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RED BANK: TWO WAYS TO MAKE ‘MERRY’

Two River Theater hosts two very different takes on Shakespeare’s comedy ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor,’ beginning with Saturday’s first preview of a three-actor free for all. 

When William Shakespeare put quill to parchment and began work on The Merry Wives of Windsor, he probably wasn’t laboring under the illusion he might create something to be dissected by critics and scholars for hundreds of years to come. The more immediate tastes of the popular audience were calling out to him, and with Wives the busy Bard had the opportunity to spin one of his most crowd-pleasing creations — Sir John Falstaff, the portly and roguish companion to the future king in the two parts of his historical drama Henry IV — into a rowdy (and cheerfully out-of-time) little knock-down farce.

Beginning this Saturday night, the Two River Theater offers Red Bank audiences not one but two rather unique takes on one of Shakespeare’s silliest comedies: one an intimately scaled three-actor adaptation that goes in search of the play’s “dark undercurrent;” the other an abridged full-cast version showcasing a talented company of high school age performers.

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RED BANK: ONCE AGAIN, IMPROV IN A JAM

Audience members twist the limbs of Improv Jam members Chris Rearick and Mike O’Keefe during a recent skit. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

They’ve been evicted so many times it’s almost funny, and the comedians who brand themselves as Improv Jam are about to lose their current home, in Red Bank.

But they haven’t lost their sense of humor, and comedy lovers — including those willing to surrender their cellphones to the cause — can catch them at their antic best every Saturday night, for free, on Monmouth Street.

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RED BANK: STEWART CREW RETURNS

Contributors to Jon Stewart’s new HBO project — including writer Brendan O’Hare, above, in the guise of obsessive basketball fan — make an encore appearance at Count Basie’s Performing Arts Academy Thursday.

As they did two months ago, writers and other contributors to Jon Stewart‘s hush-hush new HBO-project-in-the-works are scheduled to take a stage Thursday night in what one of them called a “dope little room that probably was a garage three weeks ago.”

Hey, a little respect: that “dope little room” next door to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre was once a Wa-Wa convenience store, we’ll have you know.

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MIDDLETOWN: PLAYERS DISH UP FINE ‘DINING’

The cast of ‘The Dining Room’ is mostly under the table as the Monmouth Players present A.R. Gurney’s engagingly experimental ensemble comedy for six performances.

When last we looked in on the Monmouth Players, that longest-running of all area community stage troupes was offering up a holiday-season production of A Long Christmas Dinner, a Thornton Wilder playlet in which a single dining room serves as the setting for a century’s worth of action, with a small cast playing multiple generations of characters in the life of an American home.

When the players resume their Season of Classics this weekend (their 63rd overall, if you can wrap your head around that), it will find them still lurking about the dining room — or more precisely, The Dining Room, an ensemble “comedy of manners” that packs its own playfully experimental edge.

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RED BANK: CLEESE BRINGS ‘GRAIL’ TO BASIE

Monty Python Holy GrailMonty Python co-founder John Cleese (at lower left in above photo, and below in 2016) makes his Count Basie Theatre debut introducing a Sunday evening screening of the 1975 comedy classic ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’

John CleeseYou know you’ve drifted into uncharted cultural waters when the co-founder of the most cheerfully anarchic comedy institution of all time likens your nation’s new presidential administration to a “pirate ship” — with the man who famously brought you the “Dead Parrot” sketch going on to brand the skipper of that ship as “delusional.”

Having returned in recent years to his British birthplace (where he advocated for Brexit-ing the European Union) after some two decades as a resident of the United States, John Cleese comes to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre for the first time this Sunday, when the self-described “writer, actor and tall person” hosts a special screening of one of his troupe’s finest celluloid moments, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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RED BANK: A STAND-UP GUY, TWICE NIGHTLY

sebastian-maniscalcoStandup comic Sebastian Maniscalco brings it to the Basie stage for an unprecedented six-show engagement this week.

What’s Wrong With People? Aren’t You Embarrassed? Why Would You DO That?!

For stand-up comedy star (and asker of those signature queries) Sebastian Maniscalco, the real question would have to be why wouldn’t he — as in, why wouldn’t a hard-working, dues-paying veteran of the nation’s “tough rooms” continue to surf a still-swelling wave of momentum that’s seen the onetime waiter hailed as no less than Stand Up Comedian of the Year?

