RED BANK: TRTC REGRETS CASTING CHOICES

The reading’s cast includes, in top row: Blair Brown, Michael Cumpsty, Oakes Fegley, Bill Irwin, Kevin Isola and Karl Kenzler; bottom, Bebe Neuwirth, Duane Noch, Gregory Noll, Steven Skybell, Phillipa Soo and Sam Waterston. (Two River Theater photo. Click to enlarge.)

[UPDATE: On July 31, the Two River Theater announced a cancellation of this event, with automatic refunds to be made to ticketholders. In addition, the theater said it is “planning a public forum to continue this complex conversation about representation in the theater.”]

Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company issued an apology Tuesday for “not having cast more artists of color” in a star-studded play reading scheduled for next week.

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TRTC OPENS SEASON ‘ON BORROWED TIME’

HoganGreyVeteran character actor Robert Hogan (left) stars in ‘On Borrowed Time,’ the season-opening Two River Theater Company production directed by Broadway legend Joel Grey (right). 

By TOM CHESEK

It’s a moving pre-war story of life, love, death and devotion, set in small-town America, shot through with a plain-speak wit and eloquence, and featuring an ensemble cast of young and old actors.

It’s not Our Town, but On Borrowed Time, a fantasy that also made its bow in 1938 — and beginning this weekend, Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company celebrates the play’s 75th anniversary with a new production that kicks off the troupe’s own 20th anniversary season. It also marks a homecoming of sorts for a genuine Broadway legend.

The script by playwright and screenwriter Paul Osborn concerns an elderly “Gramps,” whose young grandson “Pud” is left in his care after Death — personified as one Mr. Brink — claims the boy’s parents and grandmother. Wanting to keep Death away from his own doorstep — and seeking to fend off Pud’s money-grubbing aunt Demetria — Gramps employs a little wishing magic and wily wisdom to trick Mr. Brink into becoming trapped in the old man’s apple tree. When Death takes a holiday, what seemed like a victory soon poses its own set of problems.

A hit in its original run, the play was made into a film with Lionel Barrymore in 1939. Two years later, a nine-year-old performer by the name of Joel Grey stepped into the part of Pud, inaugurating a long-playing stage career that would see him win a Tony (and an Oscar, for the same role) as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret.

With TRTC’s season-opening production, Grey (whose Broadway roles in recent years have included Wicked and Anything Goes) returns to On Borrowed Time — this time as director.

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