Monday, May 22, 2017



2017 Princeton Festival’s 13th Season of Musical Comedy, Opera, Jazz, Film, Dance, and Lectures

WHEN: June 3 and June 25, 2017
venues throughout the Princeton area
For more information and a link to ticket sales (handled by McCarter Theatre), visit To purchase tickets by phone, call McCarter Theatre at 609-258-2787.

For its 13th season The Princeton Festival  is offering 22 performances of 11 different programs. The Festival has scheduled its first-ever Baroque chamber music recital in Princeton Abbey, a new venue, and created its first Pops concert for Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University, another new venue.

“We’re excited to be adding a Pops concert and two beautiful new performance spaces this year,” said Richard Tang Yuk, the Festival’s General and Artistic Director. “It’s part of our commitment to stage the broadest range of performing arts for audiences in Central Jersey and beyond, enhanced by the most varied series of lectures we have ever presented.”

This year’s mainstage event is Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, a tale of uplift and the triumph of love in the face of tyranny, in two performances. There will also be 11 performances of the musical Man of La Mancha, source of the song “The Impossible Dream,” an anthem of human hope and aspiration.

The Festival’s first Pops event is “Disney in Concert: Around the World,” a concert sure to appeal to all lovers of Disney, featuring a live orchestra playing while clips from favorite Disney films are shown on a big screen.

Other attractions include a jazz concert by the Peter Martin Trio. Martin is not only a piano phenomenon in his own right, but often accompanies some of the biggest names in jazz. The Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra returns for its third annual concert, and its principal players also perform in the chamber program at Princeton Abbey.

Other headline performances include the inventive contemporary ballet troupe BalletX; the film “Quartet,” with Festival singers giving a live mini-concert after the screening; the exciting finals of the Festival’s annual youth piano competition; and a typically inventive and enjoyable performance by the Concordia Chamber Players.

Sixteen free lectures by well-known experts on topics such as the Don Quixote legend, heroism in Fidelio, Leonore as a new kind of heroine, Baroque music, and ballet begin May 4. There are also previews and workshops on opera. CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS.

Full descriptions of all offerings are available on the Festival website, with instructions for ordering tickets by phone, email, or online.

Performance Overview

Twenty-two performances by outstanding artists and ensembles begin on June 3.

  • Concordia Chamber Players perform music by Aaron Jay Kernis, Beethoven, and Richard Strauss, Saturday, June 3, Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary.
  • Quartet2: a screening of the popular film, followed by a live performance of popular quartets and more by Festival singers. Sunday, June 4, Princeton Garden Theatre.
  • Pops Orchestra: Disney in Concert around the World. Live performance of music from Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, and more, with scenes from the movies on a big screen. Friday, June 9, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University.
  • Musical Comedy: Man of La Mancha, June 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, Matthews Acting Studio, Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, 185 Nassau Street.
  • Piano Competition for Young Artists, Finals: Sunday, June 11, Clark Music Center, The Lawrenceville School.
  • Baroque Music: Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra. Chamber concert Saturday, June 17, Princeton Abbey; Orchestra concert Wednesday, June 21, Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary
  • Jazz: Peter Martin Trio, Saturday, June 17, Berlind Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton.
  • Opera: Beethoven’s Fidelio. Sunday, June 18 and Sunday, June 25, Matthews Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton.
  • Dance: BalletX. Contemporary ballet troupe performs Saturday, June 24, Berlind Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton.
  • Choral Concert: Music by Handel, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, and Zelenka with conducting masterclass participants leading the Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, Saturday, June 24, Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary.


2017 Princeton Festival Guild’s Annual Artists Round Table

WHEN: Wednesday May 31, 2017, 6:30 pm
: Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton NJ, Scheide Hall Gambrell Room
TICKETS: free and open to the public. Visitor parking available on the PTS campus. Artists reception follows.
Visit for more information about the Artists Round Table.

Artists and production staff from the Princeton Festival’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio will share their personal experiences with the audience during an interactive forum. Hear the pleasures and perils faced both on stage and off as the artists bring the opera to life for its opening performance. The Artists Round Table offers a rare opportunity to meet the artists up close and hear in their own voice how they develop their roles, interpretations and insights.

