MIDDLETOWN: HOW TO MAKE A ‘DIAMOND’

MHSS playElias Kotsis and Jessica Fisher (center) are featured in the cast of Middletown High School South’s THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ, director Alexis Kozak’s own adaptation of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If comedy is as hard as they say it is, then satire (which the conventional wisdom says “is what closes on Saturday night”) is even harder — and a diamond, whether in the rough or on the résumé, is the hardest thing known to mankind.

When Middletown High School South theater arts teacher Alexis Kozak got down to selecting the school’s fall dramatic production for the 2014-2015 academic year, he bypassed the tried-and-true tropes of the community-stage canon — gambling in favor of a never-before-presented script, by a largely unknown scribe: Alexis Kozak.

With a Masters degree in playwriting — and a portfolio of original work that includes the full-length Zero Days Since the Last Miracle (produced last year by The Black Box, the Asbury Park-based arts collective on whose board he sits) — Kozak is hardly a dilettante dabbler. And his script, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, comes backed by the full faith and credit of one of the great American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in 1920s Montana, this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s “Jazz Age” novella follows innocent prep-school boy John T. Unger (Elias Kotsis) as he accompanies his ultra-rich friend Percy Washington home for the summer to his family chateau — where he discovers that the source of the family’s wealth is a secret worth dying for.

“I did see this as an opportunity to beat Broadway to the punch,” says Kozak about Diamond, which has just come into the public domain, (and is also being adapted as a Broadway musical, purportedly scheduled for opening later this year). “I have always loved Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby…so, in some ways, this is a love letter to him and his work.”

“It’s such a strange tale…it’s got a little bit of everything: comedy, drama, fantasy, satire, coming-of-age story, love, violence,” says the playwright and director, who won Basie Awards for Direction and Outstanding Musical for last year’s production of Evita at Middletown South.

Senior Elias Kotsis, himself a two-time Basie Award winning Best Actor, is drawn in by the story’s satirical edge. “It speaks loudly as to what we are willing to do as individuals for the sake of money and to what our country has done to get where it is…we haven’t always had the best track record in terms of greed and violence, especially in the early part of our country’s history, when it comes to chasing the American dream.”

Kotsis is joined in the cast by Jessica Fisher, Tara Kinsella, and an ensemble of supporting players. Kozak is assisted in the production by student director (and Basie Award-nominated lighting designer) Vici Saunders.

Performances of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz are 7 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, November 20 through 22. Take it here for tickets ($7 for students; $12 for adults) — and check the Black Box website for updates on all-original offerings from Kozak and company (including Bread and Butter: A Situation, Mary Kelly’s study in post-apocalyptic absurdism on view this weekend at Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center).