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AT TRTC, AN ACTOR TACKLES TWO PLAYS

Tony winning actor Chuck Cooper is in the house for IN THIS HOUSE, the musical that kicks off its world premiere engagement next week at Two River Theater. (Click to enlarge)

By TOM CHESEK 

When last we looked in on Two River Theater Company, the folks over at Red Bank’s regional professional stage were keeping the motor (and the meter) running on an acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Jitney, a modern American classic set in the heart of a scarred but scrappy urban neighborhood.

When the lights come up this Sunday in the Two River Theater’s intimate “black box” performance space, they’ll beam down upon a now-vacant home in a quiet bit of country; a setting in which two sets of strangers – a troubled young couple who’ve lost their way, and an older pair who’ve returned to this place to find something they’ve been missing – are brought together by chance on a frosty New Year’s Eve, In This House.

At first glance, the two shows would appear to have little in common – but a closer look reveals the presence in both casts of Chuck Cooper, the Tony winning actor and singer (1996 Best Featured Actor in the musical The Life) who topped the cast of Jitney as Becker, the dour and disillusioned boss of the play’s gypsy cab depot.

In the “chamber musical” that’s being staged for the first time anywhere – one of two world premieres in TRTC artistic director John Dias‘s 2011-2012 season (the other was last October’s Seven Homeless Mammoths…) – Cooper co-stars with Brenda Pressley (Broadway’s original cast of Dreamgirls) as the older couple Henry and Luisa. Jeff Kready (Broadway’s Billy Elliott) and Margo Seibert (TRTC’s Orestes) appear as younger couple Johnny and Annie under the direction of May Adrales.

And, as if the production didn’t already have enough to distinguish it, it may just be the only musical you’ll see this season that boasts a score by a former NFL defensive tackle.

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AN EXTENDED RIDE FOR TRTC’s ‘JITNEY’

Tony winner Chuck Cooper (right) appears with J. Bernard Calloway in the Two River Theater Company production of JITNEY — and sticks around to star in IN THIS HOUSE next month. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

In August Wilson’s ensemble drama Jitney, the cantankerous cabbie Turnbo admonishes his call-in “trips” with a warning that they’d better be ready when he gets there, ’cause he ain’t waiting.

That said, if you’re worried that you might not make it to a performance of the critically acclaimed play in Red Bank, the folks at Two River Theater Company want to assure you that they’ll keep the motor running for you.

The show now onstage under the direction of Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson — an offering described by Sledger reviewer (and dean of NJ drama critics) Peter Filichia as “magnificent” in his recent review and as “vibrant” by Anita Gates in the New York Times — has just announced an additional four performances between Thursday, February 23 and Saturday, February 25. That’s good news for anyone looking to catch up with a production that some have branded a worthy candidate for a New York engagement in the near future — although it could be potentially exhausting news for one busy cast member.

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