Marian Burleigh-Motley, renowned interviewer and lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will moderate. Richard Tang Yuk, Artistic Director of The Princeton Festival and Stephen LaCosse, Stage Director of The Princeton Festival’s production of Fidelio will participate along with principal singers from the production.

The Princeton Festival presents Beethoven’s Fidelio June 18 and 25 at McCarter Theatre. For ticket information and a complete listing of The Princeton Festival, visit or call 609.258.ARTS (2787).




WHEN: June 4 at 3pm  - 6 pm
Princeton’s Garden Theatre, 160 Nassau Street, Princeton
Information and general admission tickets for the June 4 event are available by calling (609) 258-2787 or visiting the McCarter Theatre Ticket Office.
A link to online ticket sales can be found at
The Princeton Festival’s 13th season of performances across the genres of opera, Broadway musicals, jazz, dance, choral music, film and more runs from June 3 to June 25.

Fans of the 2012 Dustin Hoffman film Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay among other well-known actors, can join lovers of great singing at Princeton Festival program  that will expand their enjoyment of both art forms.

The program will open at 3pm with a discussion of the film and the place of music in its story by a three-member expert panel. The movie will be screened at 4pm, followed by a live performance by Festival artists of operatic vocal works, including the quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto referred to in the film’s title.

“You sometimes see programs that combine a movie with discussion, but I don’t know of any others that add a live performance to the package,” said Richard Tang Yuk, General and Artistic Director of the Festival. “We wanted to do something unusual and enjoyable for our audience, and Quartet gives us the opportunity to involve the wonderful singers from our production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio.”

Quartet is a bittersweet story of four retired opera singers whose difficulties in reconciling their past professional and personal differences get in the way of their promised performance of opera favorites for their retirement community’s crucial annual fundraiser. Art and death are at the core of this film, with the central theme revolving around the need to have a creative outlet. Living without a creative outlet is tantamount to dying, both literally and metaphorically.

Can the main characters resolve their disagreements in time to sing the Rigoletto quartet? We hear the piece on the soundtrack, but never actually see them performing it. “Quartet2” attendees, however, will see—and hear—a rendition by Festival vocalists after the movie, plus other arias.




The panel discussion on “Opera and the Movies” that introduces the afternoon’s program will be moderated by Andrew Lovett (L), composer and Professional Specialist at Princeton University. Michael Wood (R), critic and Professor of English at the University, and Sara McDermott (center), filmmaker, screenwriter, and founder of the Princeton Independent Film Festival, will join Lovett to delve into the topic.



Chatham Playhouse’s 23rd Annual Jersey Voices One-Act Festival

WHEN:  Thursday, June 1st and Monday, June 5th, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm.
WHERE: Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Ave., Chatham.

Performances will take place on July 28 and 29, and August 4, 5 and 6th. Jersey Voices has provided a venue for New Jersey playwrights to showcase their work since 1995.

They are looking for men, ages 20’s to 60’s and women, ages 20’s to 70’s, and one young teen/preteen girl to fill roles for six one-act plays.

  • Actors may read from sides available at the auditions or they may present a monologue.
  • For those who are interested in becoming familiar with the one-acts, full scripts will be available for reading at the Library of The Chathams across the street from the Playhouse.

Presented One-Act Plays are:

Knock Out
by Glen D. Post
Directed by John AC Kennedy

When love comes knock-knocking you might laugh or you might roll your eyes -- but if you know the punchline, it could be the start of something.

  • 3 men and 3 women 20’s – 30’s.

by Walter Placzek
Directed by Lynn Polan

Zarg is both funny and touching. Spirited, well-meaning people find love and connection in very difficult circumstances.

