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RED BANK: EITHER WAY, WE’RE SCROOGED

a_christmas_carolNebraska Theatre Caravan’s stage spectacle of ‘A Christmas Carol’ makes its annual stand on the Count Basie stage this Friday…even as Middletown’s Stone Church Players offer up an intimate “radio-play” version of the Dickens classic all weekend long. Meantime, the Stone Church Players present an intimate “live radio play” style version of Scrooge’s story.

He creeps in from the shadowy fringes of the Season of Lights this time each year: the bitter old man of worldly business whose quiet Christmas Eve will soon be besieged by chain-rattling spirits and life-altering visions of the Past, Present and Yet To Come.

But even as we celebrate the forced re-entry of Ebenezer Scrooge into the mainstream of humanity, we do tend to take a certain comfort and joy from the knowledge that the miserly man-we-love-to-hate will be back all the earlier at his counting house, refreshed and rebooted, for the next day’s matinee. And so we welcome him once again this Friday night to Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre.

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RED BANK: CRAFTS, CAROLS, COLLECTIONS

two-river-crafting-carolingIn the spirit of Christmas (and in conjunction with the current production of THE LION IN WINTER), Two River Theater held an evening of crafting, caroling and holiday treats this past weekend, led by local event decorating company #TableSettingIsMyLife. Guests of all ages learned how to make their own Christmas cracker crafts (an English tradition), while the Monmouth Civic Chorus delighted the crafters with festive holiday songs throughout the night. Two River also collected canned good donations for The Foodbank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

RED BANK: BASIE, FRIENDS JOIN FOR BIG GIVE

basie-marquee-111416Press release from Count Basie Theatre

“Giving Tuesday,” founded in 2012 by New York City’s 92nd St. YMCA and the United Nations Foundation, was originally a “response to commercialism and consumerism” during the holiday season. It has since turned into an international day of giving.

Tomorrow, November 29, the nonprofit Count Basie Theatre will join forces with radio station  94.3 The Point and The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, to raise funds for both the theatre’s sensory-friendly programming, and for POAC Autism Services.

“Giving Tuesday” at the Basie will kick-off at 5:30 a.m., with a day-long broadcast from 94.3 The Point / WJLK-FM Radio. Listeners will be invited to drop by and give donations in person, or to make donations via theBASIE.org.

The organizations will also use the day-long effort and radio broadcast to raise funds for POAC Autism Services of Brick. Two dollars from every Count Basie Theatre ticket sold on November 29 will be donated to the group, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and adults with autism achieve their fullest potential by providing quality education, support and recreation at no cost to participants.

“Reaching all audiences with the highest level of the performing arts is part of our not for profit mission,” said Adam Philipson, CEO and President of the historic Count Basie Theatre.  “We strive to be inclusive and create barrier-free experiences and these shows will support our guests and families with special needs including autism spectrum disorder.”

“We are looking forward to partnering with the Count Basie Theatre in bringing the Jersey Shore together to support this important cause,” said Steve Ardolina, Regional Operations Manager for Townsquare Media Group New Jersey, which owns WJLK.

In addition, the Jersey Shore-based Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, which uses philanthropy to increase citizen activity and economic development opportunities through the arts, healthcare and education, has generously agreed to match all donations up to $25,000.

“The Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation is proud to be able to work with a great non-profit partner like the Count Basie Theatre,” said executive director and Basie board member Jeremy Grunin. “The ability to support POAC Autism Services in their mission coupled with further showing the power of the arts through the Basie was too powerful an endeavor to ignore.”

Earlier this year, the Basie team worked with POAC to train staff in advance of the theatre’s first-ever sensory-friendly mainstage performance.

“POAC is so thrilled to be involved with Count Basie Theater’s sensory-friendly programming and their fundraising efforts on Giving Tuesday,” said Simone Tellini, Director of Program Development at POAC. “Children and adults on the autism (ASD) spectrum often have sensory issues that make it difficult to participate in and enjoy community-based activities, especially those involving the arts. These activities are essential, especially for children, and vital to their growth in so many ways.

“Last February,” Tellini continued, “the Basie provided a wonderful show that, for many children, was their first experience with live theater. The management and staff went above and beyond to make everyone feel comfortable and accepted.  We applaud the Count Basie’s commitment to our families and look forward to future events and programs.”

The live “Giving Tuesday” broadcast will feature performances from students of the Count Basie Theatre Performing Arts Academy’s Jazz Arts Project, Rockit! and Voices vocal ensemble. In addition, cast members from the Tony Award winning ONCE, playing that evening on the Basie stage, will go on air to perform the musical’s signature hit, “Falling Slowly.”

