Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Summer at the playhouse

by Abby Remer, The MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse is teeming with offerings for us this summer. There’s literally something for everyone — all tastes, ages, and genres of art.

The runs are indeed a little shorter than usual, due in part to the ongoing pandemic, and because of the challenge of finding affordable housing for large casts and crews. MJ Bruder Munafo, artistic and executive director of playhouse, explains, “We had to revise how many fully staged plays we were going to do, and how many people we could bring to the Island to do them.”

Nonetheless, it is a robust season, beginning with the outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” running Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 6 pm through July 30 at the Tisbury Amphitheater. Unlike the other productions, which are either solo shows or a small cast, “Midsummer” has more than 20 performers, ranging in ages from 3 to 73. Munafo says, “It’s a really fun show, and perfect for the amphitheater, using the whole space.”

The first of the shorter runs at the playhouse is Eleanor Burgess’ “The Niceties” on July 8 and 9. They discovered the play right before the pandemic, but because of COVID, ended up doing it virtually. “The two actors, Amy Brenneman and Tsilala Brock, loved the play so much we decided we’d do it in person this summer,” Munafo says. It centers around who gets to tell the story of race, history, and power in America. A Black student and her white professor — who are both brilliant — debate whether the legacy of slavery defines our past as well as our present.

From July 13 to 16 is comedian and actor Steve Sweeney’s “Townie.” Sweeney employs observational humor and imagery to transport us back to his hard-nosed childhood in Charlestown, and later as he survived the raucous ’60s and ’70s while he builds an entertainment career and searches for life’s deeper meaning.

Another autobiographically based work will be Kevin Flynn’s “Fear of Heights,” from July 20 through 23. He will be examining the American experience through a humorous lens, highlighting his Irish immigrant family. Flynn’s father and grandfather were both steelworkers, and inspired the title of this work. 

Jimmy Tingle’s new show, scheduled to run from July 28 to 30, is still in development. The play in progress will be in a similar vein to Sweeney and Flynn. Tingle will mix his funniest comedic hits and newest, postpandemic bits to deliver humor, hope, and humanity. Something the world so desperately needs right now.

April Armstrong has written and performs “Two Wings to Heaven: The Story of Bessie Coleman” — a one-woman show appropriate for all ages about the early Black aviatrix. Running from August 3 through 13, using dialogue, song, and movement, it tells Coleman’s story from childhood through her graduation from a French aviation school. In the performance, eight characters interact, including a dreamy visit from Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the historic figures who gave Coleman the inspiration she needed to succeed.

After a summer of single performers, the multi-actor production “Burning Patience” will run from August 26 through Sept. 17. Set against the political unrest in Chile in the early 1970s, it is about a young mailman who delivers mail to famed poet Pablo Neruda and gets help in writing love poems to his beloved in town. When her mother finds out, a battle ensues for the hearts and minds of the young lovers.

The playhouse continues to place a strong emphasis on community education and outreach, including its work with children for more than 30 years. They are continuing the tradition of presenting “The Fabulists: Theater for Children” on Saturday mornings running from July 9 through August outdoors at the Tisbury Amphitheater. Munafo shares that these free productions are delightful for families, where adult actors and writers perform witty adaptations and fun new scripts for children that include improvisation and audience participation, including kids being invited onstage.

Another opportunity for youth is the Summer Stars Children’s Theater Camp for ages 8 through 13. Here, children of all abilities focus on creating theater and exploring artistic expression through playmaking, music, movement, improvisation, character development, and performance.

For the visual arts, the theater hosts fabulous art exhibitions in its lobby Playhouse Artspace Gallery, open from 1 to 4 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “Michael Johnson: Contrasting Seasons” is up now (see bit.ly/johnsonmvp), and the in-memoriam show “Perfect Waits: Allan Gerson’s Martha’s Vineyard Photography” will run from July 20 to August 13. And, just to round out the arts, the playhouse will also host pop-up musical courtyard concerts. 

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