  • Carolyn Carpenter (65-70) former star of a series of blockbuster sci-fi films; strong minded; energetic; not a diva; good sense of humor; no nonsense view of life
  • Janet Carpenter (35-40) Carolyn’s daughter; protective; selfless; strong; a caretaker
  • Allison Watford (Pre-teen) buoyant personality; enthusiastic; straight forward; loves and tries to protect her father
  • David Watford (35-40) warm & kind; devoted father to Allison; emotionally resilient; has sense of humor

Badger and Maddy
by Diana Lewis
Directed by Arnold Buchiane

A two-character comedy that shows us wisdom can come from unusual places.

  • Male & female in their 30’s – 50’s are needed.

Hair, Shoes Coffee
by Eleanor Kennedy
Directed by Dawn Afanador

Fun comedy piece requiring a lot of acting "in between the lines." Examines the morning rituals of a woman through the eyes of her male friend.

  • Frank - male, late 20’s, laid back
  • Doris - female, late 20’s, just a little compulsive

In Reverse Order
by Eric Alter
Directed by George Seylaz

  • "Well, I have an incredible porno collection." A guy, A gal, A blind date. Comedy ensues.
  • Gordon – Mid 30’s, charming, warm, charismatic- very likable guy. Model good looks with the heart of a gentleman
  • Renee – Mid 30’s, tense, apprehensive, gun-shy about dating

A Dog’s Life
by Robert Scott Sullivan
Directed by Joann Scanlon

The silly, exciting, adventure of a day with your dog.

  • RJ (dog) -Probably male is best but would consider female, any age, must be agile and willing to let your inhibitions go.
  • Billy (owner) - Probably male but would consider female, of working age, with a ready laugh and an understanding of how to interact with a pet dog and how the dog might behave.

The Chatham Players have an open call casting policy. ALL roles are open, none are precast, and everyone is encouraged to audition.

Any questions, please call Gus Ibranyi at (201)-563-0362 or email For directions or additional information, please visit



Annual Spring Members’ Exhibition of Livingston Arts Association

WHEN: open daily, continues until May 30
Crane’s Mill Towne Square Gallery, 459 Passaic Ave., West Caldwell

The Annual Spring Members’ Exhibition of Livingston Arts Association opened with an award ceremony at Crane’s Mill Towne Square Gallery, 459 Passaic Ave., West Caldwell. The Judge, Sharon Pitts, is a watercolor artist who teaches at Montclair Art Museum.  This summer she will host a watercolor workshop in Croatia.

Award of Excellence was presented to Rita Bodner, Elaine Denton, Deborah Druce, Kenneth Weiner, and Helen Wu.  Honorable Mentions were presented to Jean Atherton, Dr. Daryoush Houshmand, Carolina Medina and Ellen Rosenthal.

All winning artists will have the privilege of having their art on display at Livingston Town Hall during July and August.  Harriet Hiller, Co-President of LAA, has a solo exhibit in Livingston Town Hall, 357 Livingston Ave., which runs through the end of June.

Founded in 1959, the objective of Livingston Arts Association is to foster an appreciation of the fine and applied arts in Livingston and surrounding areas.  "The legacy of its founders has been carried on over the years through exhibitions, classes for adults and school children, demonstrations, and workshops.  We are proud of our heritage." says Harriet Hiller.  We invite the public to attend our demonstrations and exhibitions which are advertised in local newspapers and can be found on our website:

TOP: Ellen Rosenthal with her portrait of Barack Obama. Ellen a student of  Laurie Harden at LAA.


WHEN: June 3, noon, through June 10
Jersey City and Hudson County
ADMISSION: two free all-day concerts in Jersey City; various costs elsewhere
For a full lineup of the dozens of other concerts and events at the fifth annual Riverview Jazz Festival, keep an eye on for regular updates.

Relax and enjoy spectacular views of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline at Jersey City’s family-friendly festivals. Catch free outdoor performances by world-famous musicians, plus children’s activities, food trucks, beer gardens, art exhibitions, vendors, and more.

The fifth annual Riverview Jazz Festival is back and bigger than ever, with two free all-day concerts in Jersey City, and dozens of other events throughout Hudson County.

