Bus Stop rehearsals under way at Center Playhouse!

Rehearsals for Bus Stop in progress at Center Playhouse!

4th in a series on the behind-the-scenes making of “Bus Stop” running at Center Playhouse Oct 10 – Nov 9.

By Muriel Smith.  Edited by Jan Thompson


It is three weeks into rehearsals for Center Players’ Bus Stop, and I finally got to sit in on my first session. It was amazing! It was the most exciting ‘people watching’ I’ve ever done.


A lot goes into laying a solid foundation before rehearsals start. Director Jeff Caplan read the entire script at least four times before making his final decisions about who would play each of the roles. Interestingly, he admitted he sometimes makes changes during the rehearsal sessions. “I read it first just to read it,” he explained, “then the second time to do the blocking – who goes where, what goes where.” The third time was so he could plan out the props, the sound effects, all the ‘little things’ nobody particularly notices but are so necessary for a smooth and accurate presentation. The fourth reading was simply to ensure he had gotten things the way he wanted.  Guess that’s what makes a great director.


Also before the start of rehearsals, Jeff and producer Colleen DeFelice met to coordinate their thoughts and ideas for the final production. In the theater, both sat front row center. Well, actually, during the three hours of rehearsal I observed, Jeff paced back and forth – listening, often nodding his head, always thinking.


Before the cast got on stage, loose leaf books and pencils in hand, Jeff explained that the play is a cooperative effort. In addition to acting, he expected each actor to offer his own input and suggestions before he made the final decisions. However, it’s the cast who gave me the special ‘feel’ that is the difference between a group of people acting and talking on stage and a cast of well-honed, well-trained, enthusiastic actors who put their all into each role.


Seeing the actors take on their roles was really exciting for someone who hasn’t been on stage since playing the piano in a high school concert half a century ago. The play opens in a Kansas diner with owner Grace Hoylard (Brett Sabo) and waitress Elma Duckworth (Kate Barron) chatting about love, life, and the snowstorm, which eventually causes a bus with its driver and riders to be stranded there. Brett and Kate are delightful in their roles. After I attended the auditions, I wondered why a particular actor was accepted for a particular role rather than another. But seeing them pull together during this bare stage rehearsal convinced me that director Jeff Caplan had a knack for seeing something special in these two actresses that certainly wasn’t obvious to me at first.


I was mesmerized for the couple of hours I was at the rehearsal. I watched the actors (Brett Sabo and Kate Barron, as well as Joe Orlando, Tom Cox, Sheldon Fallon, and Jennifer Karmazin) go through their parts – moving, reading, emoting, flubbing, laughing, trying again, listening carefully to Jeff, Jeff conferring with producer Colleen, then all trying a particular sequence once again. They were intense, hardworking, energetic, and engaging.


Then, an hour or so into the rehearsal, something interesting happened. I suddenly noticed that while Jeff was directing his attention to two other actors, Brett and Kate moved closer together and began motioning and nodding. It was clear they were getting to know each other in their roles and establishing a team. Other actors practiced their blocking, (places where they were supposed to be on stage). When you see the play, note the look of shock on Kate’s face when Bo orders three raw hamburgers. You will be moved by Virgil’s fatherly advice and obvious love for his ‘adopted’ son, Bo.


Truth is, I can’t wait until I get to see the finished production!


Bus Stop, written by William Inge and directed by Jeff Caplan, opens at Center Playhouse, 35 South Street in Downtown Freehold, on October 10 with a pre-show dinner at the historic Tony’s Diner. The show runs for five weekends through November 9, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. There will be no performance on Halloween, October 31. There will be an additional matinee performance on Saturday, November 1 at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors/Students, and include gourmet desserts and refreshments at intermission. Group rates for parties of 10 or more are available. The opening night gala, “Diner and a Show” is $65.  Seating is limited, so call the box office at (732) 462-9093 or visit us online at www.CenterPlayers.org to purchase your tickets.




Muriel Smith is a guest blogger for Center Players. She grew up in Union, NJ and lived in Highlands for more than 40 years, working as a newspaper writer/editor before leaving home with her husband 15 years ago to live in an RV and visit every state in the Union before determining that Monmouth County is still the best place to live. She’s now settled comfortably in Freehold.


Artistic Teamwork Makes It All Happen At Center Playhouse, Freehold’s Award Winning Community Theater.

Second in a series by Muriel Smith on the behind-the-scenes making of “Bus Stop” running October 10 – November 9


So much more goes into putting on a play than I ever imagined! It’s exciting watching the auditions and then sitting in on the decision-making process, when the final cast is chosen. Interestingly, acting ability is not the only factor. But more on that later. For now, let’s take a peek at the production meeting.

The Business and Artistic Board members of Center Players and all the other volunteers who work magic behind the scenes are a unique kind of family. Each has his own life outside the theater, but when they get together to discuss an upcoming production, this backstage family is serious, sharing, enthusiastic, and business-like. Due to a very limited budget, they would rather borrow or build props and sets than dig into already well-worn wallets to get everything they need to create the perfect backdrop for the actors.

The Center Players’ next production, Bus Stop, will be on stage in October and November. (Get your tickets now, because I know this is going to be a sold-out run!) It is set in a Kansas roadside diner during a blizzard. The play focuses on the interactions between the bus driver and passengers who are stranded and the gals who work at the diner.

