A review of “Chapter Two”

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Excerpts from review by Fred Hertrich.


Almost 40 years ago, Neil Simon’s 16th play, Chapter Two, opened in Manhattan  and was soon after transformed into a movie. Chapter Two is largely autobiographical. It is – to paraphrase – about loss and renewal, and to be sure, it is a resilient reflection, a remarkably sensitive recognition of love and laughter — of the human experience.

Although gorgeously and artistically written …. perhaps a clear example of art not just imitating life but, rather, of stealing from it …. when Chapter Two opened, several of the most noteworthy critical theatrical and film reviewers of the time (Clive Barnes, Roger Ebert) largely “panned” the work, asserting that the writing was exhaustive, and as such, was written such that no one could offer a performance of memorable worth.

Well, to be most respectful, but completely candid, clearly “the critical community of the time” never saw Chapter Two as performed by CENTER PLAYERS of Freehold. This current performance, directed by the amazingly talented and well-known local Anthony Marinelli, and starring the frequent CENTER PLAYERS actors Jeff Caplan (as George), Michael Tota (as Leo), Lisa Merritt (as Faye), and the new-to-the-CENTER PLAYERS’ stage – the UNBELIEVABLY MAGNIFICENTELY TALENTED Laura Casey (as Jennie) – offers a theatrical experience which is indescribably superb throughout. That spectacularly glistening jewel-of-a-theatre tucked (almost obscurely) in lovely downtown Freehold has “offered a gem, once more” as has been the case again and again over the 20 years since CENTER PLAYERS first emerged as a volunteer community theater …. a manifestation of the dream of several who simply loved and understood “the theater” and the joy of bringing community theater to the Borough of Freehold.

Comparisons are all too “dangerous,” but the current performance of Chapter Two  is  without doubt one of the very, very finest performances ever offered  by CENTER PLAYERS.

Beginning with the staging …. two distinctly separate Manhattan apartments on a little more than a shoebox floor plan …. and furnished with pieces offered through Freehold’s Habitat for Humanity …. immediately affords a view of two entirely different locations, absent any need to “imagine” beyond the obvious.

But the core is in the acting — acting as fine as is imaginable!

Although Neil Simon’s work itself is comical, poignant, creative, and show-stopping, what is offered through CENTER PLAYERS is NOT simply – or even tangentially – only a demonstration of the offering of Neil Simon’s classic work on stage. Rather, what is offered is ACTING at the highest level …. arguable comparable to the “professionally -recognized stage,” be it on Broadway or elsewhere. Neil Simon’s work is beyond being “BROUGHT TO LIFE” by Jeff, Lisa, Michael and Laura.  No one is “acting the part” or “performing a role.” Much more obviously – word by word, move by move, nuance by nuance, gesture by gesture  – creates an evening through which no one in the audience is anywhere but completely “in the moment.” Though simple and direct observation of the audience at intermission – to the person – each patron appeared somewhat “startled”  to recognize that, in fact, he/she is a member of a theatrical audience. Rather, each audience member suddenly realized that the “truth” is that …. not, as had seemed so apparent from the unfolding of the initial scene, each was other than a “silent in-the-apartment(s)-observer” of a four-part human dynamic unfolding within and among everyone present.

The exemplification of this unique and stupendous reality was more than clear throughout the performance. Simply as evidences, Michaels’s soliloquy (as Leo) near the beginning of the second act is indescribably unbelievable.

Laura’s (as Jennie) all-throughout comprehensive performance …. the use of her hands, of the tilt of her hair, of the flair in her eyes, of the literal reddening of her neck and the quiver of her muscles during “lines of passion” is amazing.

As well, the “passion beyond script” offered by Jeff (as George) and Lisa’s amazingly whole-of-herself as Faye, through which she utilizes the treasured words of Neil Simon as but one “tool” of her performance is priceless.