While the Chicago native might seem an overnight sensation to some, his was a path that had as much to do with countless open-mic sign-ups and bowling alley gigs as it did his hit cable TV specials, popular podcasts, and high-profile appearances on Fallon, Conan, and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars. When he comes to Red Bank for the first time this Thursday evening, the restless observer of modern mores will be forced to park it here for a spell, as he fulfills a commitment for six — count ’em — headlining shows on the stage of the Count Basie Theatre.

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RED BANK: STEWART CREW COMING TO TOWN

jon-stewart-1-121612-2Whether or not Jon Stewart, seen above at a Basie event in 2012, shows up Thursday, his collaborators, and satirical spirit, will be in Red Bank. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Basie academy 062216Though he’s cultivated a grey beard since backing away from his desk at The Daily Show 16 months ago, Jon Stewart hasn’t exactly adopted a hermit-like existence.

He’s made memorable appearances on the programs of former colleagues Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore. He’s been busy with his wife, Tracey, in establishing a new home for rescued farm animals. A new book titled “The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests,” has rekindled interest in his legacy. Oh, and he signed a four-year contract with HBO that had media observers salivating over the possibilities.

While Stewart’s still-untitled HBO project is said to be readying for debut by March, a live audience on the Greater Red Bank Green is slated to get an advance taste Thursday night, when the Count Basie Theatre mounts a special Evening of Comedy spotlighting its writers and performers.

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FAIR HAVEN: CAN WE TALK JOAN RIVERS?

Joan Rivers' other books include I Hate Everyone ... Starting With Me and Men Are Stupid ... And They Like Big Boobs.Journalist Leslie Bennetts (below) visits River Road Books Wednesday evening for a “can we talk?” session on the career of the late Joan Rivers (above).

leslie-bennettsBefore her sudden passing in 2014 at the age of 81, Joan Rivers seemed to have lived several lives in the public eye. From her training in the hepster coffee houses of Greenwich Village and the challenges of being a “comedienne” in the Sullivan-era standup scene to a spate of late-career activity that included a hit cable TV show — and a tour stop at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre — Rivers acquired new generations of fans as readily as she made enemies in and out of the business.

So writes author Leslie Bennetts in Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers, her newly published comprehensive study of the star’s “tumultuous, victorious, tragic, hilarious, and fascinating life.” A regular contributor to Vanity Fair magazine and an interviewer of stars, Bennetts visits River Road Books in Fair Haven for an intimate “can we talk?” session Wednesday evening.

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RED BANK: MORGAN PICKS UP THE PIECES

tracy-morgan-mag-1Tracy Morgan brings his standup act to the Count Basie stage for two shows Friday night.

“I’ve tapped into something, man, that nobody else can talk about,” Tracy Morgan said in an interview with a national wire service earlier this year. “I went to the other side and came back bearing gifts… and I’m gonna share all those gifts with my fans.”

In case you missed the headline-making news, the Emmy nominated cast member of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock was referencing his near-death experience in a June, 2014, limo crash on the New Jersey Turnpike, an accident that killed his friend James “Jimmy Mack” McNair, and left Morgan comatose with multiple injuries, necessitating a lengthy process of physical therapy and speech rehabilitation.

Undaunted, the Bronx-born “cringe comic” (and co-star of films like Cop Out and the forthcoming Fist Fight) has taken to the road once more on a route that leads to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre Friday night.

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RED BANK: JAMIAN’S HOSTS ‘COMIC BOOK MEN’

jamians-doorscomic-book-menJamian’s Food and Drink on Monmouth Street in Red Bank will host a season-six premiere party Saturday for “Comic Book Men,” the AMC cable show set in film director Kevin Smith‘s Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, on Broad Street.

The free-admission party begins at 8:30 p.m. and, weather permitting, will include a screenings of classic episodes on the back patio. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

RED BANK: YOK-TOBERFEST IS ON AT BASIE’S

david_sedaris_5004Best-selling author and humorist-storyteller David Sedaris (above) returns to the Count Basie stage on Thursday night…while Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood (below) bring their impishly improv’d interactions back to Red Bank on Saturday.

mochrie-sherwoodEven the most polarized of next-door neighbors could use a good shared laugh experience these days — and even as our Count Basie Theatre continues to reinforce its reputation as a premier stop for big-time touring comics, two separate events in the coming nights serve to point out that  live comedy is a big tent, with room for more than just the tried and true stand-up standard.

Returning to the Basie boards for a third (or is it fourth?) appearance tomorrow night, October 13, author and essayist David Sedaris once again displays the audience-friendly skills that have allowed him to transfer his celebrated sense of humor from the printed page (Holidays On Ice, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and other best selling collections of essays, observations and occasional tall tales) to the performance stage, as witness his Grammy nomination for the audio version of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. It’s a dexterity that’s allowed him success in formats ranging from Off Broadway theater to public radio and even children’s books — with a road show that will find him reading from his excerpted works, riffing on recent events, and interacting with the audience, sometimes in ways that might give pause to even the most “fearless” of comedy-club commandos.

