The Opportunities Guy Visits Center Playhouse

Guest Blogger Charles Fleisher tells us about his experiences at our theater.

Center Players has great events coming up for everyone to enjoy. I know because I’ve been able to enjoy their shows from a wheelchair.

My name is Charles Fleisher, and I was in a car accident and received a spinal cord injury when I was 18. That was in 1988, and before long I will be coming up, 25th anniversary in a wheelchair. As tragic as that event was, over the course of the last roughly 25 years, I’ve learned to focus on the wonderful things that are still available, instead of the things I can no longer do. I once heard someone say, “Before my accident, there were perhaps 50,000 things I was able to do. Now maybe I’m limited to 30,000.” I challenge anyone to try to do 30,000 things in a lifetime. This philosophy has worked wonderfully for me and millions of others. This is an incredible inspirational thought, and has allowed people, organizations, and companies to find opportunities from their difficulties, since the beginning of time.

There are thousands upon thousands of theaters in the United States. Many of them are wheelchair accessible. Since the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), most of them are. I recently moved to Freehold Township. I’m thrilled to say that as I was driving through Freehold Borough on my way home several months ago, I caught the marquis for Center Playhouse out of the corner of my eye. Last month was my first visit to the theater and it was fun, fun, fun. I started off at a local restaurant where I enjoyed a nice ravioli dinner and a glass of wine.

The parking is very good. There is Public parking behind a string of nearly 10 restaurants, and the theater. I parked in a handicapped spot in front of the municipal building. Afterward, I rolled across the lot toward the theater, up a ramp and through the stage door. It is a small theater, but the staff is very accommodating and they helped me find a comfortable spot for my wheelchair. The show was Mr. 80%. A fun little production that made me laugh! Since then I’ve been to other shows including Tuesday’s with Morrie and The Musical Adventures of Horatio Wolf and Little Red. The next show that’s coming up is the Cemetery Club. I encourage anyone to come out for a relaxing afternoon or evening of fun and entertainment. Center Players offers a reasonable ticket price, which includes dessert and coffee during intermission.

You Cannot Act Chemistry

Our lates blog post was written by guest blogger Mel Gjonbalaj:

The women from The Cemetery ClubDue to school and work it seems like quite a few months have passed since I last sat in the charming little playhouse. On Monday night I decide to take a walk down South Street to watch a rehearsal of Center Players’ upcoming production, The Cemetery Club. I nervously knocked on the door and am greeted, as always, with a friendly face and smile.  Once inside I throw my cell phone in my bag and plop myself down besides Bernice Garfield-Szita, the Director.

It’s exciting to be able to see the play come together, to watch the plot unravel. The chemistry on stage makes it easy to forget that the set is unfinished, and that they’re not really drinking tea. It doesn’t matter because the acting is so authentic you feel as if you are there. The laughter and the tears seem real. I find myself becoming attached to the characters and their lives.

I learn you cannot act chemistry. The closeness seen onstage follows the actors offstage.  One watching the scene during a break would assume they were all one big family drinking coffee and eating cake. I also learn that when you’re rehearsing, sometimes you don’t have real music, so the rest of the cast will sing and make music, or say “ding dong” when the door bell rings. If this is what the rehearsals look like then I am pretty excited to see the final production. For now, that’s a wrap.

Dynamite Girl

My name is Lisa D’Angelo.  I have been working on the production team for The Musical Adventures of Horatio Wolf and Little Red at Center Playhouse.  I assisted with the designing and painting of the set and props.  I was asked to design and make a bundle of dynamite sticks as a prop for the show.  I gave it some thought and came up with a simple but effective plan.  I painted paper towel rolls red and attached clothesline for fuses.

I thought they were convincing enough.  Little did I know how convincing they were until I took the dynamite and headed for the theater on foot, as I live close by.  As I passed my neighbor he seemed concerned.  He said, “Do you want a bag?”  He knows I volunteer at the theater but his concern made me think that I might get a reaction from people further downtown.