The week-long festival is bookended by the free outdoor blowouts, at riverside sites offering gorgeous views of the Hudson River and Manhattan. These major events feature all-day concerts starting at noon on June 3 and June 10, in Jersey City. In between, there will be about 30 other events, concerts and gigs throughout the county, presenting some of today’s best players in jazz and salsa music.

“Jersey City is among the most diverse areas in the country. About half the artists we’re presenting live around here,” says Bryan Beninghove, the executive director of the nonprofit “It’s a great time to be in this area. People are taking chances, opening new businesses and presenting live music in many places.”

The music-filled week-long fest starts at noon on June 3, with the URBY RJF Kick-off Festival, where there will be breath-taking views to go with the smokin’ sounds. The event is held on the Mack-Cali parking lot of the URBY Jersey City residential community, close to the Hudson River at 3 Second Street, providing a stunning Manhattan cityscape as a backdrop to the day’s festivities. Everyone is welcome to relax and enjoy a packed program of music. No one has to miss a note while checking out the unique items offered by a variety of vendors; there’s also a children’s tent, plus an array of food trucks, a beer garden and more. This combination guarantees a good time will be had by all at this URBY-sponsored event.

The June 3 lineup includes:

Guitarist Mark Whitfield

It’s hard to think of anyone he hasn’t played and collaborated with across every genre, starting with his teacher and mentor George Benson. Mark has put out more than a dozen albums as a leader, and has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Mary J. Blige, Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan, to name just a few.

Lakecia Benjamin & Soul Squad

Here’s a saxophonist with an energy level even the young James Brown may have envied. Besides playing President Obama’s inaugural ball, Lakecia has appeared with straight-ahead jazz greats including Clark Terry, avant-gardists like David Murray, and pop stars such as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and the Roots. With her funk-soul band, Soul Squad, Lakecia can be counted on to bring listeners to their feet. “We’ve been trying to get her here for years,” Bryan Beninghove notes.

NY Mambo All-Stars

By the time NY Mambo All-Stars’ musical director John “Dandy” Rodriguez was 17 years old, he was already such an accomplished percussionist that he was in the esteemed Tito Puente Orchestra. John spent more than 30 years with Puente’s bands, and also performed with the likes of Ray Barretto, Tito Rodriguez and other Latin music icons. He was a founding member of the Latin Giants Orchestra, as well as Tipica 73, and is recognized as a percussion and Latin music innovator.

The following Saturday, June 10, the Riverview Jazz Festival week supplies another full day of fun family festivities starting at noon at Riverview Fisk Park in Jersey City. This time, the array of amazing entertainment will be presented on two stages, for listeners’ enjoyment. All of the other important elements will be on hand once again: stunning views of the river and skyline, tempting treats from food trucks, activities for children, a beer garden for adults, and vendors well-stocked with one-of-a-kind finds. There’s plenty of room to stretch out on blankets or lawn chairs and soak up the fun.

The June 10 concert lineup includes:

The Snarky Horns

The horn section from the three-time Grammy-winning band Snarky Puppy offers an exciting mash-up of jazz, funk, R&B, world music, pop and more. Don’t call this critically acclaimed ensemble a jam band or a fusion band, but don’t be surprised to hear some of those elements.

Charenee Wade

This vocalist/arranger/composer/educator recently released an album of Gil Scott-Heron’s music that showed up on the top 10 lists of more than a few jazz journalists. Charenee has recorded with such diverse artists as Bobby Sanabria, Matt Wilson, Oscar Perez, Rufus Reid and Aaron Diehl, and can always be counted on to make her own unique statement.


International Jazz Quartet featuring Jimmy Cobb

At 88 years old, drummer Jimmy Cobb has a whole world of American music in his hands. The NEA Jazz Master secured his place in history with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, but also accompanied the likes of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Wes Montgomery and countless others. “Jimmy Cobb has played so much great music, and he just keeps sounding better and better,” notes Bryan Beninghove.

The Fania Project

Featuring Latin artists associated with the ground-breaking Fania record label of the 1960s and 1970s, under the direction of percussionist John “Dandy” Rodriguez.






