Dorset finds success as theater innovator
By Jim Lowe
Staff Writer | April 06,2014
TV star Tim Daly, left, with Mary Bacon and Geoffrey Arend, appear in Dorset Theatre Festival’s “The Scene” last season. Daly returns this summer to star as painter Mark Rothko in John Logan’s “Red.”
For the past four years, Dorset Theatre Festival has been rebuilding its reputation as one of Vermont’s finest professional summer theater companies, bringing in top actors, offering premieres as well as reassuring traditional works.
The 2014 summer season continues in that mold. TV star Tim Daly returns to star in John Logan’s “Red,” and new productions celebrate the 20th anniversary of David Ives’ “All in the Timing” and 60th of Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap.” The season closes with Ron Crawford’s one-man show “Travels with Mark Twain.”
“It’s a combination of the different pieces we provide the region with and, for us, as we’ve evolved with our new play development mandate, I think we’ve been able to really integrate the new play readings as well as do the premiere of a play every season,” explained Dina Janis, now in her fifth year as artistic director.
This summer, Dorset will premiere “Out of the City,” Leslie Ayvazian’s look at two middle-aged couples reassessing their relationships and values — in a funny and poignant way.
“You have to be slightly brave to do that — but, for us, we see that the audiences have been responding so much to the new material,” Janis said. “Oddly enough, it’s listening to our audiences that has led us to that decision.”
New play readings have become more important, and this year’s offerings include a new Theresa Rebeck play, a traditional romance and Dorset’s first musical in ages.
“We’ve handled them differently this year in that there are some high profile people in them or involved with them, so we’ve woven them into our subscription packages,” Janis said. “We want to formally integrate the new work idea into our regular programming – rather than have it be supplemental.”
“Red” (June 18-July 6), which opens the season, stars Daly (“Wings,” “Private Practice”) as the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko as he struggles to complete a lucrative set of murals for Manhattan’s exclusive Four Seasons restaurant. His foil is an intern, a young artist wannabe ostensibly there to assist the older painter.
“It’s a really interesting piece that looks at art,” Janis said. “What do you see when you look at it? What is the meaning of it? What is art? Who defines what is art?”
She added, “It also looks at an established artist, the young versus the old, the idea of the older successful artist who’s hit a wall in some ways. The personal relationship of the older man, the mentor, with the younger man, the apprentice, is also really exciting.”
Daly appeared in Dorset last summer, in Rebeck’s black comedy “The Scene.”
“He is so excited to be able to do work on a role that he normally would not probably cast as,” Janis said. “What’s great for me is to know we’re able to be a place where somebody like him, who comes from a huge theater legacy, can come and do some real acting.”
“Out of the City” (July 10-19), this year’s premiere, follows four very educated people who leave the city for a weekend to celebrate a 60th birthday of one of the women.
“Some funny, quizzical things happen,” said Janis, who will be directing. “They force the couples to take a look at things they assumed about each other – but it’s done in a very funny and comical fashion. The play is a really lovely, funny, but poignant kind of funny, story.”
Ayvazian is a New York playwright whose plays that have been performed in New York at the likes of the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club. She also teaches playwriting at Columbia University, and occasionally works as an actor in shows like “Law and Order.”
“She’s a real actors’ playwright,” Janis said. “We have some really good actors coming, some really good A-list theater actors. And there is a bunch of different theaters that are going to come up and see the show.”
Ives’ “All in the Timing” (July 24-Aug. 9) was written by the author of “Venus in Fur,” currently enjoying spectacular success in regional theaters across the country (including Burlington’s Vermont Stage).
“All in the Timing” adds a slapstick element to the wit, intellect and satire, as language and wordplay is used to explore classic existentialist questions of life and romantic relationships.
“It’s a real classic American comedy,” Janis said. “It’s really smart — and funny. If you know who Trotsky is, the death of Trotsky is funny. If you’re 12 years old and don’t know who Trotsky is, it’s funny because there’s a guy walking around with an axe in his head. It’s quite brilliant.”
Jenn Thompson, who created Dorset’s “Noises Off,” returns to direct.
“Three super-comedic actors, a totally talented ensemble, are going to come in and play all the parts,” Janis said. “It’s a real tour de force for the actors — and it’s going to be really fun.”
“The Mousetrap” (Aug. 14-30) opened in London 60 years ago and it’s still going strong. Unlike most Agatha Christie on stage, which was adapted by somebody else, Christie, the most successful mystery writer of all time, wrote this play herself.
“I think some of the stuff that has been adapted for the stage has been so purely expositional, there’s never an event. You’re just sitting there waiting for a someone to get hit with an arrow or something,” Janis said.
“This is the real deal — it works as a play,” she said. “It’s going to be fun to freshen it up — but honoring the play. It really works kind of like a Swiss watch. The characters are really fun, so it’s going to be fun for the actors as well.”
Dorset’s summer season will close with “Travels with Mark Twain” (Sept. 18-20).
“Ron Crawford is a lovely actor, a Tony award-winning actor,” Janis said. “He’s done this off and on for many years. He has a passion for the writer — and he lets Twain speak for himself.”
Dorset is also renovating its café where it will host pre-show talks, after-show gatherings, and open poetry and music nights.
“We’re trying to make it a hub for varying kids of artists for the community,” Janis said, “creating an atmosphere of community around the arts.”
Dorset Theatre Festival
For schedule, tickets or information about information about the Dorset Theatre Festival’s 2014 summer season, call 867-2223, or go online to www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.