Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Summer stage

by Gwyn McAllister, The MV Times

A little poetry, a good dose of comedy, some Shakespeare, and a generous helping of the blues. The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse summer season will offer a well-rounded schedule of entertainment, with something for everyone.

“It’s going to be so much fun,” says the Playhouse’s artistic director, M.J. Bruder Munafo, of the 2019 lineup. “This year it just seemed like it was the perfect fit for a summer season.”

The first two offerings at the Playhouse’s mainstage will likely be familiar to theater fans. Opening up the season is the two-hander “Dear Elizabeth” by Sarah Ruhl. That will be followed by Christopher Durang’s Tony awardwinning absurdist comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Finishing up the mainstage season will be “Low Down Dirty Blues,” a play/musical revue featuring the music of Muddy Waters, Pearl Bailey, Sophie Tucker, Howlin’ Wolf, and many more. Meanwhile, over at the Tisbury Amphitheater, “The Winter’s Tale” will run from mid-July to mid-August.

Joann Green Brauer will direct “Dear Elizabeth,” a love story told through 30 years of correspondence between lifelong friends, the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. The two-person play will star Jeannie Affelder and Raymond Fox, two established professional actors from Chicago.

“The play is not about the poets’ work as much as it is about their relationship,” says Munafo. “Anybody who wants a little glimpse into the human soul will find it interesting.”

Playwright Sarah Ruhl has twice been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Her play “In The Next Room” opened on Broadway in 2009, and was nominated for three Tony awards, including Best Play. She has been described as “a playwright creating vivid and adventurous theatrical works that poignantly juxtapose the mundane aspects of daily life with mythic themes of love and war.”

Bruder Munafo will be directing the midseason show, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The Playhouse’s website calls the play “a wonderfully absurd comedy about three eccentric siblings. Vanya and Sonia are watching wild turkeys in the cherry orchard at their family home in Bucks County when Masha, their movie-star sister, comes to visit with her latest boy toy. Add a psychic cleaning lady and a starstruck neighbor, and anything goes.”

Although the comedy borrows some of its characters’ names, as well as the cherry orchard setting, from the works of Chekhov, the action takes place in the present day in a country home in Pennsylvania, and the genre is comedy. Ben Brantley of the New York Times described “Vanya” as “a sunny new play about gloomy people.” The cast will be a mix of local actors and equity actors from New York and Boston.

The final show of the mainstage season, “Low Down Dirty Blues,” was conceived by Randal Myler and Dan Wheetman, and will be directed by Myler, who has a history of directing shows at the Playhouse. The Playhouse website promises a lively experience, writing, “This sizzling revue finds a group of veteran blues musicians assembled for a late-night jam session, swapping stories and sharing their favorite tunes. Featuring nearly two dozen smokin’ songs and nonstop riffs, these hot rhythms celebrate the bawdier side of the blues.”

The three veteran performers and two musicians who will bring the show’s Big Mama’s Home of the Blues to life will all be imported from off-Island for the show. C.E. Smith has appeared on Broadway in “The Full Monty” and “Streetcorner Symphony.” Tony Award nominee Felicia Fields (“The Color Purple” on Broadway) and composer, musician, and actor Chic Street Man will reprise their roles from previous productions of “Low Down Dirty Blues.” “It’s really a high-wattage cast,” says Bruder Munafo.

Rounding out the season will be Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” at the Tisbury Amphitheater. One of the Bard’s less produced plays, “The Winter’s Tale” has elements of both comedy and tragedy, and is set in various exotic locales populated by a wide range of characters from aristocrats to servants, shepherds to rogues. Brooke Hardman-Ditchfield will once again direct, and the cast will include many longtime veterans of amphitheater productions.

The popular Monday Night Special playreading series will run during July and August, with this year’s offerings to be announced soon.

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