Also scheduled to perform June 10 are Ted Chubb, Camille Thurman; Moore's Lounge All-Stars featuring Wycliffe Gordon, under the direction of Winard Harper; Beninghove's Hangmen, Stephane Wrembel, and DJ Prestige.

Among the other festival events are:

  • Leni Stern at Fox and Crow on June 3
  • Charlie Apicella & Iron City at Riverview Farmers’ Market at noon on June 4
  • Manouche Bag at Madame Claude Bis, June 6 and June 8.

For a full lineup of the dozens of other concerts and events at the fifth annual Riverview Jazz Festival, keep an eye on for regular updates.

“Our goal is to further jazz, further live music. We want to shine a light on people doing live music in the area, and to let listeners know what’s available so close to home,” says Bryan Beninghove. “We’re not pushing an agenda, we want to reach people with different kinds of music, and great players from different genres.”

Admission is free to both of the bookend concerts scheduled for June 3 and June 10. However, a limited number of VIP passes are available for $95 donation. VIP ticket-holders  will receive a free T-shirt, admission to VIP tents at both flagship concerts, food and cocktails supplied by local restaurants, meet-the-artist opportunities, and more. The tickets are offered as part of a fund-raising initiative supporting year-round programming produced by

The Riverview Jazz Festival is made possible in part by Mayor Steven M. Fulop, the Jersey City Municipal Council, and the Office of Cultural Affairs; our media sponsor, The Hudson Reporter; URBY, Hudson Kitchen, and AJB Events.
This program is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of State, and administered by the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs, Thomas A. DeGise, Hudson County Executive; and  the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders.



Dance for Life: Personal Stories of Triumph
original music by songwriting team Robert Maggio (music) and Matthew Hardy (lyrics
choreography by Mark Roxey

WHEN: June 4 at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.
Grounds For Sculpture, 80 Sculptor’s Way, Hamilton
TICKETS: $100 and will help raise money for an interactive "healing trail" that will integrate nature and the outdoors into the restorative, health-giving journey.
Tickets include admission to Grounds For Sculpture, the performance and a reception.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call 609.249.7527 or visit

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, the Breast Cancer Resource Center of the YWCA Princeton, Roxey Ballet, Grounds for Sculpture and Princeton Photography Club are partnering for this production.

Dance for Life: Personal Stories of Triumph is a world premiere of dance, music, art and theater celebrating the lives of breast cancer survivors.

"I'm honored and touched to produce a project like this that celebrates the lives of breast cancer survivors and all who are facing the challenge of any kind of cancer,” says Mark Roxey, executive artistic director of Roxey Ballet. "The art of dance is at its best when you are able to create meaning that transcends the art of dance, when you can do something much greater than the single word 'dance.’ That is what Roxey Ballet is all about.

"Arts and nature have transformative powers to heal that are not always visible, but have power internally,” continues Roxey. “We are thrilled to contribute toward D&R Greenway’s creation of a healing trail."

Dance for Life 5 peopleMusic, dance and spoken word capture the essence of the stories and lives of  22 breast cancer survivors interviewed by Roxey and his team. At least six of the storytellers will share the stage with the professional artists of Roxey Ballet as featured artists. The dancers will be accompanied by live music, performed by Gina Milo, Desirée Rodriguez and Aurelia Williams. (Left: Lyricist Matthew Hardy, Billie Smith, choreographer Mark Roxey, Paula Flory, composer Robert Maggio at a rehearsal)

In addition to the dance production, visitors will have a chance to view about a dozen healing gardens created by artists surrounding the East and West galleries. These will include a poetry garden, a music garden, a reflection garden and a “bad hair day” garden. Botanist Mary Leck will talk about the healing effects of plants. Refreshments will be provided by Starr Catering Group.

The project and partnership have been in the making for a year. Sheila Geisler of the Princeton Photography Club connected D&R Greenway President & CEO Linda Mead to Lisa Freeman, event co-chair and wife of Dr. Richard Freeman, CEO of RWJUHH. Edith Howard, a D&R Greenway land donor, was at the initial meeting, along with RWJUHH Vice-President of Health Promotions Diane Grillo Paula Flory of the BCRC, and Mark Roxey. “Edie was the inspiration for this partnership,” says Mead. “Edie had a remarkable story of her own personal triumphs.” A film about Edith Howard’s journey will be screened as part of the events.