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RED BANK: BASIE ROLLS (WITH) THE DICE

Andrew Dice ClayThe old greaser’s pompadour has thinned; the paunch squeaks and strains against the trademark leathers, and the glasses could have come straight off the face of your great-aunt Totsie — but let no one say that the biggest/baddest of standup comedy’s many self-proclaimed Bad Boys has lost any modicum of his mojo at the mic.

Besides, even the most outrageously offensive rants, rhymes and roast-ready insults of Andrew Dice Clay read anymore like Tuesday morning’s tweets from the 2016 Presidential campaign playbook. And when “the only performer ever banned for life from MTV” (or first contestant ever thrown off Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” or SNL host who inspired the most cast member walk-outs) takes the stage of the Count Basie Theatre this Thursday night, August 25, he’ll be once more ascending a career rollercoaster that’s taken him from multi-night sellouts of Madison Square Garden, to a humbling stint beneath the low ceilings of basement comedy clubs — and a return to form in front of theater-sized crowds.

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RED BANK: COMEDY FOR A CAUSE

Jimmy FaillaJimmy Failla (above) and Mike Gaffney (below) are among the stand-up guys fundraising for a cause Saturday at Two River Theater.

Mike GaffneyFor a breed of performers who hone their craft via roast-ready insults, scatological science, interactive combat with audience hecklers, and a filter-free delivery that’d give even the Donald pause, stand-up comedians can be real sweethearts sometimes — and no more so than when they’re joining forces for a worthy cause, as with this Saturday’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Show at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

Back for its eighth annual outing, the popular event transforms the mainstage of the Bridge Avenue arts center into a high-class Chuckle Hut for a raucous one-night stand.

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RED BANK: MOVIE SATURDAY ON INDIE STREET

The trailer for “65 Percent,” a documentary by Mike and Jon Altino of Middletown, screens at the Red Bank Middle School at 1 p.m.

indie street logo 2Saturday-morning cartoons, a locally made documentary and shorts-in-a-bunch enliven Saturday’s schedule of the Indie Street Film Festival, which got underway in Red Bank Wednesday night and continues through Sunday afternoon.

Click the “read more” for the full schedule and a sampling of delightful and outrageous movie trailers. Read More »

RED BANK: FRIDAY’S INDIE STREET LINEUP

isff 070616 1Sand artist Joe Mangrum creating a temporary painting at the festival opening-night cocktail party on the Count Basie patio Wednesday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

indie street logo 2

Screenings at four Red Bank venues fill Friday’s schedule of the Indie Street Film Festival, which got underway Wednesday night and continues through Sunday afternoon.

Click the “read more” for the full schedule and a sampling of delightful and outrageous movie trailers.

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RED BANK: A MOVIE FEAST ON INDIE STREET

A documentary about people who eat white dirt adds some grit to the first full day of the Indie Street Film Festival. 

indie street logo 2Scandalously long, beautiful legs. A guy with a compulsion for commandeering buses and trains. Geophagy, or dirt-eating.

These and other delightfully strange and wondrous topics fill the schedule of Red Bank’s Indie Street Film Festival as it enters its first full day of screenings and other events Thursday.

Click the “read more” for the full sked and a whole dirtload of delightful and outrageous movie trailers.

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RED BANK: TURN HERE FOR INDIE STREET

The festival flickers to life with “Morris from America” on the big screen at the Count Basie Theatre. Here’s the trailer.

indie street logo 2Day One of the first-ever Indie Street Film Festival gets underway in Red Bank Wednesday, kicking off five days of heaven for movie lovers.

The opening day schedule is light, with one just one film lighting up the giant silver screen of the Count Basie Theatre and two parties. But the festival shifts into high gear Thursday with daylong screenings and other events at five venues, and keeps up the pace through Saturday before winding down Sunday.

Check in with redbankgreen throughout the week for festival coverage and next-day schedules with tons of trailers to help you decide which darkened room to bring your popcorn to. Meantime, here’s the first-day lineup:

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LINCROFT: TAKING ‘MEASURE’ OF SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare BCCKate Bader (center) performs a scene from “Titus Andronicus” during last year’s Shakespeare on the Lawn presentation on the campus of Brookdale Community College. The summer series returns on Thursday evening with “Measure for Measure.” (Photo by Brookdale Community College) 

Summer-Shakespeare-300x271Ask any Shakespearean scholar you happen to see: the historic incubator and natural habitat of the Bard’s classic tragedies, comedies and histories has little to do with stuffy theater boxes, scratchy formalwear, and snoozing patrons of the arts. Rather, it’s an experience that’s best realized in the open air — with un-amplified voices, improvised solos by Mother Nature’s minions, and an audience of engaged, enthusiastic (and ever so spirited) folks from all walks of life.