As I walked down the block a woman screamed, “Dynamite!  Sticks of dynamite!” I assured her that they were theater props and there was no need to be alarmed.  As I ventured across Main Street I got some serious looks from passing drivers.  When I finally got to the theater, I told Bernice and Bob about the reaction I was getting from people and they suggested I write this blog.

Everyone thought they were convincing, on and off stage.  You can still see the show this weekend, Saturday (Aug 18) at 1:00 and 4:00 or Sunday (Aug 19) at 2:00.  The scene with the dynamite is very funny and you’ll laugh twice as hard thinking of people running from me as I walked down Main Street in Freehold with them!

PS – It’ll take me months to use up the stack of folded paper towels I took off the rolls to make this fun project!

Roots and Wings: The Differences that Unite

Charles Fleisher recently attended a meeting hosted by the Center Players and kindly wrote about it for our blog. Here it is:

The first program of The Greater Monmouth County Chamber Of Commerce Diversity Committee was a hit! I’ll admit, that I’m blessed with good timing. This was my first visit to any Chamber of Commerce meeting and I picked a good one. The event was held at Center Playhouse, home of Center Players, in downtown Freehold and sponsored by local businesses including Sam’s Club of Freehold, Anima E Core, Fred and Murray’s Deli and the Manalapan Diner. The location was perfect and the event was sold out. Several individuals got up on stage and shared their stories of how their families came to the United States. It offered the opportunity for individuals throughout the community to come out and meet their neighbors, share delicious ethnic foods, and find out about their different backgrounds, and share their experiences and cultures.

The program included musicians and dancers from diverse backgrounds in South America. It also included local veteran and war hero, Ray Dothard, who was only three generations removed from slavery. We got to hear stories of families who were devastated by the Holocaust and others who evaded capture from the Nazis during World War II.

One of the most powerful parts of the program centered on understanding that we are all descendants of immigrants, whether it be many generations ago, two or three back or as recent as this past year. The program focused on finding and exploiting our common interest in business, family and community. It’s easy to focus on differences, but communities become stronger when we focus on what brings us together.

It was a great program, and I encourage anyone to search out their local Chamber of Commerce, and get involved.

Tuesdays With Morrie Inspired Me

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  –Morrie Schwartz

In 2002, a friend of mine suggested that I read Tuesdays With Morrie. Back then, I wasn’t much of a reader, but the book wasn’t too big, so I gave it a shot. The first page lured me in, and I couldn’t put it down.  This book changed me. Morrie Schwartz’s wisdom inspired me to create a quotes journal—filled with advice that was meaningful to me—which eventually became a full blown book of quotes that I still maintain today.

I was overjoyed when I heard that Tuesdays with Morrie was going to be performed at Center Playhouse. This book meant so much to me growing up, and I could not wait to see it be brought to life. Theater was one of my first loves. In fourth grade, I began acting with my mother in community theater productions. Not only was it a great first experience – it showed me the rewards of hard work and being a team player – but it was also great bonding time with my mother. Going to the theater brings back fond memories for me.

Center Players’ production was exceptionally well done and a memorable theatrical experience. Anthony Greco did a remarkable job of playing Mitch Albom, and Bill Lee was an incredible Morrie Schwartz.  The changes Bill made in makeup and demeanor for each scene, especially as Morrie got closer to the end of his days, made his portrayal all the more believable. The emotions that were on that stage were really felt by the audience. We all laughed and cried together, bonded by the engaging action onstage.

Morrie Schwartz was an inspirational man. As soon as he found out that he had ALS, he decided not to mourn the loss of his life; he wanted to give the rest of his life meaning. Morrie did not want to spend it being miserable. He used his last few weeks on this earth to teach Mitch (and millions of other people worldwide) about life’s greatest lessons. He wanted to help Mitch slow down, follow his passions, and learn how to live. And in helping Mitch, Morrie indirectly helps every theatergoer and reader of the book.

–Lisa Petrushun

Bio: Lisa Petrushun, an avid theatergoer, graduated from Rowan University with a BS in Business with a Marketing specialty. She currently works for SHI International. She lives in Manalapan with her husband Ande, a new German Shepherd puppy, and two cats.

