Two River Theater Company inaugurates its first season of mainstage productions under new artistic director John Dias when INTIMATE APPAREL opens tomorrow night.
By TOM CHESEK
For Red Banks Two River Theater Company, the 2009-2010 season was one of critical/commercial highs, big helpful friends, blizzard-bound opening nights, and major shakeups in the front office followed with a quiet summer that was almost crowned by near-tragedy.
With the turn of the seasons, however, company founder/ executive producer Bob Rechnitz and the TRTC team prepare to roll out the first in the borough-based professional stage troupe’s 2010-2011 slate of shows. It’s a team that features several new faces not least of which is John Dias, the longtime veteran of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater who on August 16 stepped into his new job as TRTC’s artistic director, the high profile position previously held by playwright/ director Aaron Posner.
The 46-year-old Dias inherits a full schedule of shows, all of which were announced prior to his selection by the Two River board of directors. It’s a schedule that started in earnest Saturday night, with the curtain-raiser for Intimate Apparel.
A 2003 ensemble piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage, Apparel centers on Esther, an unmarried, 35-year-old African American seamstress plying her considerable skills in 1905 New York City. Even as she crafts wonderful creations for society ladies and prostitutes alike, Esther struggles to tie together the threads of her own life finding some small support in the disparate group of New Yorkers in her orbit; agreeing to marry a rough-hewn Panama Canal worker in a time when, as Variety said, “the cut and color of ones dress and of course, skin determined whom one could and could not marry, sleep with, even talk to in public.
redbankgreen sat down with John Dias for his take on Red Bank, the theater, and where it’s all headed in seasons to come.
You’re coming to this job with a pretty weighty background, and you’re approaching it from a different angle than your predecessor did: that of the producer/impresario, the facilitator.
I’m a very involved producer; I love to make theater happen from a producer’s point of view. Like a lot of other people, I was bitten by the bug onstage at first, but acting for me wasn’t as encompassing as I wanted it to be. I got interested in other things design, directing and eventually I found what I was looking for in a dramaturgy training program.
My role has been to help shepherd projects through the point of view of the text and at the same time, helping writers to navigate through the system, to get their work produced. When I was with the Public Theater, Joseph Papp was kind of the model for the producer, the person that I wanted to be.
Were you at all familiar with what Two River was doing before they put out the call for a new A.D.?
I had never actually been here prior to hearing about the artistic director search. But I felt from the first meeting with the board that they were the kind of people who were sensitive to ideas, who listened. I’m an institutional theater kind of guy I like making an artistic home for myself, being part of a real community of folks who are artists and who have a sense of their theater’s place in the community. I got a sense of that from the people here.
Have you made the move to Red Bank?
To Middletown, yes. I’ve been guilty of never really knowing much about the area, and I have to say it’s been a pleasant and shocking surprise. Not just Red Bank, which has the Count Basie and Two River and so much going on, but places like Sandy Hook, Asbury Park. I went to see ReVision Theatre’s musical (The Bikinis) there on the boardwalk. It’s good for the cultural ecology of the area to have so many creative people active around here.
This town, this area, is an exciting, charming antidote to New York, and it’s hard to want to go back. There’s been some smart, sensitive planning here in town, in making this place come back to life in the past twenty years.
Probably one of your biggest challenges is to make a success of a season in which you didn’t have any input as far as picking the shows. Still, something in the schedule must have piqued your interest, as far as a project to really sink your teeth into.
I do feel a certain affinity with everything going on in the new season. Looking back over the past 15 years of productions that this company has done, I feel simpatico with a great deal of it.
I know you’re looking forward to the process of selecting the next season’s slate of shows. Any thoughts as to what different sort of stuff we might be seeing under your tenure?
I think we’ll be seeing at last one new, completely unfamiliar property on the schedule. Maybe even a couple. I’m dedicated to presenting new work that’s consequential to our audience while at the same time being deeply committed to the power of great classical theater, which is a big part of what Two River Theater has been about.
But before next year, in the second semester of this season, I’d like to start a series of readings of brand new plays. There are bunches of projects that I’d like to do in here, and dozens of artists who’d love to do them!
Another item on your to-do list has to be the naming of a new associate artistic director, to replace the much-missed KJ Sanchez.
That’s something we’ll be addressing I’m looking for someone who has the kind of experience that I have, a producing partner, literary manager sort of person.
It’s just a short train ride between here and the city, but it’s a different sort of an environment than what you’ve been used to. Are you picking up signals that there are differences in the way that things play in the city versus the suburbs?
We’re just getting started here, and I don’t know what to expect I don’t want to judge how an audience is going to react to something. Given how close we are to the city, our audience is made up of people who go regularly into New York to see shows, and others who may not go to any other shows at all. I can say that this theater needs to get much more connected to other theaters across the country, to tap into some of the more exciting things that are going on, introduce people in the area to good new work. This audience deserves to have that.
Intimate Apparel continues through October 10. Ticket reservations and more info on this and other upcoming productions can be had on the TRTC website.