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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Annual play reading series going virtual, bigger in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Eight of the 10 offerings of “PlayWorks 2021.”

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Third Avenue Playhouse’s annual play reading series this year is titled “PlayWorks 2021” and will be seen virtually the first and third Fridays each month from February through June. Info: thirdaveneuplayhouse.com.

The series normally is held over two winter weekends.

The change is due to two things: One, the theater has been shut since the start of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, now lingering. Two, renovation of the theater facility is continuing, with reopening targeted for mid-year for live, in-person productions.

According to a press release: For the series, admission is free, with “donations gratefully accepted.”

All readings will be produced live, and each will be followed by a talkback with the director and cast.

The first reading, “The Children,” will be presented at in conjunction with Door County Reads 2021.

The plays selected for “PlayWorks 2021” represent a wide range of styles and genres written by playwrights from the United States (Lauren Gunderson, Rolin Jones, Dominique Morisseau, Theresa Reebeck, Harry Von Tilzer, Lanford Wilson), England (Lucy Kirkwood) and Ireland (Brian Friel). Of the 10 plays being presented, seven will be directed by guest directors. Third Avenue Playhouse co-artistic director James Valcq will present a work-in-progress restoration of the long-lost 1908 comedy operetta, “The Kissing Girl” by Harry Von Tilzer.

Participating actors and directors are a mixture of familiar and new faces. While the artists participating are still being assembled, those who are confirmed include Michael Cotey, Dimonte Henning, Sam Douglas, Krystal Drake, Katherine Duffy, Karen Estrada, Lachrisa Grandberry, Carrie Hitchcock, Chike Johnson, Alan Kopischke, Marie Kohler, April Paul, Syd Robbie, Ryan Schabach, Malkia Stampley, Marie Tredway, Marcus Truschinski. Jennifer Vosters, Sheri Williams Pannell, Tami Workentin and Michael Wright.

The schedule, with all showings at 7 p.m.:

+ Feb. 5: “The Children” by Lucy Kirkwood.

Marie Kohler directs the cast: Alan Kopischke, Carrie Hitchcock, Sheri Williams Pannell.

Two retired nuclear scientists reside in an isolated cottage by the sea as the world around them crumbles. Together they are going to live forever on yogurt and yoga, until an old friend arrives with a frightening request.

+ Feb. 19: “Fifth of July” by Lanford Wilson.

Michael Wright directs the cast: Michael Cotey, Sam Douglas, Krystal Drake, Karen Estrada, April Paul, Syd Robbie, Marcus Truschinski and Tami Workentin.

Alternately comical and moving, the play deals with a group of former student activists and the changes that have been wrought in their lives and attitudes in the years since leaving college. This is the third part of the Talley Family Trilogy beginning with “Talley’s Folly,” presented in Third Avenue Playhouse’s 2014 season.

+ March 5: “Sunset Baby” by Dominique Morisseau.

Malkia Stampley directs the cast: Lachrisa Grandberry, Dimonte Henning and Chike Johnson.

Kenyatta Shakur is alone. His wife has died, and this former Black Revolutionary and political prisoner is desperate to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Nina. If Kenyatta truly wants to reconcile his past, he must first conquer his most challenging revolution of all – fatherhood. In “Sunset Baby,” the personal and political collide.

+ March 19: “Natural Shocks” by Lauren Gunderson.

Michael Cotey directs the cast: Jennifer Vosters.

Angela is trapped in her basement, waiting out an approaching tornado. Though a self-proclaimed unreliable narrator, she begins to reflect on a lifetime of trauma, illuminating the truth behind her endangerment. Based on Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, the play “is a damning condemnation of violence, abuse and firearms in America.”

+ April 2: To be announced; the play is awaiting approval rights.

+ April 16: New vintage musical restoration, a work-in-progress adapted and directed by James Valcq.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Midwest had a thriving musical theater scene all its own centered on Chicago, featuring an explosion of works created specifically for Midwest audiences. James Valcq is in the process of dusting off 1908’s “The Kissing Girl” composed by Harry Von Tilzer. The comedy operetta had its world premiere in Madison before opening for a long run in the then-new Cort Theatre in Chicago.

+ May 7: “The Understudy” by Theresa Reebeck.

Alan Kopischke directs the cast: Katherine Duffy, Chike Johnson and Ryan Schabach.

Franz Kafka’s undiscovered masterpiece in its Broadway premiere is the setting for this exploration of the existential vagaries of show business and life. Charged with running the understudy rehearsal for the production, Roxanne finds her professional and personal life colliding when Harry, a journeyman actor and her ex-fiancé, is cast as the understudy to Jake, a mid-tier action star yearning for legitimacy. The play “is a dazzling and humanistic look at people trying to do what they love in the face of obstacles that mount until all anyone can do is dance.”

+ May 21: “Molly Sweeney” by Brian Friel.

James Valcq directs a cast to be announced.

Three points of view are related by three characters addressing the audience directly. Molly, blind since early infancy, describes her world before and after an operation to restore some of her sight. Her husband, Frank, who pushed Molly into this operation, relates his view of his wife’s journey into sightedness and his dealings with her doctor. Molly’s once-famous eye surgeon, Mr. Rice, watches both Molly and Frank and reveals his opinion of them along with his own fears in handling the operation. The stories interweave on stage, threading in and around each other’s lives… until the unexpected conclusion.

+ June 11: “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” by Rolin Jones.

Marie Tredway directs a cast to be announced.

Jennifer is just an average girl who re-engineers obsolete missile components for the U.S. Army from her bedroom. When she decides to meet her birth mother in China, she uses her technological genius to devise a new form of human contact. The irreverent “techno-comedy” chronicles a brilliant woman’s quest to determine her heritage and face her fears with the help of a Mormon missionary, a pizza delivery guy and her astounding creation called Jenny Chow.

+ June 25: To be announced; the play is awaiting approval rights.

Third Avenue Playhouse is a year-round professional theater. Founded in 2000, the theater’s mission is “to entertain and educate by provoking thought, laughter and tears” through performances of contemporary and classic plays, musicals and opera.

Co-artistic directors Robert Boles and James Valcq add this statement to the “PlayWorks 2021” announcement:

“While sadly not being able to safely or legally open our doors to the public, we are presenting these readings in order to reach out and retain an unbroken connection with our patrons during this difficult time. Over the last several months, we discussed several ways of producing both visual and audio virtual content. It is vital we find a way to reach our patrons in whatever way possible. We have seen some fine examples of online content done by our colleagues both here in Door County and throughout the state. The work being done at these theaters is truly remarkable especially when you realize how quickly and efficiently they have all managed to develop their content in so short a period of time.

“For us here at TAP, at the end of the day, we felt that producing similar high quality virtual programming was simply not a good use of our limited resources or a good example of the type of work people expect when they come to see a play or musical at Third Avenue Playhouse. We are theater makers after all, not film/video makers, and we wanted our content to reflect that fact.

“To that end, in addition to our ongoing ‘TAP Talks,’ we present our newest play reading series, ‘PlayWorks 2021.’ Just like our in-person readings, these will be one-time live events. We are not charging admission, but we do ask those patrons who can afford to do so to donate whatever they can in order to help us pay the expenses for these readings.

“This reading series is our gift to the TAP community. The participating artists are some of the finest actors and directors we’ve ever assembled, many of whom are familiar to our audiences and others who are new to us. We have received an incredible outpouring of support from our patrons during this time, and we hope that many of them will attend these readings from wherever they are. Please share them with your family and friends.

“For now, we ask enjoy this new series while we all look forward to the time when we can gather under our roof once again and share in the experience that only live theater can provide.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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