A New Volunteer Reviews “Morrie”

Center Player’s new volunteer, Roger J. Brooks, wrote the following review for our blog:

In Freehold, NJ, there is a small theater called the Center Playhouse. Away from the Tuesday's with Morrie Logohustle and bustle of downtown Freehold, the theater is a hidden gem in the city’s attempt to revitalize their arts and cultural scene. Center Playhouse is a second home for the actors and crew who all share the passion for drama and excitement. The theater is open throughout the year and will certainly not disappoint the novice or seasoned theater enthusiast.

I visited the Center Playhouse, this past Saturday evening, to see Tuesdays with Morrie. Only two characters are in the play—Mitch and Morrie. The play is about the ups and downs in their relationship; however, Mitch is undergoing numerous personal problems.

As a successful sports reporter, Mitch is the embodiment of success. He has a wife and stable career, but Morrie realizes that Mitch is unhappy with his life. Although suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, it is Morrie who instills confidence in Mitch and helps him live a better life. While at his bedside, Mitch learns about life values from Morrie. Morrie eventually succumbs to his health condition and Mitch moves on with his life a more confident person.

Anthony Greco who plays Mitch and Bill Lee who plays Morrie, are just impeccable. Bill Lee just nails his role as an ailing professor, while Anthony Greco is just incredible as a frustrated professional in his mid-thirties. If I can sum up their acting in one word–superb!

Tuesdays with Morrie is about life values and accepting circumstances. If you want to see this and other plays, then check on the Center Player’s website for more information about the upcoming show season.

I volunteered for Center Players because of an interest in the art of acting. As a creative professional, it was only normal to connect with a community of actors who enjoy volunteering their time for a cause. It was a great experience and I learned so much. I am ready to offer my time again.

Ed: Thank you, Roger, for a wonderful review!

Mr. 80% Star Shoots HBO Hit “Boardwalk Empire!”

Actor Matthew Gochman, star of our currently running show Mr. 80%,  took time out of his busy schedule to write about his recent experience as an extra on the set of Boardwalk Empire for our blog. Here it is:

Matthew Gochman in costume ready for his debut in BOARDWALK EMPIRE

On Thursday, April 26th I had the honor of being a background actor (a.k.a. extra) on the hit HBO show, Boardwalk Empire.  The shoot took place in Richmond, Staten Island.  Just stepping onto the large shuttle bus from Manhattan to Staten Island, I felt a rush of excitement!  I felt like I was entering the big time, finally!  Inside the bus I found extras of all ages and body types:  old, young, middle-aged, skinny, heavy-set, athletic.

In an hour we were transported to the cast and crew headquarters, a simple banquet hall where you would expect to attend church functions.  We all descended into the basement and got into costume:  probably the most uncomfortable part of the process.  About 30 male extras and I had to squeeze into this small, confined space, where we had to slip on about four layers of 1920’s garb.

After I was done “suiting up,” it was time to get my hair done.  The stylist slathered on so much gel that my hair had the texture of plastic throughout the day.  The day before the shoot, I had to take a day off work just to trek into Steiner Studios in Brooklyn to get my “1920’s haircut.”  The ultimate irony was that all this time and effort was put into my hair, yet I wore a hat throughout the entire scene!

Then it was time for the most important part of the shoot:  craft service.  The breakfast on set was absolutely extraordinary!  Laid out under the craft service tent were scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and practically every breakfast item you can think of.  There were even cooks on staff, frying up omelets on the spot.  How any actor can possibly stay thin on the set of Boardwalk Empire is beyond me.

Before we were transported to set, the costume people lined us all up to check everyone’s wardrobe.  If anyone’s tie was crooked, if anyone’s pants were too baggy—the problem had to be rectified immediately.  Yes, the crew puts that much effort into the shoot.

Boardwalk Empire set

The set for the HBO hit “Boardwalk Empire.”