RED BANK: VEGAS TO BROADWAY VIA BASIE

Donny and Marie Osmond, below, bring the holiday cheer and more to the Count Basie Monday… followed by a twice-as-nice engagement by the touring company of the hit musical ONCE, seen in the promo video above.

donny-and-marieTo paraphrase the signature song of a certain fondly recalled TV variety series, it’s a show that’s a little bit Christmas, a little bit something else.

The entertainment-packed November/December schedule at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre makes for especially interesting sked-fellows this time of year — with the holiday season getting into early jingle via offerings like Phoenix Productions’ A Christmas Story: The Musical and this past Monday’s seasonal spectacular starring Brian Setzer, even as recently featured acts like Joe Bonamassa and The Pretenders have offered up a happy-humbug alternative to any potential reindeer overkill.

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LITTLE SILVER: RBR PRESENTS ‘THE CRUCIBLE’

crucible-rbrBeginning December 1, Red Bank Regional stages Arthur Miller’s American classic play ‘The Crucible,’ including from left cast members Skyler Post, Jay Izzo, Erin McEvoy, Maximum Portman, Samuel Zatorski, and Luke Pearlberg.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

Beginning Thursday, December 1, the Theatre Company at Red Bank Regional High School will present Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible as its fall dramatic production.

Set during the time of the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony — and first brought to Broadway in 1953 — the Tony winning drama by the author of Death of a Salesman traced some stark parallels to the anti-Communist “witch trials” of postwar America, and is regarded as a classic that continues to present a bold message whenever and wherever fear runs rampant, neighbor is pitted against neighbor, and the nature of truth itself is called into question.

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RED BANK: VAN ZANDT LINEUP TO ROCK BASIE

van-zandt-guadagno-111416-1Steven Van Zandt and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno on stage at the Basie Monday. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

basie-marquee-111416A four-night campaign of classic rock shows curated by E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt in coming months will help drive a $20 million expansion Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre, officials said Monday.

But the names of the acts to be spotlighted in the series remained under wraps at a press conference held on the stage of the Vaudeville-era venue.
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RED BANK: ‘WINTER’ OF OUR DYSFUNCTION

lion_in_winter_advance_press_1Tony nominees Michael Cumpsty (center) and Dee Hoty (third from right) head up the cast of THE LION IN WINTER, going up in previews this weekend at Two River Theater. (photo by Amanda Crommett) 

Granted, it unfolds during a holiday family reunion — but as Michael Cumpsty makes sure to point out, The Lion in Winter “is NOT technically a Christmas play.” Unless, of course, you take into consideration the various head games, back-stabbings, subterfuges, jealousies and favoritism that make the late James Goldman’s script (set during the Yuletide of the year 1183) pretty much exactly like your most agita-inducing seasonal family traditions.

Still, given the timing of the Two River Theater production that begins previews this Saturday, November 12, it could just as easily be regarded as what Cumpsty calls “our election-season play” — one that “began to take on a whole other significance” as “we got into a crazier and crazier space.”

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LINCROFT: CBA PLAYERS MAKE A GREAT MATCH

cba-pegasus-playersThe Pegasus Players from Christian Brothers Academy (pictured in their 2016 musical production of THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE) return to the school’s Henderson Theater stage this weekend, with the fall dramatic production of Thornton Wilder’s THE MATCHMAKER.

Press release from Christian Brothers Academy

Pegasus Production Company, the student-run theater company at Christian Brothers Academy has been at it again, working hard on their staging of the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker. Running for six performances, the annual fall dramatic production is set to premiere this Friday, November 11, and will feature a cast and crew of talent from CBA,as well as several other area schools.

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RED BANK: YOU’LL LAUGH YOUR EYE OUT

christmas-story-phoenixIt’s all present and accounted for, from the Old Man’s leg lamp to Aunt Clara’s bunny suit; from the flagpole double-dog-dare to the Santa Slide at Higbee’s — to say nothing of that official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. Only this time it’s an all-singing, all-dancing, live action extravaganza that arrives like an early gift package this Friday, November 11.

Based on the beyond-popular 1983 movie of the same name — itself adapted from the writings of humorist Jean Shepherd (who did a memorable turn as the film’s narrator), A Christmas Story: The Musical makes its first-ever appearance on the local stage as the annual holiday-season offering from Phoenix Productions, the resident non-profit stage company at the venerable Count Basie Theatre.

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M’TOWN: PLAYERS TAKE ON A MODERN CLASSIC

reading roomThe Navesink Arts Center is the setting for DEATH OF A SALESMAN, the Arthur Miller classic going up in a Monmouth Players production this Saturday, November 5.

