As most fans of live theatre in New Jersey know, we are blessed with a number of truly excellent professional theatres, e.g, The George Street Playhouse, The Paper Mill Playhouse, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, The Dreamcatchers, Centenary Stage Company, etc. These theatres produce plays that are the equal of much of the ‘other side of the Hudson’ with actors who work both sides of the river.
Thursday we had the opportunity to journey down to the Jersey Shore and visit one of the true professional theatre gems in the state. The 14 year old New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, co-founded by Gabor Barabas and his wife SuzAnne. Gabor serves as the Executive Director and SuzAnne is the Artistic Director. The theatre is unique in that they exclusively produce new plays.
The current production that officially opens tonight at 8 pm, Saturday, July 27, 2013, is “Saving Kitty,” a romantic comedy with bite, written by Marisa Smith (a Jersey girl…born in Princeton) and directed by Evan Bergman. Smith is a longtime publisher of plays with her husband (Smith & Kraus), a former actress and, since 2005, an award winning playwright. Smith’s “Saving Kitty” won Best Play from Portland Stages’ Clauder competition in 2010 and premiered at the Wellfleet Actors Harbor Theater in July, 2012.
The ‘saving’ Kitty comes from the frantic, often hilarious, efforts of a mother to keep her only daughter from marrying the wrong kind. This, of course, reminds us of the great Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier film “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.”
In the case of “Saving Kitty” the otherwise social liberal mother’s prejudice is not racial, but religious. The mother, Kate, is a former television soap opera actress married to a United Nations diplomat. They live relatively quietly as ultra liberals (i.e. New Yorkers!) in a very comfortable Fifth avenue apartment until a tornado hits in the form of only daughter Kitty, a successful television journalist, arriving from California with her fourth fiance candidate Paul…not only an evangelical, but he is starting a religious school in the Bronx.
To mother Kate this means that Kitty’s trading her promising career for a life in the kitchen, dressed in muumuus and producing numerous babies. “He’s brainwashed her, he’s gonna get her involved in that kooky religion and keep her barefoot and pregnant for the rest of her life!” proclaims Kate.
Kate, played by Judith Hawking, is described by her husband Huntley “like a lioness protecting her cub.” Judith Hawking has a star turn as the perfect Kate who takes unhappy to a new level. Kate’s various, creative, and kooky attempts to sabotage her daughter’s relationship are the comedy high points of the play, frequently assisted by several bourbon on the rocks. Not easy to understand why the fiance does not retreat in the presence of the future mother-in-law from hell.
The reason for part of Kate’s actions can best be understood by these comments from playwright Marisa Smith: “I’ve really come to believe that one of the last acceptable prejudices that the well-educated elite still maintain with no embarrassment and absolutely no sense that this belief might be wrong, is their prejudice against evangelical Christians. You can be at a dinner party and somebody can start bashing evangelicals in a very crude way and no one looks twice, where you would never say those kinds of things about any other group with any impunity.”
The second part of the massive, negative reaction of mother Kate is that she gave up her own promising acting career for marriage with some regret and is now living vicariously through her daughter’s rising career. Kitty pleads to her mother to get her own life.
Director Evan Bergman’s production of “Saving Kitty” is a well paced treat with a superb cast that includes Sarah Nealis as Kitty, Christian Pedersen as her fiancé-to-be Paul, and John FitzGibbon, a NJ Rep veteran, as Kitty’s father Huntley who is consumed by an Islamist bomb threat in Turkey.
Some key dialogue moments: When Paul tries to explain the differences in the conservatism of Islamists and Evangelical Christians, he says: “If you disagree with the Islamists, they cut off your head. If you disagree with us, we just pray for you.” When Kitty tries to explain to her mother that a large number of Christians are Evangelical, Kate replies “Well, none of them live in Manhattan!”
The production team includes: Scenic design and props Jessica Parks; Costume design Patricia E. Doherty; Lighting design Jill Nagle; Technical director Michael Carroll; and Stage manager and sound design Jennifer Tardibuono.
The New Jersey Repertory’s production of Marisa Smith’s “Saving Kitty” is four-star entertainment. The thought-provoking script with an abundance of laughs, first class acting led by Judith Hawking, attractive set, fine costumes, and comfortable seating combine to equal a superior theatre experience.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio July 25, 2013
The New Jersey Repertory Company is presenting “Saving Kitty” through August 25, 2013.
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 pm to August 25. Tickets are $40;
Opening night with reception is $50. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more. NJ Rep is a year-round, professional, non-profit theater located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch only minutes from the Jersey Shore. Free on-site parking is available and there is easy access from NJ Transit (North Jersey Coast Line) and Academy Buses.
For tickets, contact the Box Office at 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org to reserve your seats online.