It’s a tradition maintained locally each year on one of the greatest, greenest spaces of the Greater Red Bank Green — and, beginning this Thursday evening, Shakespeare on the Lawn returns to the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College for a 15th annual edition, with a new look at William Shakespeare’s tragicomic “problem play” known as “Measure for Measure.”

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RED BANK: INDIES INVADE THIS WEEK

rb indie film mural 070416A mural on Monmouth Street near Maple Avenue touts the five-day Indie Street Film Festival, which flickers to life Wednesday. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

indie street logo 2For the first time since 2007, Red Bank will swarm with screening maniacs this week as independent films, filmmakers and cinephiles invade the downtown — and one or two nearby outposts.

Encompassing nearly 100 feature-length and short films, four screening venues and a handful of bars and restaurants, the five-day Indie Street Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, promising to liven up a post-Independence Day interval when the borough traditionally slips into an early doldrums.

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RED BANK: A STAR-STUDDED NIGHT @BASIE

degrasse tyson mirmanComedian Eugene Mirman, right, joins affable astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson for a special live edition of their StarTalk program tonight in Red Bank. 

During his “meteoric” rise from little-known planetarium director to instantly (and internationally) recognized spokesman for the importance of science in our daily lives, Neil deGrasse Tyson has often used humor to convey his passionately plain-spoken message that a curiosity about our ever-awesome universe has a place in our popular culture — and that an education in science is something to be celebrated, not shied away from.

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M’TOWN: TEACHER DUMPED OVER TRUMP VIDEO

In the February 28 edition of his cable show,“Last Week Tonight,” comedian John Oliver urged viewers to “make Donald Drumpf again.” 

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_02A Middletown High School South history teacher has been forced to resign for showing students a video of comedian John Oliver skewering Republican presidential candidate Donald Drumpf… er, Trump.

According to various news reports, including the New York Post and NJ.com, the forced resignation of Joe Ventre drew protests from supportive students and parents at the school’s board of trustees meeting Wednesday night.

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RED BANK: GRIFFIN AND BEAR IT

kathy-griffin-at-tyler-shieldsKathy Griffin, the flame-haired comic with the celeb-roasting style, returns to Red Bank for a Friday night funny-fight at the Basie. (Photo by Tyler Shields)

She’s got a trophy case full of accolades — including two Emmys and a Grammy — but Kathy Griffin didn’t get where she is by making nice with the targets of her comic flamethrowing.

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RED BANK: SINBAD & GARFUNKEL & MORE

sinbadDavid “Sinbad” Adkins (above) brings his famously family friendly brand of comedy back to the Count Basie for an umpteenth encore this Friday night. Art Garfunkel (below) makes a belated Basie debut on Saturday.

GarfunkelWith an incredible 14 scheduled events within the next 15 days — including sold-out sessions with the attorneys from Making a Murderer (tonight) and Rumson-bred pop sensation Charlie Puth (April 8) — the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank surely ranks among the busiest palaces of amusement in these United States.

Its eclectic schedule keeps an enviably diverse audience making tracks to Monmouth Street, and the weekend ahead is no exception, as the venerable venue hosts a gamut of entertainments designed to attract fans of everything from all-ages clean comedy and Boomer-blessed pop, to the Old Masters of the conservatory and the new gods of the guitar-store shredders.

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RED BANK: FAMILIAR FACES RETURN TO TRTC

johndiasTwo River Theater Company artistic director John Dias, above, directs a musical that he co-wrote, and Madeleine George, below, the theater’s first Playwright in Residence, will see her comedy — which is set in Red Bank mounted next season.

madeleine georgeThere are encore appearances by favorite actors. Re-visits to the words and works of Shakespeare and August Wilson. No less than three shows making their world premieres — including one set within “a larger-than-life version of Red Bank.”

When Two River Theater Company unveiled its 2016-2017 schedule of productions Monday night, it did so in a fashion that’s become a real rite of spring on Bridge Avenue: with the company’s celebrated artistic director John Dias joined on stage by creative people representing the comedies, dramas, musicals and multi-media experiences that will illuminate Two River’s stages beginning in September.

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