‘The Calling’ is a Remarkable New Play

Ames Adamson and Jared Michael Delaney in a scene from “The Calling,” a world premiere by Joel Stone playing at NJ Rep Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas

The New Jersey Repertory Company is starting the new year off right with the world premiere of a remarkable new play. The Calling by Joel Stone was commissioned by NJPAC’s Stage Exchange in Association with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the NJRep. It was first introduced at an impressive initial reading at the NJPAC in April, 2017. Even then, there was a sense that the play had unique qualities about it that would deliver on a live stage. Now with it being performed on an well-designed set with two very strong actors, the promise from that reading has been realized. This play delivers a most unexpected series of events keeping its audience guessing until the very last minute of the show. Additionally, the marvelous development of the characters gives theater goers something to ponder as they leave the show.

Evan Bergman provides superb direction to this thriller.  The story of The Calling is set in a Catholic church following the funeral of Mrs. Callahan. Father Dan is straightening up after the service when he finds Carl sleeping on one of the pews. They begin to talk and as they do, Carl reveals that he is an ICU nurse who works the night shift at a nearby hospital. Mrs. Callahan was one of his patients and Father Dan is impressed that Carl took time out of his busy life to come to the service. Just why he came to the service becomes the springboard of all the eventual revelations and actions.

Playwright Stone carefully constructs the conversations so that each level of revelation comes out slowly and carefully. This approach allows the layers of the plot to unfold in such a way that the audience on opening day gasped at certain points.  That’s how startled they were at several points.

It would not be right to reveal critical turning points in this story. So suffice it to say, just when you think you have it figured out, something else is revealed leading to more information about the characters which in turn feeds the plot. The background and actions of the characters are what makes this play such a thriller to sit through.  Both Father Dan and Carl have many sides to them including some good and some very sinister.

“The Calling” demands a lot from the two actors. Both Ames Adamson as Father Dan and Jared Michael Delaney as Carl definitely deliver what is needed to bring these characters to life.  As a priest, Mr. Adamson both looks and acts the part. He allows the very human side of the priest to come through which intensifies the action taking place. At first, Mr. Delaney shows the uncertainty bothering Carl with a light flair. This allows a more intense approach as the deeper, more complex part of the character  emerges.  Not an easy thing to do, but it is well done.

As you watch, you realize these are not people who Mr. Stone decided to create out of nothing. No, they could easily be people right in one’s own community. The play demonstrates how people hide behind facades that relate to the work they do and how the community regards them. And that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable when the truth of what has happened comes out.

This play definitely lives up to the billing that NJ Rep is using: heart-pounding, mind-bending psychological thriller. Your own feelings about what each character does will determine how heart-pounding it is. But it is definitely mind-bending as the psychology of the characters becomes more exposed.

Additional Information

Running Time: approx. 90 minutes; no intermission

Location: New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Long Branch, NJ

Performances: Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm, through February 4, 2018

Contact for Info and Tickets: Reservations by phone: 732-229-3166 or online at njrep.org.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” a Perfect Fit for the Season

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play adapted by Joe Landry. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 2017. Directed by Doug West. Pictured (in foreground left to right): John Keabler as George Bailey and Susan Maris as Mary Hatch, with the company in background. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

The magic of the season is imaginatively captured this month as the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presents It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The play is an adaptation of the holiday classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This version shows how it might look being given as a live radio show.  The Shakespeare Theatre’s version was successfully staged as a reading in 2016. The same director of the reading, Doug West, takes on the duties with the play using a script adapted by Joe Landry.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Pictured (left to right in foreground): John Keabler as George Bailey and Andy Paterson as Clarence Oddbody, with the company in background. Note items used for sound effects. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

The set for this show is on display as the audience comes to their seats. It is a replica of what the set for live radio show being broadcast in the l940’s might have looked like. A few of the players are already on stage acting like they are preparing for that broadcast. To the right side of the stage sits a complete assortment of materials that are used for sound effects.  Live Foley sound artists are a part of the show which adds incredible authenticity to the performance. Items like materials to make door opening sounds and bell ringers display along with an audience favorite, a large cylinder which turns to produce the sound of wind.

What is there about the tale told in this show that makes it so heartwarming? Probably because it is the tale of the average person who deals with their life the best they can. The story of George Bailey is of someone who puts his obligations to his family, community, and town above his own dreams. The miracle of course appears when Clarence, the poor angel trying to earn his wings, comes down to earth to help George when he hits the depths of despair. His despair clouds his seeing what a truly remarkable, wonderful life he has had. So the play ends on a very joyous note with Clarence earning his wings and George reunited with his loved ones celebrating the life he has and now appreciates.

The storyline alone is enough to make this a holiday classic. But the casting for the show is so well done that the characters grow on you maybe more easily than the movie version. Watching the “broadcast” live as an audience member brings things to you in a new light.