During the 60-minute production meeting, director Jeff Caplan ably moved things along as he spelled out the props and set needed for each of the acts. “We have a counter with shelves over it,” he said, “but it would be nice if we could get a sink with running water.” Turning to Tony Dentino and Joe Desaro, who help build sets for Center Players, he calmly asked, “Is that possible?” “Sure it is; we can do that,” they replied, and the pair launched into a discussion between themselves on how to make that possible.

“It’s a snowstorm, so we need snow and a howling wind,” Jeff continued, eyeing technical coordinator Mark Lamhut. “Any ideas?” “Let me think a bit,” Mark responded. “We’ll work on it, but it can be done.” “We’ve already got the snow,” chimed in Colleen DeFelice, the play’s producer, as well as long-time actress at Center Players and organized lady who can juggle more than five things at a time. Jeff crossed off these items, obviously confident that by the next set meeting, he’d hear how this was all going to happen.

“We need a table and chairs,” he continued, only to hear another volunteer pipe up he had a square table, or a round one if Jeff preferred, with wooden chairs that would fit the time and place. “I’ll take some photos and show you before I bring them in.” Stools for the counter? “I’ll get that!” Diner plates and cups? “I know where I can get them.” Posters and scenery calendars for the walls reflecting Montana in the 1950s? Yep, another volunteer came up with ideas for that. Magazines from the 50s? “I’ve got some Hot Rod Times,” was the response. A copy of a 1955 Kansas City Star newspaper? “You’ll have it if I have to print it up myself!”


AUDITIONS – First in a series of postings by Muriel Smith on the behind-the-scenes making of “Bus Stop” running Oct 10 – Nov 9.bus-stop-logo-WEB

As a non-actress, but one who appreciates the talents of others, I invite you to follow my updates between now and October, when Bus Stop goes on stage at Center Playhouse. This fun series will give you an appreciation for the process of creating another terrific performance at this wonderful Downtown Freehold theater.

By chance, I happened on the first of at least two nights of auditions for the five male and three female parts in the play made famous on screen by Marilyn Monroe. Eight women and one man tried out that evening at the South Street theater. Director Jeff Caplan has directed two other plays here and starred in another half dozen or more. I vividly remember his excellent performances in Doubt and All My Sons.

Although they arrived at the auditions with a single role in mind, Jeff graciously invited the actors to try out for any role that might interest them. Jeff proved to be an easy-going director who makes his actors feel comfortable and free to pour their own personalities into the roles. He gently guided them into different portrayals, for instance “Do it again, this time with more energy” and “She has feelings for the younger girl; I’d like to see a little bit of that.”

Tracy, an attractive young mother of four youngsters under six years of age, was trying out for the first time at this theater, although she has acted in New York and appeared in soap operas on television. She looks to acting as “needed escape” from the real pressures of her everyday life, which include working part-time and raising her children. Tracy felt comfortable with her portrayal of her character and is anxiously waiting for Wednesday, when Jeff promised to call her if she was selected.

Joseph was also at his first audition at Center Players, having recently acted in a Shakespearean play at Brookdale Community College. The college experience has changed his entire life and career goal, he laughed, noting it was a mentor there as well as an acting class he thoroughly enjoyed that convinced him he really wants to “stick with anything in the acting world.” He, too, felt comfortable about his portrayal of the male lead in Bus Stop.

Only one actor at Sunday’s casting session auditioned for two roles, both the lead and the more mature waitress at the Bus Stop restaurant. Having acted in high school and college productions and seen the film, she decided to try out as a break from her day-time position as a paralegal. Although she would love to be selected for either of the two roles, she readily admitted she preferred the waitress role because “I would be portraying one more my actual age.”

The second casting session will be held Tuesday evening, for which Jeff has sent out an e-mail blast, Facebook announcements, and posted notices on NJ Theater and Theater Auditions sites on Facebook, inviting anyone interested to come and tryout. Jeff will definitely make his final decisions by next week. Supposing no one auditions who he feels is perfect for one of the roles? The easy-going actor/director isn’t concerned. “I’ll call some other actors I know to see if they’re interested and just hadn’t heard of these auditions. We’ll get all our roles filled,” he smiled.

I am looking forward to following the entire process: attending the second round of auditions, hearing who gets each of the roles, seeing some of the rehearsals, and attending the dress rehearsal. Then, when I purchase my tickets for opening night of the October production, I will have an entirely new and deeper appreciation for what it takes to put on a play in a small theater in Downtown Freehold.

Bus Stop, written by William Inge and directed by Jeff Caplan, opens at Center Playhouse, 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, on October 10th and runs for five weekends through November 9th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM.  There will be no performance on Halloween 10/31.  There will be an additional Matinee performance on Saturday November 1st at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors & Students and includes gourmet desserts and refreshments. Group rates for parties of ten or more are available. Seating is limited so call the box office at (732) 462-9093 or visit us online at www.CenterPlayers.org to purchase your tickets.


Muriel Smith is a guest blogger for Center Players. She grew up in Union, NJ and lived in Highlands for more than 40 years, working as a newspaper writer/editor before leaving home with her husband 15 years ago to live in an RV and visit every state in the Union before determining that Monmouth County is still the best place to live.  She’s now settled comfortably in Freehold.


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.