Lots of drama

NJPAC Stage Exchange introduces a play and a musical this season.

For the first time in its five years of existence, NJPAC Stage Exchange, a partnership with New Jersey Theatre Alliance that shepherds plays-in-progress into full-scale productions, is helping to develop a new musical.

Silueta, a musical inspired by the life of the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, was announced as one of two works this year to be guided from page to stage by professional theaters. The other is Mother of the Bride?, a lighthearted look at an unconventional wedding in Cape May. Brief scenes from both were performed for the public at a season kickoff for the Stage Exchange on March 8 at NJPAC, and full readings will be given in April and May.

By co-commissioning new scripts, New Jersey’s Equity theaters continue to “nurture the writing process,” said Donna Walker-Kuhne, NJPAC’s Senior Advisor for Community Engagement, recognizing Trenton’s Passage Theatre Company for its mentorship of Silueta and Cape May Stage for Mother of the Bride?

C. Ryanne Domingues, Passage’s Artistic Director and director of Silueta, expressed delight that a musical – typically more expensive than a play to stage and requiring additional creative skills – is destined to be performed for audiences at Passage Theatre. In a press statement, she said, “It is essential for writers to be able to hear their work read so that they can understand the rhythm and pacing of the piece. Readings are particularly helpful in developing musicals because the dramatic pacing that writers must use to lift a scene into song can be tricky.”

First up for the kickoff, a cast of seven gathered for a dramatic reading of excerpts from actor-playwright Marlena Lustik’s Mother of the Bride?, which will be directed by her husband, Cape May Stage Producing Artistic Director Roy Steinberg, at the historic playhouse. The storyline follows the upcoming nuptials of a transgender couple, whose concerned parents (upper-middle-class New Jerseyans and God-fearing Texans) struggle to accept and reconcile their often painful differences.

During a post-curtain Q&A with the audience, Lustik said she was nudged into writing her comedic drama following her daughter’s non-traditional wedding in the Victorian seaside resort. “People would say, ‘You have to write this,’” said Steinberg about their experiences. 

On Friday, May 3 at 7pm, Mother of the Bride? will be given a full reading in NJPAC’s Chase Room, followed by a conversation with the artists.

Silueta features a book by Erlina Ortiz and reunites former collaborators Eloise Govedare (lyrics) and Aleksandra Weil (music). A story told from the perspective of newcomers to this country, the musical follows Xiomara as she arrives in New York from her native Cuba. Xiomara and her eccentric roommate, Ishtar, learn together what it means to create a home and face anti-immigrant rhetoric in 2016.

Accompanied by piano, singers enacted a scene in which Xiomara prays for guidance as she embarks on a new life in America. Members of the creative team, who also participated in the Q&A, discussed their collaborative process and the challenges of making organic transitions from dialogue to music. After additional workshopping, Silueta will be given a full reading before an audience on Friday, April 5 at 7pm in the Chase Room.

John McEwen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, pointed to the network of support among the state’s 34 professional theaters in promoting new voices, diversity, and artistic excellence, qualities found in both Mother of the Bride? and Silueta.

“StageX,” supported in part by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, has proven to be an incubator of important work by New Jersey-based playwrights. Surely Goodness and Mercy by Chisa Hutchinson continues to have other productions, among them a current run at Manhattan’s Keen Company through April 13, and Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok’s Ironbound also was seen Off-Broadway at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, among other venues.

Tickets to the April 5 or May 3 readings and talkbacks are $5.

March 27, 2019