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RED BANK: A LAST CALL FOR ‘REASON’

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Ilona (Mairin Lee) is the center of attention, as the Two River Theater original LIVES OF REASON (above) enters its final round of performances…while Monmouth U’s Frank P. Fury (below) inaugurates a new series of Conversation + Play events at Two River. (Top photo by T. Charles Erickson)

fury-3647243Although its authors — longtime Monmouth University English professor Robert Rechnitz, and veteran Dean/ History prof Kenneth Stunkel — have waved away any direct connection to their former place of employment or co-workers, the unmistakable flavor of a life spent in academia permeates Lives of Reason, the original ensemble drama that represents the maiden collaboration for its two octogenarian playwrights.

Even as Lives enters into the final eight performances (today through Sunday, February 7) of its limited engagement at Two River Theater, the venue re-establishes that Monmouth U connection with the help of the organization known as The Navesink, whose TEDxNavesink events used the Bridge Avenue arts center for its sold-out 2014 session (and who since relocated to, you guessed it, the Monmouth campus). Thursday, February 4 marks the first in a three-part series of Conversation + Play “salons” that pair an 8 pm performance of Two River’s current mainstage production with a special pre-show lecture — in this case the young MU faculty member and literature specialist Frank P. Fury, Ph.D.

Presented under the theme “The Heroine in Modern Drama: (Un)Necessary and (In)Sufficient,” Fury’s talk “will investigate the nature of the term ‘heroine’ and traces the evolution of the heroine using examples from prominent playwrights.”

It’s a conversation that promises to carry more hope for the future of higher learning than the cocktail-party etiquette of the characters in Lives of Reason — a collection of desperately ambitious, oozingly cynical, inscrutably guarded and downright dangerous people who by and large don’t like each other, don’t like their jobs, and probably don’t like or even truly understand their own fields of expertise. Directed by Jonathan Fox (who served as Two River Theater Company’s artistic director during its earliest seasons), Lives finds Fox reteaming with TRTC founding father Rechnitz for a faculty-party fallout that throws together a mewlingly mother-obsessed specialist in the poetry of Swinburne (Broadway and TV veteran Jay Russell), a cautious rising-star who may or not have discovered a “lost” work by Shakespeare (Matthew Lieff Christian), an acid-tongued specialist in Post-modern Lit (William Parry), a college president, a rich benefactor and various other orbiters in a joyless occasion designed to determine just who is going to be named to a sought-after Deanship. At the center of the maelstrom is faculty wife and self-described “Lady Macbeth” Ilona (Mairin Lee), whose hair-trigger behavior and history with half the attendees threaten to derail the party’s thin veneer of civilization at every turn.

Thursday’s salon session begins at 6:30 p.m. with dinner, drinks and conversation, followed by Fury’s talk and Q&A before the 8 pm showtime inside the “black box” Marion Huber performance space. Tickets for the Conversation + Play package are $50 per person (order from the Two River box office using the code NAVESINK50).

There’s also a discounted ticket of $120 for all three sessions in the Salon series (order using code NAVESINK120). Included with the February 4 event are an April 28 presentation on “Adventure and Growth in Shakespeare’s Pericles,” featuring guest speaker Sue Starke, Ph.D and followed by the Two River production of that classic from the Bard’s quill. The series concludes on June 23 with guest speaker Bill Ditto and and his talk, “Using Antiques and Treasured Family Items to Connect with Your Ancestry,” which will illustrate how family-held items, passed down through generations, are valuable tools when learning about ancestry. It’s paired with a performance of I Remember Mama, the venerable family drama (given a twist with an all-female cast) that closes out the 2015-2016 TRTC season.

Lives of Reason continues through February 7 with a mix of matinee and evening performances. Tickets ($20 – $65 adults) can be reserved by taking it here.  

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