The cast of "The Last Romance." From left: Anne Cassady, Richard Kamins, and Naomi Kamins. | Submitted photo
October 11, 2017 03:32PM
By Mark Dionne Town Times
When Joe DiPietro’s play “The Last Romance” is performed on Monday, Oct. 23 at the Durham Public Library, it will mark the first appearance in Durham by the Readers Theater, but organizers hope it will help establish a new home for the theater group.
Anne Cassady, of Durham, one of Readers Theater’s co-producing directors, calls the group’s performances “acting from the waist up.” The group performs staged readings of plays using scripts on music stands, wearing black instead of costumes, and performing their parts with limited blocking.
Cutting down on costs and rehearsal time, this approach allows the Readers Theater to perform as many as six plays per year. The directors also say the technique is an engrossing way to experience the plays, emphasizing the story and writing.
“[I]f a story is strong, one does not need the trappings of traditional theater,” co-producing director Richard Kamins stated in an e-mail. “[T]here is little ‘action,’ but there is a lot of interaction plus a tremendous amount of emotion.”
Cassady said, “People keep saying to us, ‘Oh I’ve seen this twice [in theaters] but this was the best performance of this play.’ I think it’s the intimacy, so you really pay attention and hear the words. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Kamins wrote, “We have been truly pleased by the audiences’ responses to our performances. They like our variety, they enjoy the serious topics, they appreciate the comedies as well as that our casts are made up of local people who enjoy the challenge.”
This version of “The Last Romance,” a story about golden year love near a dog park, is directed by another Durham resident, Julie Greeman, often the group’s acting coach.
As a frequent director, Cassady brings many of the plays into her Durham living room for rehearsal but, until now, the performances have always been elsewhere.
The Public Association of Library Supporters, the library’s booster group, and the Durham Senior Board brought “The Last Romance” to town. Lainey Melvin, Senior Board Chair, saw Readers Theater perform the show as a fund raiser for ArtFarm and Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown and thought the group would be a good fit in Durham.
Melvin said, “I thought the play was super in the way it talked about relationships. It was humorous and poignant.”
Readers Theater, which will hit its 10th anniversary in April 2018, also performs at the Russell Library in Middletown, at the Prosser Public Library in Bloomfield, and with the Middlesex Institute for Lifelong Education.
The Readers Theater directors are hoping there is a future in Durham. “Richard and I are hoping that Durham will enjoy it and bring in a good audience and consider bringing in Readers Theater next year,” Cassady said.
From program sponsors, Readers Theater asks only for costs to cover play royalties.
“I think this would be a nice feature for the library’s program selections. This is a way to be able to bring good plays into the community in a pretty accessible way,” Cassady said.
Founding the group in 2008, Myron Gubitz of West Hartford collected a group of adult actors he could call on. Gubitz, and later other directors, would select actors for the chosen plays. Actors were added on and the group also seeks out actors when they have a specific need.
Gubitz had to take a reduced role and Cassady and Kamins began running the programs, working together to navigate the group and as actors and directors.
Cassady said she gets ideas for plays from local theaters, like New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater and Hartford’s TheaterWorks. She leans more towards dramas while her partner Kamins often suggests comedies. “I find comedies to be very attractive but we can’t do the same thing over and over,” Kamins wrote.
They look for small-cast plays without intrinsic stage action, aiming for a run time less than 90 minutes.
The Readers Theater approach rests on a good script. Cassady said, “A good story tells its own drama. You get a good script, well-written, a good story to tell and you get good actors to render it.”
“Actors tend to be natural storytellers,” Kamins wrote. “In Readers Theater, both actors and directors take the time to find the emotional center of the story.”
After “The Last Romance,” Readers Theater will perform “Third” by Wendy Wasserstein in Middletown and follow up with “Stages of the Moon” as a way to honor playwright Sam Shepard, who recently passed away.
The Monday, Oct. 23 performance of “The Last Romance,” which begins at 7 p.m., is free to attend.