“At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, we believe strongly that you need a good hospital, with access to research and good doctors, if you’re diagnosed with cancer,” says Grillo, “but we also know that healing occurs through the arts—dance, music, and let’s not forget, good food.” Beginning 17 years ago, RWJUHH surrounded all its entrances with healing grounds, through a program licensed through Grounds For Sculpture and designed by J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s landscape architect. “We stress fitness and wellness, and started holistic health education,” continues Grillo. “We have a holistic nurse who may use Reiki or Tai Chi. We also have a program to teach community members how to play the harp, and in return they go into the hospital and play. Research has shown the healing effects of the harp, whose vibrations help in calming the heart.”

The hospital’s healing gardens are open to the public, but the cancer center has a private garden where patients may choose to get infusions. “Some just want to sit alongside a family member and look out at the garden,” says Grillo. “The design of the garden includes arbors to protect you from the sun.”

Together, Grillo and Mead discussed the possibility of a mobile app, so the healing journey would not be limited to the gardens but could be in preserved lands across the state, with stories of how nature helped others with their healing journeys. D&R Greenway already has an app to help visitors understand the stories behind the preservation at Abbott Marshlands, and plans to work on an additional app for healing trails.

“In looking at how we could pay for it, we thought of this big event on June 4 as a fundraiser,” says Grillo. “Each of the 22 cancer survivors, ranging in age from their mid 20s to 70, tells her story honestly and openly. All had words of courage, and strength. Sometimes we may whine about inconveniences such as a flat tire, but when you hear these women who are so strong and positive, talking about life and death and how each day is so important, you learn so much. It has been an honor to work on this project. Anyone who attends will leave feeling inspired.”


NOTE: This wonderful company performed The Mystery of Edwin Drood at SOPAC last summer and A Little Night Music at Morristown Beard School the summer before that. Don’t miss this production. My friend Ken Magos is playing Sweeney Todd and he’s fabulous!

WHERE: South Orange Performing Arts Center, 1 SOPAC Way, South Orange (behind the train station)
Tickets are available for purchase HERE or by calling (973) 313-2787.

To close our 22nd season in the summer, LONJ presents Stephen Sondheim's dark-humored musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by Jeffrey Fiorello with music direction by Stephen Fox and choreography by Samantha Hahn Simpson.

Returning from exile, Benjamin Barker arrives in London under the name of Sweeney Todd in order to exact his revenge on the judge who exiled him in order to steal his wife. Todd resumes his old residence in his barber shop over the meat pie establishment of Mrs. Lovett. A competing barber, Adolfo Pirelli, recognizes Todd and threatens to reveal him to the authorities, causing Sweeney to kill Pirelli in a rage. When Mrs. Lovett discovers the body, she proposes disposing of it through her meat pies as she hasn't been able to afford real meat for weeks. Todd and Lovett continue to plot together, throats are slit, and business begins to flourish. Can Todd be stopped before exacting his revenge on the judge?

Join us for Halloween in July at SOPAC! 

This program is made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, and administered by the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission through the State/County Partnership Local Arts Program.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


By Ruth Ross

As the lights came down on the Shakespeare Theatre’s polished, well-acted production of The Merchant of Venice, I realized why this play by Shakespeare is so rarely performed today. Billed as a comedy, this complex tale of intolerance, prejudice and materialism features a cast of generally distasteful characters behaving in disagreeable ways. They lie, cheat, seek revenge on each other for slights big and small, and treat anyone different from them with disdain and, in the case of Shylock, violence. After spending two and a half hours with these folks, I felt like I needed to take a shower.