A funny scene in the screen comedy Soapdish has down-on-his-luck former TV actor Kevin Kline performing Arthur Miller’s heavyweight Death of a Salesman on the tiny stage of a neon-lit South Florida dinner theatre, to a blissfully oblivious audience of Rascal-riding retirees and dish-dropping buspersons.

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RED BANK: SEEKING MERRY WIVES, AND MORE

little-shakespeare-windsorPress release from Two River Theater Company

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, announces an opportunity for student actors, stage managers, designers, and run crew in grades 9-12 to be involved in the theater’s upcoming performances of A Little Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The 75 minute play, adapted from the William Shakespeare comedy by director Nicole A. Watson, runs March 7-12, 2017 on the stage of Two River’s Rechnitz Theater.

Auditions for interested high-school students will be held at Two River Theater on November 16 and 18. In addition, the theater is offering opportunities for high school students who are interested in working as an assistant stage manager, assistant director, assistant designer, or on the production’s run crew.

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COMEDY KNIGHT FOR RUMSON-FH PLAYERS

r-fhPress release from Rumson-Fair Haven High School

It’s another winner for the Tower Players of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, as the hilarious farce “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” makes its way to the stage.

Performances are set for Friday, November 18 and Saturday, November 19 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee on Sunday, November 20 at 1 p.m.

Outrageous fun for audiences of all ages, the show tells the story of Sir Gawain (Calvin Bruno), a knight in King Arthur’s court who is compelled to complete a brave deed each year. Because of her long-standing feud with Merlin the Wizard (Arnold Muralt), evil witch Morgan LaFaye (Rachel Makstein) has threatened to destroy Camelot if the court cannot produce the bravest knight in the kingdom. Since Sir Gawain has not yet completed his brave deed, he is called upon by King Arthur (Michael Bogardus) to challenge and defeat the formidable Green Knight (Cameron Spector) — but unfortunately for Sir Gawain, he is as “un-brave” as they come. He accepts the challenge, however, and begins his journey to prove himself and win the hand of his true love, Elaine (Sara Safarian).

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LINCROFT: HAUNTED HOUSE CREAKS OPEN

A promo video for the Haunted Theater, which once again invades the Brookdale campus for three weekends beginning this Friday. 

hauntedtheater2015-4We’ve said it before, but while it sometimes seems that the shambling zombies and vamping bloodsuckers of a walk-thru haunted house can’t hold a candle to the horrors of the real world, we do take a strange comfort from the annual appearance of those hooded goblins and snooded ghouls.

So it is here on the Greater Red Bank Green, where Brookdale Haunted Theater creaks open its doors this weekend on what’s become one of the more bizarre local rituals of the calendar year.

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HOW RBR’S VPA TEENS SPENT THEIR SUMMER

rbr-vpa-studentsAmong the Visual and Performing Art major students at Red Bank Regional who spent their summer perfecting their skills are (left to right, standing) Penny Hill, Mara Campolattaro, Jack Faccone-Stockwell, Claire Taylor, Megan Moran; also (kneeling) Shea Grant and Gabriella Scerbo.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

Summer vacation may already be a distant memory borne away on a suddenly seasonal Navesink breeze — but to the students of the Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Red Bank Regional High School, the activities of the school-year break continue to impact the new academic year in the most positive ways.

“Our students never cease to amaze me with their level of dedication and pursuit of perfection for their craft,” observes VPA lead teacher Kris Zook. “I am always delighted to learn what wonderful programs they attended or experiences they had in pursuit of higher performing art achievement.”

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RED BANK: GRANT $, GALA FOR TWO RIVER

trt two river theater 2012From press materials by Two River Theater 

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, has announced the major grants and awards the theater has received for its 2016/17 Season. Total funding for the season currently exceeds $500,000 in grants.

In addition, Two River Theater Company has announced the scheduling of a fundraiser Halloween Ball for 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 22. Costumed attire is “highly recommended” for the event in which all proceeds benefit TRTC’s programs and operations, with “ghoulish delights by et al.” and live music by New Life Crisis also on the agenda. Tickets ($200) can be reserved through the theater’s box office, and more information (including details on sponsorship and underwriting opportunities) is available from Camille Susarchick at (732)345-1400 x1805 or [email protected]

Read on for full details on the generous supporters and major funders of this year’s TRTC schedule.

