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A Maze & grace

Powerhouse wraps Vassar season this weekend with Readings Festival, dance piece based on Wuthering Heights | & Poughkeepsian Rob Handel’s new play

by Frances Marion Platt
July 28, 2011 12:21 PM | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Betsy Hogg in A Maze at Powerhouse Theater (photo by Buck Lewis)
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As an overheated, eventful July winds to a close this weekend, so does the 2011 season of Vassar College and New York Stage and Film’s ever-amazing Powerhouse Theater. Traditionally, Powerhouse both kicks off and finishes its summer lineup with a Readings Festival: the most “workshoppy” segment of the season’s offerings, where, for the price of a phone call to make your reservation, you can catch the theatrical hits of tomorrow while they are still pupating, as it were. The ubiquitous John Patrick Shanley puts in his traditional annual Powerhouse appearance this Friday, July 29 at 8 p.m., as he directs a staged reading of his newest play Sleeping Demon.

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the Readings Festival 2 lineup: On Saturday, July 30 at 2 p.m., you can catch Marry Harry by Jennifer Robbins, Michael Biello and Dan Martin, and at 5 p.m., The Public by Ed Hime. This Sunday, July 31 at 2 p.m., The Hour of Feeling by Mona Mansour will be presented, and at 5 p.m., Matty’s Place by Frank Pugliese. All these readings take place in the Susan Stein Shiva Theater on the Vassar campus, and admission is free. For reservations, call the box office at (845) 437-5599.

Also nearing its end, and also absolutely free, is the series of Powerhouse Apprentice Company Performances, which have included some Shakespeare both highly familiar (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and relatively obscure (Cymbeline) this summer, along with a reworking by the great, quirky director Caryl Churchill of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play. Even if you missed all those, if you call right away you can still catch the talented young apprentices’ final offering tonight, Thursday, July 28 at 6 p.m. at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center: Wuthering, described as a “soundpainted” dance theater piece by Mark Lindberg.

In the piece, an ensemble of upscale partygoers play out a story of love and other societal forces, loosely inspired by Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights and set to the 1979 disco album of the same name by composer John Ferrara and his “disco orchestra.” The cast of promising apprentices in Wuthering includes Annabel Barrett, Lauren Charnow, Holly Crane, Tom Ellis, Mateo Ervin, Betty Etheredge, Libby Froeber, Corissa Goodrich, Sam Kotansky and Cara Ronzetti.

But the big story concerning Powerhouse’s last weekend involves the homecoming of a local boy who made good: Poughkeepsie native Rob Handel. The author of Aphrodisiac is marking his first return to Powerhouse since 1987, when he was a playwright intern with an earlier incarnation of the Apprentice Company. Mainstage performances of Handel’s new play A Maze continue through this Sunday, July 31. 

Handel is a founding member of the playwrights’ collective 13P, which has won two Obie Awards, and heads the Dramatic Writing program at Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama. His plays have been produced by SPF, Target Margin, New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater, Cleveland’s Theater Ninjas and Denver’s Curious Theatre Company. He has been playwright-in-residence at the Portland Center Stage JAW Festival, Soho Rep, Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Court Theatre, the O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference and New Dramatists. Honors include a 2007 Helen Merrill Award and the 2010 Whitfield Cook Award for A Maze.

In A Maze, a graphic novelist (Patrick Carroll) struggles to complete his 15,000-page comic book, a musician (Austin Lysy) searches for the inspiration for his next hit and a young girl (Betsy Hogg) strives to recreate her identity after years in captivity in a highly theatrical examination of creativity, addiction, love and power. Director Sam Buntrock is also an animator and animation director, and he is probably best-known for his Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Award-nominated direction of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George at Broadway’s Roundabout Theater and London’s West End.

Also on board for this first-ever full staging of A Maze are set designer Beowulf Boritt, lighting designer David Weiner, sound designer Jill B. C. DuBuff and costume designer Clint Ramos. Additional cast members include Mark Alhadeff, Heidi Armbruster, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Mariann Mayberry and Daniel Oreskes.

Come welcome Rob Handel home at Powerhouse Theater on the Vassar College campus for one of the final performances of A Maze, at 8 p.m. this Wednesday through Saturday, July 27 to 30 (with post-show discussion following the Saturday evening show) or at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 31. Tickets go for $35 and are available online at powerhouse.vassar.edu and through the Powerhouse Theater box office on the Vassar campus at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, (845) 437-5599 or 437-7235.

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