Of course, it is a cliché to suggest that remarkably performers “become” the part, but, frankly, even that awareness so grossly understates what takes place throughout Chapter Two at CENTER PLAYERS. To the audience, it is so much more than “identification;” so much more complete than the “connection of soul of spirit, of heart” …. It is the TOTALITY of the collective performances by Jeff, Lisa, Michael and Laura – together -under Anthony’s amazing direction – that in every real sense “moves” each viewer, comprehensively. In sum and substance, nowhere is that which is taking place at CENTER PLAYERS in this performance  a matter of talented performers “acting well” … rather, it is the amazing illustration of four performers who ARE Neil Simon’s George, Leo. Faye, and Jennie.

For those who understand and appreciate the highest degree of theatrical performance, and for those for whom GREAT theater is a “bit of a norm” and those who seek an evening (or afternoon) unlike any other …. Chapter Two – now on stage at CENTER PLAYERS is simply NOT to be missed …. Period!


(Fred Hertrich is a multi-decade proud resident of Freehold and a fully-engaged, proud, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth County’s own Brookdale Community College and, as well, at Middlesex County College. With no theatrical experience whatsoever, he is the remarkably family-fortunate lifetime husband of Violet, and father of three children, all of whom were educated, in part, in the Freehold Township and Freehold Regional Schools, as was his youngest granddaughter.)

*********** Ticket Information *************

Chapter Two opened at Center Playhouse, located at 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, on Friday, February 12th and runs for five weekends through Sunday March 13th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors & Students and includes complimentary 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.


An interview with director Anthony Marinelli of Chapter Two

An Interview with Director Anthony Marinelli 

     Noted Director Anthony Marinelli is returning to Center Players to present “Chapter Two,” the Neil Simon semi-autographical play which has resonated with him since adolescence. The play, which tells the story of recently widowed writer George Schneider and his reluctant return to the dating scene, deals with serious issues in Simon’s typical comedic fashion. “I believe that Chapter Two skillfully demonstrates that life is a series of chapters, and its issues of loss, renewal and letting go of the past are easily recognizable to today’s audiences,” explained Marinelli. One of the keys to a successful production of this play is ensuring that the famous Simon humor is not lost or forced, he added. This production will be presented in the original 1977 timeframe, allowing the audience to witness the relationships back in a time with fewer distractions. “While it may have been a simpler time back then, this play proves there’s nothing simple about human emotions,” explained Marinelli. 
     Bringing Simon’s characters to life are cast members Jeff Caplan (George Schneider), Mike Tota (Leo Schneider), Laura Casey (Jenny Malone) and Lisa Merritt (Faye Medwick), all of whom have performed with Center Players in the past. “Center Playhouse’s intimate setting is very beneficial in a play like this, as it allows the audience to experience the emotional impact of the show first-hand,” explained Marinelli.
     Previously, Marinelli, a Manalapan resident, directed Woody Allen’s “Play it Again Sam” at Center Playhouse. His one-act play, Acoustic Space, won the 2014 Strawberry Festival Best Play award. The film version screened in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and a host of others in NYC. Another short film he directed, Walt Whitman Never Paid For It, based on a play by Angelo Berkowitz, won the 2014 Audience Choice Award at the Richmond International Film Festival. Other shorts include Night, Joey’s Gonna Kill Me, Lunch Time and Subway (seen on PBS’ Reel 13). In 2013 he held an industry reading for his feature film screenplay, Eventually Yours, starring Joseph Cassese and Andrea Navedo ( Jane the Virgin). 
     Other plays Marinelli has directed include: Raisins Not Virgins, Fool for Love, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, The Intruder, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? His latest one-act play, Another Famous Dead Artist, performed in three NY play festivals last year including the Strawberry and New York New Works Festival (semi-finalist).
     Tickets for Chapter Two are limited and can be purchased by calling 732-462-9093 or online at http://www.centerplayers.org.

Rain: Sometimes too little, sometimes too much. 


