 20 and 27, Saturday (7:30 p.m.): Opening Night on August 13 Saturdays (8:00 p.m.): August 20 and 27, Sundays (2:00 p.m.): August 14, 21 and 28, Sundays (7:30 p.m.): August 14 and 21
Contact for Info and Tickets: Call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org
Suggested Audience:
Post-Show Symposium Performances: All performances starting on August 14 through the end of the run.
Know The Show: Thursday, August 18 at 7:00 p.m. and curtain at 8:00 p.m. This program is free with the purchase of a performance ticket, and for Exit the King will be held Thursday, August 18 at 7:00 p.m., with the show commencing at 8:00 p.m. Ms. Monte will present this talk.

‘Butler’ Gives New Look at a Civil War Incident

L-R: Benjamin Sterling (as Lieutenant Kelly) and Ames Adamson (as Benjamin Butler) in Richard Strand’s BUTLER, directed by Joseph Discher, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
L-R: Benjamin Sterling (as Lieutenant Kelly) and Ames Adamson (as Benjamin Butler) in Richard Strand’s BUTLER, directed by Joseph Discher, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

A play set during the early days of the Civil War opened last week at New York City’s 59E59 Theaters. Butler, by playwright Richard Strand, celebrated its Off-Broadway Opening Night to a full house of enthusiastic theatergoers. The show is produced by the New Jersey Repertory Company out of Long Branch, NJ where Butler had its world premiere in 2014. The play was the recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

Joseph Discher, who directs this production also directed the world premiere of Butler at New Jersey Repertory company. His direction allows the outstanding dialog written by playwright Strand to come through in a forthright manner. And although the subject matter is very serious, there is a lot of humor that was written in allowing the audience to ingest the concepts more easily.

L-R: Ames Adamson (as Benjamin Butler) and John G. Williams (as Shepard Mallory) in Richard Strand’s BUTLER, directed by Joseph Discher, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
L-R: Ames Adamson (as Benjamin Butler) and John G. Williams (as Shepard Mallory) in Richard Strand’s BUTLER, directed by Joseph Discher, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
The plot involves Major General Benjamin Butler who was a lawyer up until a few weeks before he assumed his post at Fort Monroe in Virginia. The Fort is a Union stronghold. The demeanor and thinking of Major General Butler contrasts with that of Lieutenant Kelly who as a graduate of West Point is well established in the Army. A runaway slave named Shepard Mallory enters the Fort with two other runaways seeking sanctuary from their slave owners. Mallory impresses both Butler and eventually Kelly and each want to try to keep him from harm. However, the Fugitive Slave Act is still very much in use which forces the two officers to make good on a request to return the slaves to their owners. When Major Cary comes to claim them, lots of things start to happen. The ending is nicely done with a few pieces still up in the air, but with a precedence for how they might be resolved.

Ames Adamson plays a multi-facted man in his portrayal of Benjamin Butler. Benjamin Sterling provides a staunch view of a career soldier as Lieutenant Kelly. John G. Williams portrays Shepard Mallory allowing both sadness and hope to emerge for his character. David Sitler plays Major Carey with a firm footing in the manners of a southern man who has become a soldier.

A good story line, fine dialog, and good acting all add to this show. But what underlies the entire production are questions about other people that both the Major General and Lieutenant deal with. The fact that neither one has ever had a conversation with a slave or an African American enters the discussion. How they come to view Shepard is a testament to the ability to have open communication between people. Maybe that point is something which is still in the air today as we strive to bridge the problems between races even today.

Butler will continue to run at the east side theater through Sunday, August 28, 2016. Additional shows have been added on Sunday evenings. Check the 59E56th Street Theater website, http://www.59e59.org for more information.

About the Show:

Running Time: 2 hours (approx.) with one intermission
Location: 59 E. 59th Street Theatre, 59 E. 59th Street, New York City, NY
Performances: Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM, with added 7 PM on Sunday, August 14 and Sunday, August 21.
Contact for Info and Tickets: The website for this theater – http://www.59e59.org/
Suggested Audience: The subject matter might be difficult for young children to understand but teens could handle this especially those who have had some studies about the Civil War.

NYMF 2016 – A Sunday Visit to Two Shows

NYMF Facebook photo
NYMF Facebook photo

The New York Musical Festival 2016 is in full swing. I was able to make my first visit this past Sunday, July 24 when I saw two shows.

Photo credit K Nowosad
Photo credit K Nowosad
The first show was at the June Havoc Theatre on W. 36th Street. This was my first time in this venue. It’s a black box style theater. On a very hot summer day, the air conditioning was running well and there were plenty of amenities such as easy access, bathrooms, etc. I saw A Scythe in Time which is based on two stories from a master of short stories, Edgar Allen Poe. The two stories, “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament” are combined to make this show. A Scythe in Time has a book by Alan Harris. Music and lyrics are by Mark Alan Swanson. Let your imagination carry you through this show because when you do, it is fun to see despite the dark basic theme that runs through the show. The songs are well written and the singing from the cast alone is worth going to see.

Photo by K Nowosad of cast board for "A Scythe of Time" at NYMF 2016
Photo by K Nowosad of cast board for “A Scythe of Time” at NYMF 2016
I was very impressed with P.J. Griffith who plays Blackwood and Lesli Margherita in the role of Zenobia. Also sending big applause to the entire cast for their performances in this very unique show.

After a break, I headed to the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street which had the AC going full blast (bless you!). The Duke has very comfortable seating even for us long legged theater goers. At 5:00, I saw The Last Word which has a book, music, and lyrics by Brett Sullivan and additional lyrics by Ryan Cunningham. The story takes place in the 1970’s about a group of friends who need to get to a national Scrabble championship to win the prize in order to save a family restaurant. The storyline shows what they go through to get to the competition and what eventually happens at the competition and afterwards.

 Photo by K Nowosad of cast board for "The Last Word" at NYMF 2016
Photo by K Nowosad of cast board for “The Last Word” at NYMF 2016

Music for the show leans towards rock with group numbers and individual songs. The choreography was fairly basic but well rehearsed and it added to the fun of the performance. The acting was very good and I was pleased to see Felicia Finley playing Earlene with a western twang to the character. The lead, Nathan Lucrezio (Jay) played a very fine part along with his friend, Neil, played by Travis Kent. The story has some clever ideas in it and the music keeps it moving along very well.