Brenda Pressley takes center stage as Willetta, a 1950’s African American actress at work on a play-within-a-play, as TROUBLE IN MIND continues through the weekend at Two River Theater. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
You don’t need much if any direct experience with the Business of Show to reckon that the process of putting something on the stage — the tectonic shift of strong egos, the conflicts and the compromises, the whole backstage pageant — can often be way more compelling than the show itself.
It’s a concept that was grasped beautifully by the late Alice Childress in Trouble in Mind, the comedy-drama that opened last week at Red Bank’s Two River Theater and continues through the weekend (including a 3 p.m. matinee Easter Sunday) in a dynamite production directed by Jade King Carroll.
It’s opening weekend for the Two River Theater Company production of TROUBLE IN MIND, above. Below, the kids from Rockit! polish Janis Joplin’s PEARL as part of the annual Brookdale Guitar Festival. (TRTC photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Friday, April 11 – Sunday, April 13:
RED BANK: Although the late Alice Childress is known these days primarily as author of the young adult novel A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich, among her many firsts and foremosts was becoming the first African-American woman to have one of her plays produced in New York. She also became the first female playwright to win an Obie Award, for a 1955 play entitled Trouble in Mind.
On Friday night at 8 pm, Two River Theater Company opens a new production of the comedy-drama directed by the acclaimed Jade King Carroll, associate director for the recent Broadway Streetcar Named Desire. It’s a “backstage” portrait of a multi-racial theatrical troupe, a play-within-a-play about a Southern lynching, and the fireworks that fly when the show’s black leading lady (Brenda Pressley of TRTC’s In This House) questions the inaccuracies and stereotypes being perpetuated by her white director (fellow Two River returnee Steven Skybell).
Surprisingly resonant today, the oft-overlooked play costars Tony winner Roger Robinson (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone), with McKinley Belcher III, Jonathan David Martin, Brian Russell, Hayley Treider, Amirah Vann — and Robert Hogan, the octogenarian character ace of stage and screen interviewed here on redbankgreen, when he starred in Two River’s recent On Borrowed Time. The show continues with performances at 3 pm and 8 pm Saturday, as well as 3 pm Sunday; take it here for schedule details and tickets ($20-$65). Then stick around after Sunday’s matinee show (or drop in free of charge at 5:30 pm), when director Carroll is joined by Pressley, TRTC Artistic Director John Dias, and her longtime associate, Tony winning actor-director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, for a panel discussion on “Modern African American Theater (1950s to Today),” presented as part of Two River’s “Exploration of Justice” slate of special events.
A first responder benefitting spring edition of Street Fair returns to Red Bank Sunday while, below, the one and only GROUCHO goes wild, in the person of Frank Ferrante, Friday night at the Basie.
RED BANK: “We all want to be Groucho,” Frank Ferrante told us a few seasons back, “to be that wild, irreverent pulverizer of those in power.”
In the acclaimed stage show An Evening with Groucho, the actor-director gets to be all that and more, as his spot-on channeling of the classic comic force of nature Groucho Marx comes to the Count Basie Theatre for the first time. Performed with piano accompaniment, minimal set and trademark makeup, the 90-minute, all-ages friendly tour de farce mixes canonical Marxist quotes, anecdotes from a life in show business, signature silly songs (“Hooray for Captain Spalding,” “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady”), and — in a bracingly contemporary touch — an interactive element that finds Ferrante/Groucho duckwalking the theater aisles. “Fully one-third of it is improvised,” says Ferrante. “That’s what Groucho’s magic was, really – the ability to create comedy on the spot.” Get your tickets ($19 – $49) right here — and when you take it ’round the corner for more Weekender wonderment, tell ’em Groucho sent you.
Time’s running out: Oakes Fegley and Robert Hogan co-star in director Joel Grey’s staging of ‘On Borrowed Time,’ now in its final weekend at Two River Theater. Below, spraypaint specialist Demer judges taking the Jersey Shore Aerosol Art Battle Against Hunger, at Colorest.
Friday, October 11:
RED BANK: Take a late afternoon/ early evening tea break and head upstairs to 135 Monmouth Street in Red Bank, where internationally exhibited multimedia artist (and Red Bank Community Church co-pastor) Gerda Liebmann presents a special opening event at Gallery 135, the must-see space located inside the second-story loft shared by the RBCC. An eclectic array of works in multiple media on the theme of one of the world’s favorite beverages, “Fifty Shades of Tea” spotlights the artistry of Debbie Jencsik, Ellen Martin, Wesley Sumrall, Linnea Tober — and Liebmann, who explains that “the concept of this exhibit is to have the visual reality of art and the multi-sensory reality of tea complement each other to create a truly immersive esthetic experience.” Also offered at the free 6 pm opening event will be a tasting of special-teas from Tea4U of The White House in Oakhurst. Additional exhibit hours will be offered on Saturday (3-5 pm) and Sunday (1-3 pm); call (732)687-3580 for more info.
RED BANK: It’s the final weekend of performances for “On Borrowed Time” at Two River Theater. Broadway legend Joel Grey — who appeared in Paul Osborn’s play as a child back in 1941 — directs this “Americana fantasy that filters big themes of death, devotion and stubborn determination through a Depression-era small town sensibility (and a vague unease over the gathering storm clouds of the Second World War).” Veteran stage-screen character ace Robert Hogan is a refreshingly tart and salty “Gramps” who tragic circumstance has charged with the care of his young grandson, Pud (the impressive young actor Oakes Fegley). Showtimes at 8 pm Friday and Saturday, and 3 pm Saturday and Sunday; take it here for tickets.