It Takes a Village to Raise a Play

Here is the feature article written to publicize the play, entitled “It Takes a Village to Raise a Play”:

For 15 years, Bernice Garfield Szita of Manalapan has been volunteering for Center Players, Freehold’s resident theater company. Currently, she is directing I’m Not Rappaport by Herb Gardner, a play about two gentlemen in their 80s who hang out in Central Park, observing life, solving problems, dealing with society’s ageism and politics, and comically arguing with each other. The play has many elements: humor and pathos, violence and friendship, empathy and ego. Bernice carefully casted actors who could handle the vast array of emotions; the play has both comedic and dramatic elements.

Mike Manzo (right) teaches "reverse physical therapy" to Ray Dothard.

But having a wonderful cast is just not enough. You need dedicated people behind the scenes who work just as hard if not harder than the actors. And when challenges arise, sometimes you have to call for help. The people around you…neighbors of your playhouse…will rise to answer that call.

Dressing the Set

I’m Not Rappaport takes place in New York’s Central Park. Although Center Players’ stage is small, Bernice envisioned a realistic set with a gritty New York flavor. She called the one person she knew could transform the set into a small cross-section of Central Park – Cristina Peters. Cristina is not a stranger to Center Players; she has designed sets for many of their plays. During the day, Cristina is an artist and owns a private gallery in Freehold. She spent a month and a half on the project, first designing her concept of the stage in a diorama, then constructing the set with the help of her husband Mark (who also appears in the play) and Bonnie Riddell. The set is “green” as it uses many natural, sustainable and reusable items.

Cristina remarked: “I picked up some branches from the street after the storms we had and transformed them in trees and bushes. The leaves on them are made of recyclable paper painted with a mix of compound, glue, and acrylic paint. The word recyclable comes in my description often, so our set is very ‘green’”.

The set was constructed in sections, which are more easily transported to the theater to be re-installed on the stage. The set includes a tunnel, a bridge, two benches, trees and bushes and a lamppost. Cristina adds that, “Some skeptical people doubted that everything would fit…but it came out exactly as I had envisioned.”

Walking (Not So) Tall

When Bernice Garfield-Szita cast her production of I’m Not Rappaport, she focused on the acting talent of the auditioners and cast them accordingly. During rehearsals, it became apparent that the two lead actors, Ray Dothard of Millstone and Ray Sammak of Manalapan, were in excellent shape and not moving like ailing men in their 80s. Dothard is a retired airline pilot and Vietnam vet who began acting after his retirement in 2001. Sammak is a financial advisor who has been in five productions with Center Players.

On her way to work one morning, Bernice discovered the solution to the problem. It occurred to her that if a physical therapist can rehabilitate injured patients, wouldn’t he or she be able to teach healthy people to move as if they were older and infirm? She stopped in to see her husband’s former physical therapist, Mike Manzo, owner of Atlantic Physical Therapy Center in Freehold, NJ to see if he would donate his professional skills to the theater company. Mike spent a Saturday afternoon with the company teaching Dothard and Sammak how to move like injured and infirm seniors.

Reverse Physical Therapy

The first thing Mike taught them was to lessen their range of movement, both in the upper and lower parts of the body. He told them to keep their arms closer to the body and not to lift them above the head. Legs should be spread further apart, to make up for a senior’s decreased sense of balance. Manzo demonstrated the proper and improper use of canes and walkers.

Then, the tough stuff—how to fight as a senior citizen. Manzo demonstrated how an infirm senior would take a punch, throw a punch, fall to the ground, and rise from the floor. The actors absorbed this new knowledge and implemented it, “dramatically” improving their physical performance.

Dance Fever

(From left) Ray Dothard, Igor Popov, Ray Sammak and Danielle Capolon

Now that her leads were moving like injured men in their 80s, Bernice discovered that although they are excellent actors, neither Ray Dothard nor Ray Sammak were dancing like old men. Bernice asked the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Freehold if they would send someone to help remedy the situation. Igor Popov was more than accommodating and donated his time to Center Players.

A 24-year old Russian immigrant, Popov has been dancing since he was 7 and has received dozens of awards for his ballroom dancing skills. He stopped by the theater to teach the actors the “old” Soft Shoe. After learning how to properly dance, the actors worked with Popov to add a bit of “reverse physical therapy” and began dancing as elderly and infirm men. The result was not only realistic but entertaining and brought spontaneous applause from the crew at rehearsal.

More Villagers

Other cast members include Lisa DiLeo of Cranbury as Clara, Ricky Selterman of Morganville as The Cowboy, Anthony Woodcock of Bayville as Gilley, Lindsay Wagner of Ocean Grove and Danielle Capolon of Bayville sharing the part of Laurie, and Mark Peters of Freehold as Danforth. The play is being produced by Bob Szita of Manalapan, veteran board member of Center Players and Linda Saunders of Freehold, who just finished a run of The Vagina Monologues with Center Players. Members of the crew include Ray Ruiz and Sami DeSocio of Holmdel.

Selterman states that he is “drawn to this company by the theater itself, which is intimate and cozy.” He adds, “You get a wonderful feeling from the playhouse itself. The people are kind, supportive, nurturing, and believe in teamwork.”

Danielle Capolon was surprised to discover that her “character has more depth than originally expected. She is a survivor with the courage to see what’s wrong with her life and fix it.”

Show Dates

I’m Not Rappaport runs for five weekends beginning April 23rd and ending May 23rd. The show begins on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8PM and on Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $24 ($22 for seniors age 60 and older, students and groups of 10 or more). The ticket includes a complimentary beverage and desserts during the intermission of each performance.

Dinner theater packages are also available for $30 per person. Participating restaurants include Nuova Luna, Fanelli’s Italian Grill, The Taste, Solo Trattoria, and Metropolitan Café. Interested patrons should inquire about dinner packages when purchasing tickets.

Center Playhouse is an intimate, 49-seat dessert theater located at 35 South Street in downtown Freehold Center. For more information and to purchase tickets, call Center Players at 732-462-9093 or visit their website at


2 thoughts on “It Takes a Village to Raise a Play

  1. Renee Kesten says:

    Interested in Dinner Theater Package

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