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ON THE GREEN: BIG THEATER ON SMALL STAGES

gyp_35_retKate Pentek is the child vaudevillian who grows up to become burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee as the classic backstage musical ‘Gypsy’ comes to the Count Basie stage for two weekends. (Photo courtesy Phoenix Productions)

basie-gypsy-091416The waning weekends of summer are traditionally a prime time to dust off your first-night finery and head back to the “theatah.” And even as Red Bank’s resident professional stage company, the Two River Theater, opens its new season with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the Greater Green’s three community troupes (that’s Phoenix Productions, Stone Church Players, and Monmouth Players) also are ready to raise the curtains on a variety of entertainments.

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RED BANK: MA RAINEY’S COMING TO TOWN

Arnetia_Walker_and_Doug_Doyle_WBGO_88.3_InterviewArnetia Walker is interviewed by WBGO radio’s Doug Doyle in a recent event at Two River Theater. The stage and screen actress steps/sings into the title role of MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, the season-opening show that goes up in previews this weekend. (Photos by Carmen Balentine)

Arnetia_Walker_HeadshotIt’s a more-or-less annual highlight of the new season at Two River Theater: a further exploration into the work of the late August Wilson, the celebrated African American playwright whose “Century Cycle” of dramas — ten somewhat interconnected plays, each one set in a different decade and illuminating another aspect of the black experience in America — has apparently become an unstated but ongoing project at the Bridge Avenue performing arts space.

Just as they did with last September’s production of “Seven Guitars,” the folks at Two River are kicking off the new 2016-2017 slate of shows with a bluesy keynote from the house of Wilson: the playwright’s 1984 Broadway breakthrough “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Going up in previews beginning this Saturday night, September 10, and set inside a recording studio in 1927 Chicago, the music-infused ensemble drama is a bit unusual, in that it’s only one of the Cycle that’s not based in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh. And, as the title suggests, it’s the only one of the ten that boasts a central character drawn from real life.

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RED BANK: MA RAINEY’S BLOCK PARTY @TRTC

Brandon J DirdenReturning star Brandon J. Dirden (above) is among the cast members expected to attend — while J.W. Lawson and Dean Shot (below) bring the live blues tunes — as Two River Theater keynotes the season opening-production of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ with a Friday evening “block party.”

JW Lawson Dean ShotWhile we’re still a few Saturdays away from the start of the new 2016-2017 schedule at Two River Theater, the Red Bank performing arts space is keeping it outside for the moment — with a special event that harnesses the magic-hour mojo of the late-summertime season and sounds an early keynote for a blues-infused season opener.

That inaugural production is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the August Wilson ensemble piece that opens September 16 as the latest in Two River’s ongoing exploration of the late African American playwright’s “century cycle” of dramas. The special event is a Taste of the Blues Block Party that rocks the theater’s open-air patio with a Friday evening fricassee of live music, dancing, locally sourced cuisine, and “a chance to meet and mingle with the cast.”

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LITTLE SILVER: A CIRCLE OF LIFE, AT RBR

LionKing5Left to right: Ava DiLouie (Timon the meerkat), Matthew Maxcy (Simba), and Maggi Hough (Pumbaa the warthog) co-starred in an August 10 production of THE LION KING JR., presented for one night only by the students of the Visual and Performing Arts Summer Academy at Red Bank Regional High School. Over 40 student actors, musicians, crew members and designers collaborated on the staging of the musical, a special young-audiences version of the Broadway hit adapted from the beloved Disney animated film. RBR faculty member Kris Zook directed the production, which spotlighted the songs of Elton John and Tim Rice, and also starred Annabelle Adams, Lev Brewer, Jamie Lynn Eckhoff, Julie Homza, and Sophie Wright. The evening at RBR also featured an exhibit of visual art works created by VPA program students under the supervision of RBR art teacher Barbara Beckett.

RED BANK: BASIE TO STAY BASIE FOR CENTURY

basie awards 051816 1Originally called the Carlton Theater, the Count Basie Theatre will get to keep the Count’s name for at least another century. Below, a bust of the late jazz great outside the Red Bank train station. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

[Correction: the original version of this post misreported the year of Count Basie’s birth, which was 1904.]

By JOHN T. WARD

basie-bust2The Basie will get to be the Basie for at least another hundred years.

In conjunction with the anniversary of the birth, in Red Bank, of jazz great William ‘Count’ Basie, the town’s premiere entertainment venue has inked a deal with the trust that controls his estate to enable it to call itself the Count Basie Theatre for 50 more years, with five 10-year extensions, the two entities announced Monday.

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MIDDLETOWN: WILDER TIME TO BE HAD BY ALL

Thornton Wilder One ActsThe Monmouth Players serve up an appetizer for their upcoming season at the Navesink Arts Center with a program of one-acts by the celebrated playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder, below.