The scene took place at a courthouse.  Before it was time to rehearse the scene, my fellow extras and I had to assemble within a holding room, where we waited… and waited… and waited for approximately an hour.  Note to anyone interested in being an extra:  Bring a book because 80% of the job is waiting around!  As long as I got paid to wait around, it made no difference to me.

Next, all the extras had to assemble on the courthouse steps, where we rehearsed the blocking of the scene.  I chit-chatted with a fellow extra, a young guy named Rob, who was playing my friend.  It was the first day on set for the both of us, so we were both truly excited.  Then the A.D. (assistant director) grabbed an older man and older lady, and blurted out to Rob, “These are your parents.  They’ll cross the street and you have to greet them.”  That’s the funny thing about extra work.  You just get paired off with random people on set, with whom you’re forced to forge a relationship. “This is your son… This is your daughter… This is your husband… This is your mistress.”

In the middle of rehearsal, rain started pouring down.  We all went on break for about two hours.  As I was returning from the craft service tent, I strolled past Bobby Cannavale and Paul Sparks, who were having a cigarette together.  Cannavale is a new addition to the Boardwalk cast.  A veteran character actor, he’s been on TV shows like Will and Grace and in movies like The Station Agent, Win Win, and Snakes on a Plane.  Sparks is the blonde-haired actor, who portrays Mickey Doyle on the show.  I was incredibly tempted to stop and ask if I can get a picture with them, but I felt it would be somewhat rude to barge in on their conversation.

While waiting for the rain to stop, I killed time by chatting with the fellow extras, several of whom were veterans in the extra/dayplaying field.  One of them had worked with such actors as Michael Douglas, Jim Carrey, Katie Holmes, and Shia LaBeouf.  They disclosed all sorts of juicy gossip about which actors were incredibly nice (a select few) and which were total jerks (the majority of them).  Listening to anecdotes from these veteran extras was probably the highlight of the entire experience.

Finally, it was time to shoot.  During the scene, Cannavale’s character (Gyp Rosetti) marches out the courtroom, having been proven not guilty to setting a member of the city’s law enforcement on fire.  The members of the court all trail behind him, mumbling to each other about how they know he’s guilty and that they no longer feel safe in the town.  Rosetti stops at the top of the steps, gloating about his “deed” and lighting a cigarette.  In the scene, you see me and all the other members of the courtroom trying to steer clear of him.  Since I walk right past Rosetti, along with the woman playing my wife in the scene, you’ll most likely see me on screen.  After all, I was only a couple feet away from Cannavale and the scene is pretty crucial to the plot (meaning it probably won’t get deleted from the show).

Shooting the scene took about an hour.  We did about 10 takes, half the time rolling with sound and half the time without.  It became a bit tedious after a while, but it was still tons of fun.  Being on a TV show was thrilling enough, but being on a show that I adore and watch on a regular basis was twice as thrilling!

If anyone’s interested in becoming an extra on the show, I found the gig through Grant Wilfley Casting, a casting agency in New York City that specializes in finding background actors and day players.  Log onto to find out more information about upcoming castings available.

A Fan Letter

Recently, our office received a written letter from a happy patron. Here it is in its entirety:

This St. Patrick’s Day at the Center Playhouse in Freehold was a blast. We saw a wonderful movie, ate delicious cupcakes, and were able to enjoy a wonderful experience for free! The staff at the playhouse was, as always, helpful and warm. And it is quite something to recognize your usher as an actor you’ve seen in a play before! All in all, our St. Patrick’s Day excursion to the Center Playhouse was delightful and fun.

-Katie Dempsey

Thank you for writing, Katie! We are so glad that you enjoyed our St. Patrick’s Day event and hope to see you in our audience soon!

Lots of Laughter On Stage at Center Playhouse

Cast from Mr. 80%By Muriel J. Smith

FREEHOLD – Listen, laugh, and love Mr. 80%, the sparkling new comedy now on stage at the Center Playhouse for the next three weekends. It makes for a most entertaining, relaxing and fun-filled evening of laughter close to home.

