Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Summer with the Playhouse

by Gwyn McAllister, The MV Times

Live theater will be back this year, thanks to the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Although the organization’s Vineyard Haven facility won’t be open, the theater’s outdoor venue on State Road, the Amphitheater, will be offering a full summer’s worth of programming.

A grant from the Community Preservation committee allowed the Playhouse to do a complete renovation of the outdoor space just in time for the summer season. According to Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo, the wooden benches have been replaced with stone ones, stairs and a railing have been added to the seating area, and the path leading down from the staging area has been regraded and flattened out. “We’ve vastly improved the accessibility and safety of the space,” says Bruder Munafo, adding that the Playhouse will be keeping up with current guidelines as to social distancing and crowd size limitations.

The season will kick off with a production of the solo show “Every Brilliant Thing,” which has been performed in theaters all over the country. Described as an “immersive theatrical experience,” the narrator of the show, played by the very talented Scott Barrow, describes all of the things worth living for — from ice cream to Christopher Walken’s voice — in an attempt to lift his depressed mother’s spirits.

A review of the Cleveland Playhouse’s 2019 production of the play describes “Every Brilliant Thing” as “a surprising and immersive theatrical experience that speaks openly about depression, mental illness, and suicide. With poignant humor and joy, ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ takes us on a journey through grief, healing, falling in love, and (re)discovering all that life has to give.”

Barrow and director Nicole Galland had originally intended to present the play last March on the Vineyard. The two had been working together on the show when the pandemic shut down their plans, which would have included productions at the Playhouse and at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. With Galland now living in Ireland, Brooke Ditchfield has stepped in as director. Ditchfield and Barrow, who has forged a career for himself in New York City, are both veterans of Playhouse productions.

From mid-July through the end of August, the Playhouse will present the always popular series Shakespeare for the Masses at the Amphitheater. The summer productions of the abbreviated, enhanced staged readings of works of the Bard, will include one tragedy, “Macbeth,” and one comedy, “Measure for Measure,” to be performed on Tuesdays at the outdoor theater and on Thursdays at the MVFF and other venues around the Island. The tagline for the longstanding series is “Quick, painless, and free,” and as always, the one-hour shows will be performed on a donations-only basis.

Although the stage of the indoor theater on Church Street will not be in use this summer, the Playhouse will open the lobby Art Space for a rotating exhibit of work by local artists. First up will be a solo show of paintings by Marston Clough (on view from mid-June to mid-July), to be followed by an exhibit of photos taken by Gwen Norton during her travels in India, exhibited mid-July to mid-August. After that, the Art Space will host monthly exhibits throughout the year.

The Playhouse will also continue with some virtual offerings. Currently, a series of five-minute plays can be streamed from the Playhouse’s website. Last spring the Playhouse put out a call for writers to submit scripts for short plays that “include a moment of joy.” Among those early submissions, four were selected and produced as Zoom readings. This time around, five plays made the cut. These include glimpses into the relationships between a mother and her adult son, a tree worker in recovery from addiction and his employee, and an old man with memory issues and a young boy he meets by happenstance. The other two winners are solo pieces featuring female actors. The stellar casts for these plays include many familiar faces, as well as actors from New York and elsewhere.

Bruder Munafo notes that more events will be added as the season progresses. She is committed to following the ever-changing guidelines as to indoor space and crowd limitations.

“Every Brilliant Thing,” by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, directed by Brooke Ditchfield and starring Scott Barrow, will be performed from July 8 to 18, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 6 pm at the Amphitheater. Tickets may be purchased in advance on the Playhouse website.

Shakespeare for the Masses abbreviated plays, organized and edited by Nicole Galland and Chelsea McCarthy, are scheduled for the following dates: “Macbeth,” July 13 to August 5; “Measure for Measure,” August 10 to 26. Performances on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 pm at the Amphitheater. (Some of the Thursday performances will be at other locations.)

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