This past summer Central New Jersey had near drought conditions and then it received record rainfall and hurricane warnings! Could the recent rehearsals for Center Players’ production of The Rainmaker be responsible for this weather phenomenon? Probably not, but it will be a beautiful show, opening on Friday October 9th, that tells the story of a family of ranchers in the 1920’s in the mid west. They were struggling with a long and devastating drought and the concerns of a widowed father and his sons who were trying to marry off the daughter who didn’t seem to have a talent for attracting a husband!
This sensitive comedy-drama written by N. Richard Nash and directed by Dave McGrath of Long Branch is brought to life by Ankit Sharma of Freehold, who plays Starbuck, the charming stranger who claims he is a Rainmaker and for $100.00 can bring rain! Lizzy, the potential spinster sister, played by Candy Predham, of Spring Lake, under goes a transformation with the help of Starbuck. David Clarke, of Long Branch, portrays Jim Curry, the father, while Matt Gochman of Jersey City, and Peter Giovine of Rumson play the sons who differ in opinions about Starbuck and his rainmaking abilities. Tom Shewchuk of Howell, portrays File, the sheriff’s deputy and Harvey Rothman of Keyport, is the kindly local sheriff. This play demonstrates that belief in one’s self can truly bring miracles.
The Rainmaker, opens at Center Playhouse, located at 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, on Friday, October 9th and runs for five weekends through November 8th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $25 for Adults and $23 for Seniors & Students and includes gourmet desserts and refreshments. Group rates apply for parties of ten or more. Seating is limited so call the box office at (732) 462-9093 or visit us online at http://www.CenterPlayers.org to purchase your tickets. 

Photo caption

Candy Predham, as Lizzie and Ankit Sharma as Starbuck take direction from Dave McGrath during a rehearsal of The Rainmaker at Center Playhouse. The show opens on October 9th at the 35 South Street theater in Freehold. Photo by Mark Lamhut

Great production meeting for The Rainmaker. 

  The creative group gathers and discusses the different aspects of Center Players next production, The Rainmaker.  We discussed set design by Jeff Caplan , prop and costume design by Bernice Szita as well as sound and light design by Mark Lamhut and our production schedule. The show is produced by Colleen Defilice and Roberta Fallon.   Production meetings are interesting because it’s where a lot of ideas and thoughts about the meaning of the production come together. The show is directed by Dave McGrath.  

A Great Opening Night Review of “A Doll’s House”