It’s been 17 years since STNJ produced The Merchant of Venice. At that time, I wrote that “Shylock is usually seen as a reflection of Elizabethan England’s widespread anti-Semitic prejudices, but Shakespeare transforms a traditionally one-dimensional character into a more complex figure, one for whom the audience feels sympathy” and that “we can’t help but feel for the old man when punishment is meted out in the form of a forced conversion and forfeiture of his fortune.” This time out, director Robert Cuccioli has taken a different tack. In his Director’s Notes, he likens Shakespeare’s Venice to the situation in our nation today “where a small number of wealthy individuals hold tremendous power” and we’ve become “an instant result-driven generation, consumed by accumulation—of goods, power, and celebrity—and even love is something one can compete for on television shows, acquire through an app, or seek in an unreal virtual reality”—all of which points up Shakespeare’s universality and the feeling that not much has changed since the 16th century. It’s a disturbing and depressing view, one that emphasizes the subversive power of theater, especially its ability to hold up a mirror to our best—and worst—selves.

If you are unfamiliar with The Merchant of Venice (or don’t recall it from high school English), the basic plot concerns a playboy named Bassanio, who borrows 3,000 ducats from a Jew, Shylock, so he can woo an heiress, Portia (above). His close friend Antonio guarantees the loan with profits expected from his shipping business, on the condition that he forfeit a pound of his flesh if he cannot pay. Smug and superior, Antonio signs the bond, sure such a situation will never come to pass. When he loses his ships at sea and finds himself bankrupt, however, Antonio faces Shylock in a tense courtroom scene where a young legal scholar finds a loophole that negates the bond, leaving Shylock to forfeit his fortune and forced to convert to Christianity. Doesn’t sound like much of a comic situation, but Shakespeare leavens the serious mood with his usual repertoire of stock comedic characters like smart-mouthed servants, three pairs of lovers, a doddering old man, damsels in disguise and missing rings to keep the action light.

Cuccioli directs with a sure hand, moving the action steadily along without rushing over the more serious aspects of the plot, but the play drags on after the climactic courtroom scene. The cast is uniformly superb and convincing, even when portraying the more despicable characters. As Antonio, the eponymous Venetian merchant, Brent Harris (top image, far left) is superciliousness personified; his maltreatment of Shylock (even to spitting on him) belies his noble bearing. John Keable’s callow Bassanio (top image, center) sets the plot in motion with his asking Antonio to loan him the ducats so he can woo a wealthy young heiress; we’re not sure he loves her more than her inheritance. His sidekicks, Salerio (Tug Rice), Solanio (Jay Leibowitz) and Gratiano (Ian Gould, above right) are snotty popinjays; the latter is especially obnoxious, taunting Shylock with insults at the loss of his ducats and daughter, and even throwing a coin at him in the courtroom.

Portia and her maid Nerissa, Melissa Miller and Rachel Towne (left), respectively, make fun of Portia’s suitors, the Prince of Morocco (Ademide Akintilo) and the Prince of Arragon (Jeffrey M. Bender), rolling their eyes and making faces as the men contemplate which casket to choose. Both men play their roles with pronounced accents and large gestures, setting themselves apart from the “polite” Venetian society, thus appropriate objects of scorn. That Portia should dupe the Venetian court into believing that she, an uneducated girl, is a lawyer shows not only supreme chutzpah but a disdain for the law and the sentence that will be pronounced. The two Venetian women are not even above deceiving their husbands and then using the information to punish them. Amaia Arana’s Jessica is pouty and duplicitous, easily won over by the eager enthusiasm of her lover, the Christian Lorenzo (Anthony Michael Martinez).

Comic relief (if you can call it that) comes in the role of Shylock’s dopey servant Launcelot Gobbo, played with élan by the company clown Jeffrey M. Bender. He’s well matched by Robert S. Gregory as his father. The two have some funny shtick with a stick and the latter’s inability to see.

