Friday, January 22, 2010

Bryan surveys dance floor at New Works

No, it isn't your eyes playing tricks on you. Or an apparition - the ghost of theater past or something. Or proof of a wormhole or some kind of weird tear in the space-time continuum. It's just Suzanne Bryan, who enjoyed a nice run on the local scene as the head of Persephone Theatre, but dropped off the radar about eight years ago. She was in town to direct "Dancing in the Dark," a short play by George Cope and Bruce M. Menin, at Random Acts, the play-in-a-day series at the Firehouse last November, and she has been around the past couple of weeks to rehearse "Last Dance," a comedy by Ipswich playwright KerryZagarella for the New Works Festival, which opens Friday with a production of three-time winner James McLindon's "Dead and Buried." But, no, it's not a revival. Bryan is retired. From nursing, at least.

She left local theater – and the city - about eight years ago to work full-time at Dna Farber, shortly after staging "Fully Committed" in 2002. But she hasn't retired from theater. She staged several productions, including "Wit," at Dana Farber. And she's also volunteering at Dorchester Academy, an after-school theater program at Dorchester High School that, like many schools in the state, has had to deal with tough cutbacks - especially to arts programs. "They don't have any other options," she says. And, of course, dashing in and out of the city from her just-north-of-Boston home.

Right now she's on the phone, en route to Home Depot, with a carload of material to build "special props" for the play. What exactly those might be, she's not saying. She's not talking much about the play itself either, saying only that the 10-minute short has strong comedic and physical acting - "a comedy with a soupcon of noir," she says – and promising that "jaws will drop" when the lights come up.

The playwright, a kindergarten teacher in the Ipswich public schools, is a little more expansive about the play, her second at the New Works. "Last Dance," which will be staged Jan. 23, the last day of the festival, is "another comedy ... I hope." The father, who has disappointed the daughter her entire life, ups and dies just before her wedding. He was supposed to give her away. Figures, right? All that's out the window, of course, but his selfish death does not necessarily
negate his role in the wedding entirely. The story takes place in a funeral home - after business hours, without the consent of the owner, who doesn't know, or the father, who doesn't care. Awkward? Perhaps. Illegal? Yup. But that doesn't mean that father and daughter can't work things out, finally. The show will feature performances by Bruce Anderson, Ritza Elizabeth, Kari Nickou, Tracy Bickel and Jack Rushton.

Unlike "The Odor of Existech," the first play she ever wrote, which found a spot in the new play festival four years ago, Zagarella will be relegated to sitting quietly in the audience. Bryan will direct. "I guess I have to trust her," she says. Not that this is a bad thing. Zagarella has spoken to Bryan on the phone and knows that "she gets it." And the playwright, who is co-founder of the long-running Wail! Magazine and a former touring member of Boston's First Slam Poetry Team, says that "Odor of Existech," her last New Works entry "became so much better" because of the collaboration with the actors. It was a dark comedy ("Is there any other kind?" she asks) that used household recycling efforts as a metaphor of how to process memories and thoughts in our own lives - all of our history, whether good or bad, makes us what we are - "and how you choose to reuse and recycle these memories dictates who you are and how you lead your life," she says. "A lot changed. It made it a much better play because of the collaboration. "Still, she says, letting go is difficult for a self-described control freak. "At first, I'm sure I'll be hyperventilating."

JUST THE FACTS: The New Works Festival runs Jan. 22-23 and Jan. 29-30 at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. "Last Dance," a comedy by Kerry Zagarella, will be one of six short plays closing out the festival on Jan. 30. Show times are 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. For information, call 978-462-7336 or log on at

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