A Dolls House Review by Muriel Smith
It’s got 19th century charm and 21st century talent, making “A Doll’s House” an absolute winner on stage at Center Playhouse, 35 South Street, Freehold. The two act play opened Friday night and continues through August, 9th. Tickets and information are available at http://www.centerplayers.org or by calling 732-462-9093.
They take on some pretty impressive challenges in their little theater on South Street, and this play is no exception.
A Doll’s House, written in the 19th century by Henrik Ibsen, was controversial at the time and remains controversial in the 21st century, for the very same reasons. It’s the story of a married couple at Christmas in the 1880s and the controversy focuses on whether a wife should be subservient to her husband, whether the end justifies the means when it comes to breaking the law, and whether any of us should be making decisions that impact other’s very lives.
Sounds deep, serious and formidable? It is. But given the outstanding cast and wonderful direction of the play at Center Playhouse, it’s wonderful, mesmerizing, captivating, and profound. The opening night audience remained spell bound from opening act to final curtain, breaking into applause only after taking a couple of deep breaths and lamenting it was over.
One of the charms of Center Playhouse is the fact that serious, experienced and award winning actors blend their talents and love of theater with newcomers, children, and playgoers themselves, and the result is sheer entertainment. Lauren Foxworth, for instance, who plays Nora Helmer, the wife who acts like she really does live in a charmed Doll House, has only been on stage in Freehold once before. But she’s appeared in a number of other community theater roles, including parts in The Taming of the Shrew, and Bell, Book and Candle. When she’s not on stage, she’s a professor at SUNY, conducting educational research and teaching preservice teachers. As Nora, she’s impeccable, commanding, driven.
So is Tom Shewchuk, who plays her husband, Torvald, a first timer to Center Playhouse, but hopefully a returning actor for many plays to come. He comes off as the arrogant, domineering husband with ideas and convictions a 21st century audience finds almost laughable.
The pair are more than ably supported by a cast that includes David Clarke, who Center Players’ patrons will remember as the wonderful Dr. Lyman in Bus Stop, John Devennie, another first timer at Center Playhouse, but an Excellence in Acting award winner at the NJTL One Act play competition a few years back and a two-time recipient of the Burlington Footlights Best Supporting Actor award; Devennie’s facial expressions, nods, grimaces, and attention to every detail are professionalism at its best.
Jill Zaitchick is magnificent as Nora’s friend and dominates some scenes with her 30 years experience on stage… she was the First Witch in the Stone Church Players’ production of Macbeth recently in Middletown, where she lives. She adds experience and wisdom to her role of Christine.
Smaller, but no less perfect roles are played by Phyllis Engelman, who’s been here before, and Roberta Fallon, a charmer who’s generally back stage doing everything that needs to be done in a small theater, but taking on a new challenge as an actress. She’s met her challenge extremely well and hopefully will continue to take on other roles in the future. Fallon is following her husband, Sheldon, in taking on new challenges for the sheer joy of it. He made his acting debut in Bus Stop, at the Playhouse, and was resplendent in full butler’s outfit escorting theatergoers to their seats on opening night of A Doll’s House.
The children in the play, Abby Leff and Erica Cuautle Perez are adorable and regrettable that they’re on stage for such short scenes.
Center Players Artistic Director Bernie Garfield-Szita excelled once again in directing this classic masterpiece, no surprise given her nearly half a century in the Arts and Community Theater. As in every other play she’s directed at Center Playhouse, Garfield-Szita’s husband, Bob Szita, produced the play and once again showed that this dynamic artistic couple love both the theater and the pleasure they’re able to bring to the audience.
The play is presented weekends for the remainder of July through August 9th, and you can get tickets, even selecting your seat, online by going to http://www.centerplayers.org or by calling 732-462-9093. Plan on making a reservation, come early and take advantage of their dinner and a show offer, or visit any of the other great restaurants in Freehold and make it a night worth remembering.
Muriel Smith is a guest reviewer 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.


Great review of Brighton Beach Memoirs!


A Delighted Audience Member’s Review of Brighton Beach Memoirs

By Fred Hertrich

As with each Quality-of-Life-Experience, the wonder of those which are – unquestionably – the very best begins with the “ingredients” ….. but beyond the correct ingredients, it is the recipe through which each is carefully and remarkably combined.

And so it is with the absolutely terrific production of Brighton Beach Memoirs currently being offered at Center Players, that  tucked-away-treasure of a community theater, neatly nestled on an otherwise undistinguished corner in picturesque downtown Freehold Borough.  If the time and opportunity to “go to the theatre” is limited, Brighton Beach Memoirs at Center Players is a “can’t miss!”

To be sure, the “ingredient” of the script is almost unparalleled.  Neil Simon …. a playwright  whose name alone is all that is necessary as an introduction …. has written a magnificent play.  Simply reading his writing alone brings the reader/reviewer to that very special historical reality of “just-before-The-War” in a somewhat-less-than-modest …. but frequently reflective home, wherein – absent any particular planning or intentionality, but simply of necessity – immediate and extended family shared food and shelter …. and the essence of “caring for one’s brother/sister” regardless of the economics of the time.


As performed at Center Players, that writing simply glows …. and presents an effervescence which is nothing short of amazing.  And that, of course, is because of the ancillary and critically important performance “ingredients” …. the actor-by-actor performances of the cast, the beyond-perfect set design graced by authentic wall hangings, photos, painted walls …. and, as always at Center Players …. the warmth of community, as friends and neighbors (primarily from the greater Freehold area) engage in an intimacy of a small theater, physically adjacent to one another in the lobby before show time, during comfortable seating during the show, at the always-a-treat-complimentary-refreshment-laced intermission … and – for those who so wish – in lobby conversation immediately after the show.