If you’re wondering about Shylock, well, I’ve saved the best for last. Andrew Weems (right, center) has perhaps the most difficult role, playing a one-dimensional character, the long-suffering outsider, insulted and spat upon by the very men who borrow money from him. And he’s really quite sympathetic in the first act; when he asks, among other things, “Does not a Jew bleed,” he sounds reasoned and passionate at the same time; it’s hard to see why even his enemies wouldn’t see the error of their ways. However, he descends to the depths of their materialism when Jessica runs away with Lorenzo, foaming at the mouth over the loss of his ducats and jewels—and almost as an afterthought, his daughter. During the courtroom scene, he refuses payment of the debt, puts on what looks like a butcher’s apron and sits down to sharpen his knife on his shoe. He’s hell-bent on revenge and no one will stop him. Even when Portia gets the Duke to pass the harsh sentence, it’s hard to feel sympathy for him. Everyone in the play has been corrupted by money and materialism.

Setting the action in 1910 allows for some nifty costume decisions by Candida Nichols. The men wearing spats look especially pretentious; the women in white references their social and economic status, for only the rich could wear a color that needs constant laundering to look fresh (and that necessitates servants). And Shylock’s black gabardine suit, hat, prayer fringes and skullcap would be at home in Crown Heights at any era. Brian Ruggaber’s revolving two-level set of marble arches, columns and stairs adorned by ironwork and cast iron tables and chairs is both functional and “Venetian”; it is beautifully and atmospherically lit by Michael Giannitti to point up the passage of time and change of venue. Käri B. Berntson’s sound involves string music at the beginning and a vaguely Eastern European signals Shylock’s appearance.

If this production of The Merchant of Venice makes you feel uncomfortable, then Director Robert Cuccioli and his cast have done their job. Yes, the anti-Semitism is vile, but so is the way the Venetians treat those who are not like them. So is the grasping materialism that pervades all levels of their society. In so many ways, this play is a mirror for our time—and our souls. For that reason, this is an important production.

The Merchant of Venice will be performed at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Ave., Madison, through June 4. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.408.5600 or visit  online.

Friday, May 19, 2017



Barn Cleanup Day

WHEN: May 27th from 9 am to 2 pm
Ross Farm, 135 North Maple Ave., Basking Ridge, NJ

All are welcome to help us prepare to build for the summer!

We need all hands on deck to help clean the garage and the barn.

Come for one hour or for five hours.  Every little bit helps!

Need more info?

Please contact Jaye Barre at 908-217-2714 or at




Wednesday, May 17, 2017


WHEN: Wednesday, May 17, 8pm - 11pm
INC, 302 George St, New Brunswick

  • JACOB WEBB – Keys
  • NATHAN WEBB - Drums

THE JT PROJECT -Todd Schefflin is a Philly native and Jacob Webb is from Kansas City. The two met in 2007 at William Paterson U and made an immediate musical connection. They started writing music together, which eventually led to the formation of The JT Project in 2009. THE JT PROJECT has included some of the most talented Jazz and Soul musicians in NYC. The members of the group have toured and recorded with major label legends such as Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Jaheim, Ashford and Simpson, Kenny Garrett, Joe, and Mulgrew Miller among many others.

WHEN: Thursday, May 18, 8pm-11pm
THE HYATT, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick

  • ED CHERRY – - Guitar

Originally from Philadelphia, Ben studied both classical and jazz music before moving to Chicago. where he performed with the city's top musicians. Now in NYC, Ben combines hard-swinging grooves and melodic improvisation with an impeccable touch. Whether playing lush ballads, hard-driving blues-tinged organ, or singing classic tunes Ben has garnered international acclaim for his superb musicianship and engaging performances. Ben plays at premier NY Jazz clubs and festivals worldwide. He was honored to work as pianist for NEA Jazz Master Von Freeman until Von's passing in 2012.  He has also worked with Johnny O'Neal, Red Holloway, Bria Skonberg, Jerry Weldon, Peter Bernstein, Ed Cherry, many others. Ben Paterson

WHEN: Friday May 19, 6:30pm-9:30pm
Due Mari, 78 Albany St., New Brunswick


Brynn Stanley has spent the last several years singing professionally at venues throughout NYC and NJ. She has also been the lead in several musicals/plays, commercials and independent films. Brynn's performing style has been described as "soulful, warm, classic, timeless, inspiring and sincere". Her ability to connect with her audience "soul to soul" is what makes her performances a 'night to remember'.