The cast includes John Keabler as George Bailey with Andy Paterson in the role of Clarence. John Ahlin plays Mr. Potter and Tina Stafford plays Ma Bailey. Michael Reilly plays Billy Bailey and Javon Johnson plays Joseph. Elizabeth Colwell plays Violet Bick, Russell Sperberg plays Harry Bailey. Company member Warren Pace provides the live Foley sound effects throughout the performance. Mr. Pace is currently the Theatre’s sound technician.

This is a wonderful way for the family to get together and see something that is warm, funny, unique, and very much in tune with the season. I highly recommend this show.

Additional Information:

Running Time:  Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission

Location: The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre located at 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey

Performances: Now through Dec. 31, 2017. Performances are on Tuesdays – Sundays.  Check with the theater or online for matinees and some shows at special times.

Contact for Info and Tickets:   Single tickets begin at $69 for regular performances. Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets, patrons can visit or call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey offers various cost-saving opportunities, including $15 student rush tickets, which are available 30 minutes prior to each performance with a valid student ID, and a limited number of Pay What You Can tickets for every performance on a first come, first serve basis.

Suggested Audience: Material is suitable for all ages.

Special Performances:  Post-show discussion with the cast and artistic staff will be held following the Tuesday, December 12 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 16 at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday, December 23 at 2:00 p.m. performances.

The Know the Show pre-show talks are offered free-of-cost. Prior to the show, an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre presents a pre-performance talk providing background information and an inside perspective on the production. This program is free with the purchase of a performance ticket, and for It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play will be held on Thursday, December 14 at 7:00 p.m., with the show beginning at 8:00 p.m. The Know the Show talk will be broadcast live on the Theatre’s Facebook page, so patrons can watch and interact live from home on their electronic device.

Family matinees will be in the final week of performances for It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play on the following dates: Wednesday, December 27 at 2:00 p.m.; Friday, December 29 at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday, December 31 at 4:30 p.m.

‘An Act of God’ Brings Kathleen Turner to George Street Playhouse

The legendary Kathleen Turner (God) stars in David Javerbaum’s “An Act of God” at George Street Playhouse with her archangels Stephen DeRosa (left) as Michael and Jim Walton (right) as Gabriel. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Now playing at New Brunswick’s George Street Playhouse through Dec. 23, 2017 is An Act of God. This very funny play stars the legendary Kathleen Turner in the lead role as God. George Street’s own David Saint provides direction for a cast which also includes two archangels: Steven DeRosa as Michael and Jim Walton as Gabriel. Written by David Javerbaum, this play was a major hit on Broadway during 2015 with Jim Parsons and 2016 with Sean Hayes. This version marks a departure from males playing the lead role with Ms. Turner playing the lead part.

An Act of God begins with setting up who’s who is in the show. After a few words about creation, the audience hears that God has decided to come down to New Brunswick.  The twist is that God comes in human form. The audience also hears that tonight that human form is of a woman, the well-known actress, Kathleen Turner. The purpose of God’s coming is to announce a revised set of the Ten Commandments.  In doing this revelation, God answers many of the deepest (and not so deep) questions that have plagued mankind since Creation. Regarding creation, “God” explains that  she wasn’t doing any godding so she decided to create a universe.

Ms. Turner’s comedic timing is impeccable she delivers the lines with absolute certainty in her trademark deep voice. But she also commands the stage when the concerns of mankind are presented. That ability to distinguish the moods of the moments in the show makes her a fascinating performer to watch.

Kathleen Turner (God) Photo Credit:© T Charles Erickson Photography

In addition to the fine acting, there are so many lines in the show that bring the laughter out in the audience. For example, she refers back to the time of Guttenburg inventing the printing press and points to a book that archangel Michael is holding and says “1495 was a time when literacy meant something.” This humor has a good effect since modern technology is mentioned in the show like taking selfies and cell phones. The home crowd appeared to get a kick out of her reference to being in New Brunswick, the home of Rutgers, the only state university that doesn’t include the state’s name they represent in their school title.

As “God” explains the reason for coming down to New Brunswick, we learn that a redo of the 10 Commandments is purpose of the visit. For example, a new commandment is  “Thou shalt not kill in My name.”   God looks at the audience and says “It’s flattering but not needed.” Another very funny one was ” Thou shalt not tell Me what to do.” Examples given included nuances such as sneezing and you say “God bless you.” God replies, “Don’t tell me who to bless!”

Amidst all of the laughter though is another side where the concerns of mankind that have been a part of discussion for centuries are mentioned. How does God explain bad things that happen in the world? And why do people have to suffer? These issues provide some very poignant moments in the show.

If you are open-minded and looking to have a good laugh, this show will fill the bill. There are some topics of an adult nature dealing with sex that would make this a show to keep to mature audiences.

Additional Information about An Act of God:

Running Time: 90 minutes – no intermission

Location: George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, NJ on Rutgers University’s Cook Campus

Performances: Now through Dec. 23, 2017

Contact for Info and Tickets: Visit the George Street Playhouse website at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org, or call the box office at 732-246-7717.

Suggested Audience: Adult subject matter is presented