The combination of these wonderful “ingredients” are beautifully combined in a “theatrical recipe” which is – together – a perfect full-course delight.  Every “piece” stands fully and completely on its own … in combination …. a comprehensive delicacy.

No doubt, the crème de la crème are those who perform.  Individually – and as a team – they are nothing short of spectacular.  As with the finest of performances – professional or otherwise – each actor/actress does not “play a role;” rather, each IS the role.

By example of those returning to the stage at Center Players …. Kate Barron IS Nora and with her very presence, connects not only with her fellow performers but with the unique emotional chord within each member of the audience. Sheldon Fallon IS Jack …. and at several points throughout the performance, one can observe a visceral “connectedness” among the guests in the audience, for Jack – IF one closes her/his eyes for just a second or two, becomes your grandfather,  your great-grandfather, your long-ago uncle, nephew, in-law ….

Also returning to Center Players is Steven Lerner.  Steven IS Stanley …. and as such, everyone’s older, often idolized, brother.

And of those new to Center Players …. Arielle Kopp …. An amazingly talented middle-school student becomes Laurie early in the performance …. and Alicia Rodriguez shall always be Kate. In Brighton Beach Memoirs, Alicia Rodriguez clearly “earns her stripes” to sit among the plethora of FANTASTIC performances and performers which have graced Center Players from time to time during the more-than-a-decade presence of the theater in Freehold.

Aunt Blanche (more commonly known throughout Monmouth County as Lisa Merritt) -performing in tandem with each other actor/actress – offers a magnificent artistic presentation on her own, and as a member of this simply terrific ”team of talent.”

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And, of course, arguably the show’s “stopper!” …. Ryan Gordon …. Ryan’s presentation and incorporation in words, in body language, in emphasis, in totality ….  is absolutely Eugene.  Were he not surrounded by such a tremendous group of talent throughout, Eugene (Ryan Gordon) could – arguably carry a one-man-show …

Once more, Brighton Beach Memoirs at Center Players …. a cannot miss, for each for whom “memoirs of fantastic theater” matter.

Photos by Mark Lamhut

(Fred Hertrich is a multi-decade proud resident of Freehold.  With no theatrical experience whatsoever, he is the remarkably family-fortunate lifetime husband of Violet, and father of three children, all of whom were educated, in part, in the Freehold Township and Freehold Regional Schools … as is, presently, one of his grandchildren. Fred is both honored and privileged to serve as Professor of Political Science, currently for both Brookdale Community College and for Middlesex County College.)

***********  Ticket Information  *************

Brighton Beach Memoirs opened at Center Playhouse, located at 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, on Friday, April 17th and runs for five weekends through Sunday May 17th, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM.  There is an additional 2:00 Matinee on Saturday May 9th and no performance on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 10th.  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.

                                                Creating the Set Design For Brighton Beach MemoirsWith Love                                                                                            By Bernice Garfield Szita: Artistic Director


When the lights go up for Center Player’s production of Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon, the audience will be transported to 1937 in a small house in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.  It is the home of Neil Simon as an adolescent boy coming of age surrounded by the family and household environment of the era.

We take great pride in our attention to detail in all our productions, but Brighton Beach Memoirs is one of our most challenging efforts.  Many hours were spent in designing the 14 x 18 foot stage to meet the location and atmosphere needs of this complex production. The lighting and sound components help the audience to focus on the areas of the stage where the action is taking place. This is one of Center Players’ greatest achievements with over 60 light and sound cues!

The colors of the paint match what was used in the 1930’s, the furniture was selected to fit the era and the position of this lower income family at the time, and all the accessories and props are also consistent with what would have been utilized in this deco period.

We are especially proud of the photos mounted on the wall in the house.  They are pictures of the cast and crew’s families.  Many of our team members brought in memorabilia to add to the authenticity of the set and to bring the memories of their ancestors to be part of the spirit of this production.

All this was done on a minimal budget with the help of friends of the theater and our wonderfully devoted production team. We hope you enjoy the vision of love and hope that was created by all volunteers who believe in the magic of theater and the strength of community.