WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — Comfortably housed in a historic gem of a building where Main, Brook, and Cross streets meet, Actors Theatre Playhouse (ATP) has emerged from another hibernation to launch its 48th season.
ATP's Producing Artistic Director Sam Pilo, with nearly 50 years of theater leadership under his belt, talks about the 2023 lineup - a season, as always at ATP, chosen with an eye toward a balanced mix of fare.
“ATP takes pleasure in offering a varied program each year: a little bit of a lot of things,” Pilo said.
He described ATP as “not so much a 'community playhouse,' as a 'theatrical society'” - such as emerged in the early 20th century when, with a strong audience base, risks could be taken with the theatrical fare that such a collective would offer.
The 2023 ATP season opens, as it has for years, with the Ten Minute Play Festival running Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from June 8 to 24.
The festival “brings in new people - lots of actors and volunteers. It's a good way to open,” Pilo said.
In promotional text for the festival, Producer Jim Bombicino summed up the collection of 10-minute pieces by Matthew Widman, Rhea MacCallum, Albi Gorn, Chris Shaw Swanson, Carol Mark, Connie Schindewolf, and Brad Sytsma.
“What happens when: Sue struggles to break up with her former love […] Nic(-otine)?” longtime ATP actor-director wrote. “A hippie helps a youngster re-frame her life from the ledge of a New York apartment building? The most basic elements of spycraft [...] the exchange [...] go awry? Myrna tries to forgive Herman for the ultimate sacrifice? A suburban housewife realizes there is more to homeless Mary than meets the eye...and ear? You try to find love in under 2 minutes? Big government and big business conspire to save America in the digital age? A mother and daughter navigate the difficult road to terminal illness?”
The answers, he says, are in these eight plays.
“The best aspect of the ATP 10-minute festival tradition for me,” says Bombicino, “is that the whole process is a shared experience where people appreciate creativity at every level.”
He noted that the playwrights “want to share their work by having it produced and seen.” Selection committee members want “to share ideas as they read and appreciate quality [scripts].” Directors? They “can share ideas with the playwrights, as well as learn from each other.” Actors have open auditions.
“And finally, the audience can appreciate different genres, styles, and subject matter, and quite possibly be stretched in a different creative direction than they may have anticipated,” Bombicino says.
All in all, he says, “it's kind of a win-win.”
The rest of the season
• The 39 Steps: Following the Festival is The 39 Steps, parodying both John Buchan's 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 thriller film. The original concept of this high-octane romp was Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon's, then rewritten by Patrick Barlow in 2005. It runs at ATP Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, July 13–29.
About the zany production, Pilo wrote that “a cast of four, complete with costume changes and dialects, play over a hundred characters in this fast-paced comic tale.”
The play “follows a man falsely accused of being a spy on a wild chase across England and Scotland, packing espionage, train rides, bridge climbing, plane chases, murder, and romance into a thrilling comedic adventure,” he said.
“Along the way he encounters dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and, of course, devastatingly beautiful women. Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with juicy spy novel, add a dash of old time Music Hall Vaudeville, toss in some circus tricks and theatrical mime and stage trickery, including a trot across the top of a fast moving train, and you have the makings for an intriguing, thrilling, riotous and unmissable night of comedy.”
Gregory Lesch, Nicole Caron, Eric Morgan, and Sadie Fischesser perform in the play, which is directed by Marilyn Tullgren.
• Misalliance: A staged reading of George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance follows on Saturdays, Aug. 5 and 12.
“The action follows Hypatia - the daughter of a self-made underwear mogul,” according to the ATP website. “She's a 'new woman' bored with the stuffy attitudes of the aristocracy and anxious to shape her world. Shaw lets us know that fast-paced modernity is on a collision course with the stodgy status quo when an airplane crashes through the conservatory bringing two unexpected guests.
“This romantic comedy reverses the traditional roles in courtship: in Misalliance women are the ardent hunters and men their hapless prey. All told there are eight marriage proposals offered for consideration in the course of one summer afternoon.”
Serious issues are bantered about all in good fun and everything is topsy-turvy, as strains of Shaw's hardly-masked socialist stance weave through.
The Misalliance cast includes Phil Kramer, Bob Gruen, Ian Hefele, Damien Licata, Roberta Barnes, Heidi Schwieger, Michael Auerbach, Charlotte Traas, and Harral Hamilton.
• Tiny Beautiful Things: On Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, July 13–29, ATP mounts Tiny Beautiful Things which, according to the website, “follows Sugar, an online advice columnist who uses her personal experiences to help the real-life readers who pour their hearts out to her.”
ATP describes the play as “rich with humor, insight, compassion, and absolute honesty,” and “a celebration of the simple beauty of being human.” It is based on Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, adapted for the stage by actress, director, and screenwriter Nia Vardalos.
Kenzie Yelin, Wendy Almeida, Dakota Benedetto, and James Duffy form the cast of the play, directed by ATP's Burt Tepfer.
New this year: ATP Showcase
Closing the 2023 season will be a new venture, the ATP Showcase, Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 15–30. “This showcase is a new thing,” says Pilo. “Similar to the 10-minute play festival in tone, it's a potpourri - popcorn.”
With theater and bits of literature, it will feature Anton Chekhov's popular one-act A Marriage Proposal; scenes from two plays (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard's classic riff on Hamlet, and Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night); and Vincent Panella's one-act Mind Like a Dog, which premiered with the Rock River Players in 2022.
Also on the bill will be works by Christopher Durang, Edgar Lee Masters, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, and William Shakespeare.
Mary Armstrong, Josh Goldstein, Wendy Almeida, Maggie Jennings, Bridget McBride, Bruce Holloway, Munson Hicks, Nan Mann, Sue Rowell, and Sherman Morrison offer this pastiche, a benefit for the ATP Building Fund.
That fund is for maintenance of the Playhouse in its current form, Pilo notes. There are no plans for expansion, he says, though he acknowledges the challenges posed when two or more productions are in rehearsal at once.
“We would love a rehearsal space,” he adds. They'd had one in an old hangar nearby, but that space was repurposed.
ATP began in the mid-1970s in Brattleboro at the former Brattleboro Center for the Performing Arts on Elliot Street, the former Methodist church that most recently has been home to the Hotel Pharmacy. The young theater company soon moved to the former Latchis Ballroom, then on to the Hooker-Dunham Building before finding its current home, in 1987, at the old West Chesterfield Citizens Hall.
Any given season at ATP involves some 50 actors, technical staff, designers, and directors - all volunteer and local. New directors enter the ATP fold through the Ten Minute Play Festival and the community at large, and Pilo hopes to bring even more directors on board.
Pilo says that “the more new people we bring in, the more we train in how we do things here” and the closer he can come to being in the emeritus position that appeals to him now.
Off season, Pilo says, “I read a lot.” Having studied theater at Columbia University, he has a big thirst for dramatic literature and theater history.
A not-for-profit organization, ATP is funded by ticket sales and individual donors - “a few who give a lot,” Pilo says.