Jeff Caplan, who recently made a name for himself in his clever portrayal of the lead in Center Players’ recent How the Other Half Loves as well as many other productions over the years, is joined by a cast of five who are all new to Freehold’s resident theater company, comparatively new to the world of acting, and filled with ambition, enthusiasm and talent. There’s an obvious joie de vivre among them all, and the result is a fast-paced two act play that is filled with some clever, sometimes naughty one-liners that bring chuckles and outright laughs throughout the evening.

Kudos also to Amy Brandt, a new director for Center Players, but a veteran in the field in other theaters, as well as an accomplished actor and singer in her own right. Also, praise must be given to Aaron Ratzan, the stage manager who deftly creates a series of scene changes in each act, darkening the theater for the transition, then having the actors back in their places when the lights go up again. A clever and well-timed scene-change, especially in a small theater like Center Playhouse, gives the audience a tiny peek into the world backstage and it is mechanics.

The play focuses on apartment renters Patricia (Melissa Mount), a not too friendly or personable intern, and Sharon (Angela Trombatore), an outgoing chirpy attorney who’s sick of men. The pair are searching for a roommate, with Sharon insisting it be either a female or a gay male. Enter Jan (Jeff Caplan) and Sam (Matthew Gochman), two very straight, but very broke comedians. Sam wants the apartment so badly he convinces Jan to play the role with him as a gay couple. The rest of the play dances around the comedic results of their lie, coupled with Sam’s obvious flirtations and affection for Sharon and the eventual happy ending for all at the end of the evening.

Daisy Velazquez-Glasgow portrays Ronnie, who appears to be a lady… using the term loosely … of the evening, but has the intelligence and education of a sophisticated woman. This is the second play in which she’s appeared, after taking a summer acting academy course two years ago, all the while married and raising four mostly young and teen-aged children. Look for her more in the future as she promises to be agile, versatile, and downright fun in her roles. Her love affair with the theater is apparent in her outstanding portrayal of Ronnie in this production.

The play is definitely the right prescription for creating happiness and fun. It’s necessary to listen carefully since there are so many one-liners you don’t want to miss a single chuckle. It’s downright fun, well cast with a half dozen actors who know how to make it lively, and a production team that has created a beautiful upper west side apartment of the mid-1980s.

Mr. 80% is onstage at Center Players through May 6th, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Seating is limited to the remaining three weekends so get your seats today by calling the box office at (732) 462-9093. Tickets are only $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors and Students and includes a great variety of homemade and delicious Sam’s Club complimentary desserts and beverages at intermission, a wonderful addendum to a highly entertaining evening.

The final production in the 2011-12 Season, Tuesdays with Morrie, opens June 1st promising proof of the versatility of the Center Players featuring regulars Anthony Greco (seen in The Heiress, Barefoot in the Park, and director of many Center Players shows) and Bill Lee (The Passion of Dracula, The Heiress, 12 Angry Men) and directed by returning director Carla Zackson-Heller (Sylvia).

For further information about Center Players including the announcement of their upcoming 2012-13 season, visit them online at

Visitor Reviews Mr. 80% Rehearsal

Mr. 80% LogoGuest blogger Marc Knobloch visited Center Playhouse recently and had this to say about it:

I recently thankfully accepted an invitation to witness a complete run-through rehearsal of the delightful comedy “MR. 80%” by James Sherman.  It was one of those decisions that I look back on with an air of confidence in having done the right thing.

As the actors settled into their roles, their dedication to their craft was clearly evident.  Every line was confidently delivered, every comedic moment crafted as to elicit the audience’s maximum humorous reaction.  This is a group that clearly loves their craft!  When the rare occasional flub appeared, it was quickly and efficiently quelled by the actor without skipping a beat.

Although seated in the first row of the Center Players’ small theater, I can only imagine that any one of the 49 seats would feel like a comfortable chair situated within the stage’s set (also carefully created by the cast members) and the play’s setting – a New York apartment.  This clear view only served to enhance the overall experience.

This experience clearly proved to me why ensuring at least one visit to Center Players on South Street in downtown Freehold any time from April 13th to May 6th will be another smart decision for which I will be thankful for.  I promise that you will feel very much the same!


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