It seems, at first glance, a summer-surprise coda to the recently wrapped 2015-2016 season of the area’s longest-established community theater company, Monmouth Players.
But when producers Paul and Lori Renick turn the key once more on their homestage space at the Navesink Arts Center in Middletown Saturday, they’ll actually be sounding a keynote to their upcoming 2016-2017 slate of shows.
Kicking off on September 18 with Ken Ludwig’s sophisticated mystery “Post Mortem” — and featuring such ambitious fare as “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, and “Private Lives” by Noel Coward (whose “Blithe Spirit” had the honor of being the first-ever show presented by the Monmouth Players, way back in 1953), the new slate offers up an appetizer in a similarly literary-minded vein this weekend, when the players celebrate the legacy of the great 20th-century playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder.
Best known for his bracingly modern, even avant garde portraits of American life in the plays “Our Town” and “The Skin of Our Teeth,” as well as the novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (he won Pulitzer Prizes for all three works), Wilder would dabble in Hollywood screenwriting, translate the works of famous French authors, and even act in some of his own plays over the course of a long career that lasted into the 1970s.
A lot lesser known are the dozens of one-act plays that he composed mostly in his earlier years (including the Tony Award-winning “Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden”). But when the players assemble “An Evening with Thornton Wilder” for four performances over the next two weekends, they’ll be shining a spotlight on some oft-overlooked gems of the modern American stage: gifting their audience with a civilized treat in a best-kept-secret setting, and picking up on the momentum established by last summer’s successful salute to the short works of Tennessee Williams.
Lori Renick and Melanie Taylor share directorial duties for the program, working with a cast that boasts such card-carrying “Players Club” members as Bob Mira, Kelly Cibrian, Sue Morgan, David Beil, Cynthia Dannen, Brandon Guerriero, and Stacy Smith-Velez. The playlets will not be performed on the auditorium stage of the Arts Center, but in the more intimate setting of the historic building’s beautifully refurbished lobby — a space that formerly served as the actual little library part of the old Navesink Library (see our 2013 story on how the players were able to rescue and restore the decommissioned branch of the Middletown Township library system).
Performances of “An Evening with Thornton Wilder” are August 20 and 27 at 8:15 p.m., and August 21 and 28 at 2:00 p.m., with cut-above-the-rest refreshments available before the show and at intermission. Reserve tickets ($15) by calling (732)291-9211 — then take it to the troupe’s new website for full schedule details on the 2016-2017 season.