RED BANK: A BIT OF TOMS RIVER AT TWO RIVER

Alexis Kozak (horiz) COLORPlaywright and Middletown High School South faculty member Alexis Kozak premieres his original script, “Toms River Anthology,” at the Count Basie Theatre’s new Performing Arts Academy on June 12.

As Alexis Kozak explains things, it’s “a meditation on death in New Jersey,” one that “toys with the question of why we pass through Toms River, but why Toms River won’t just g–damn die?!”

Beginning on Friday, June 12 and continuing for three performances over the weekend, Kozak will host the world premiere of his original play Toms River Anthologynot in Toms River but in the new Red Bank headquarters of the Count Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy (the onetime WaWa store at 111 Monmouth Street that until very recently served as rehearsal space for the Phoenix Productions stage troupe).

The play is the first in a planned “play cycle about New Jersey” tentatively titled The Land of Blue Shadow. But before Jerseyphiles get up in arms over future slights, let it be known that the prolific playwright, director and public high school teacher is himself a Garden State native, one with a professed “love-hate relationship” with that sprawling Ocean County suburb to the south, where he spent a good deal of time as a kid.

It’s also a presentation of Black Box Asbury Park, the “multi-cultural arts incubator” of which Kozak is a board member, and it’s being offered up free of charge, in the interest of “sharing the communal experience of knowing New Jersey lives are worthy of putting onstage,” Kozak says.

Freely inspired by the Edgar Lee Masters poetry classic Spoon River Anthology – and set in a cemetery – Toms River Anthology consists of five scenes, each centered around a different pair of characters: newlyweds, cancer cluster-affected ex-friends, a gay couple, a brother and sister, and a divorcing husband and wife.

The cast – including Anthony Forte, Kelly Lozo, Scott Visco, JMe Marcinczyk, Steven Koumoulis, Paul Caliendo, Greg Plakoudas, Allie Brand, Renee Panagos-Felice, and Evan Krachman – spotlights several graduates of Kozak’s tenure as a faculty member at Middletown High School South, where he teaches performance and technical theatre.

Kozak, who holds an MFA in playwriting, recently picked up a Basie Award for his adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, staged as a student production at MHSS earlier in the school year.

The Basie connection extends to the involvement of Performing Arts Academy director Yvonne Scudiery, who, according to Kozak “asked if I might have ideas for programming for the space. I asked her if she would be interested in presenting new plays, she said yes, and we were off to the races.”

Performances of Toms River Anthology are at 8 pm on June 12, 13 and 14. Tickets are free, but reservations are strongly recommended. For more information or to reserve tickets, take it here, call (732) 207-5573, or e-mail lxskozak@hotmail.com.