Thornton WilderIt seems, at first glance, a summer-surprise coda to the recently wrapped 2015-2016 season of the area’s longest-established community theater company, Monmouth Players.

But when producers Paul and Lori Renick turn the key once more on their homestage space at the Navesink Arts Center in Middletown Saturday, they’ll actually be sounding a keynote to their upcoming 2016-2017 slate of shows.

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RBR SUMMER CAMP PRESENTS LION KING JR.

Lion King RBRStudents of Red Bank Regional’s Visual and Performing Arts Summer Academy audition for the dancing ensemble, as part of the August 10 presentation of THE LION KING JR.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

On Wednesday, August 10, the Visual and Performing Arts Summer Academy students of Red Bank Regional High School will present their staging of “The Lion King Jr.” Over 50 students will take part in the 7 p.m. performance, a 60-minute abbreviated version of Disney’s Broadway hit “The Lion King.”

Based on the popular animated film, the show features such Elton John-Tim Rice songs as “Circle of Life,” Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” with the young actors of the VPA program portraying such beloved characters as Simba, Nala and Mufasa.

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RED BANK: A SIXTH ANNUAL ‘CROSSING’

Flamenco_DancersThe outdoor plaza at Two River Theater comes alive on Wednesday evening with a colorful keynote to the Crossing Borders Festival, the annual free celebration of Latino theater curated by Stephanie Ybarra (below).

Stephanie YbarraIt’s become an eagerly anticipated annual feature of the programming from Two River Theater; a celebration of cultural diversity and connections that occurs on the border between the professional company’s mainstage seasons — and on a street named Bridge Avenue, no less.

Even as issues of national identity and immigration have been forced to the front once more during a superheated election-year summer, the frontiers represented by the Crossing Borders Festival go beyond mere lines on maps. Returning for a sixth annual edition this week, the five-day celebration of emerging Latino theater examines the barriers, access points and grey areas between heritage and assimilation; reality and fantasy; the pull of memory and the need to move on.

Kicking off with the now-traditional outdoor Neighborhood Party on Wednesday, August 3 — and continuing through Sunday, August 7 with a menu of play readings (one of them presented in both English and Spanish), lectures and audience forums — the festival maintains its mission of “bringing together writers and stories from all over the country to explore questions of individual and national identity, and what it means to be a part of the Latino diaspora,” in the words of guest curator Stephanie Ybarra.

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RED BANK: WHO’S NEXT FOR PHOENIX? YES.

Jonathan Jacob Phoenix TommyJonathan Jacob (top right, above) heads the young cast, and Victoria Keiser (below) is the seductive “acid queen” Gypsy, in Phoenix Productions staging of  “Tommy” this weekend.

Victoria Leigh Phoenix TommyIf it’s July at the Count Basie Theatre, then it must be time for the now-traditional summer musical from Phoenix Productions, the borough-based theatrical company that continues its long and productive residency at the venerable Red Bank venue.

With scores of aspiring actors of high school and college age currently between semesters, the troupe’s midsummer offerings have represented a showcase for young performers, with especially energetic and ever so slightly edgier selections (“Rent,” “Hairspray”) than the family-friendly fare (“Mary Poppins,” “Little Mermaid,”) that’s proven so successful for the Phoenix brand.

When the Count’s curtain goes up this Friday night, it will usher in a two-weekend stand for a Broadway sensation with a psychedelic countercultural pedigree: “The Who’s Tommy.” Read More »

RED BANK: GILDA IN THE HERE AND NOW

Gilda Rogers BCCGilda Rogers is the guest for the latest in a series of Author Talk events, Wednesday at the Red Bank Library — followed on July 18 by a special presentation at Project Write Now on Bridge Avenue.

Red Bank regulars know her from many different settings, and wearing many figurative hats — from faculty member at Red Bank Regional and coordinator of special community outreach initiatives for Two River Theater, to local talk show host, and onetime proprietor of Frank Talk Art Bistro, a much-missed Shrewsbury Avenue storefront that was as delightfully difficult to summarize as the woman who put her stamp on it.

Writer, activist and producer Gilda Rogers remains very visible around Red Bank in the coming days, beginning with an appearance at the Red Bank Public Library on Wednesday, July 13. Scheduled for 7 p.m., it’s the latest event in the library’s monthly Author Talk series; a session that finds the author of “Arrested Development: The State of Black Achievement and Education in Hip Hop America” discussing her debut as a dramatist, with a work entitled “Supernatural: The Play.”

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