It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the draw is at the wonderful little theater on South Street in Freehold. Whether it’s the excellence of Center Players’ shows, the variety of the productions, the charm of the intimacy of a small theater, heck, maybe it’s even the camaraderie theater goers share while sipping coffee and enjoying unique desserts at intermission, who knows. But there is definitely something there that draws you back again and again, and now has brought in not only new theater goers, but also new actors and actresses who want to share and show their talents in this very unique setting.
The latest great production at Center Playhouse is now on stage weekends through May 4, and it is a must see for anyone who loves great theater! Play it Again, Sam, Woody Allen’s famous play, directed by Anthony Marinelli, takes place in a New York apartment in the late 1960’s. It features a very likeable and very engaging Humphrey Bogart played by Michael Tota and some very talented favorites at the Playhouse along with some newcomers.
Well, newcomers to theater in Freehold, but certainly not to the world of entertainment. Amanda Greer calls both Manhattan and Los Angeles home, and comes here to continue the artistic partnership she has enjoyed with Anthony Marinelli, the award-winning writer/director who is directing Play It Again, Sam for Center Players. Amanda portrays Allan Felix’s ex-wife, and is talented, funny, engaging, and simply terrific on stage. She’s got a ton of awards in her pocket already, both for TV and film work, and appears to love the neighborliness of a theater such as this. Her onstage ex-husband, Allan, is played by Steven Lerner, who is more than memorable in his debut at Playhouse and truly believable as a neurotic film critic and magazine writer who believes Bogart is his alter ego. As such, he carries on some amusing conversations with Bogie’s Rick from Casablanca. Bogie is played by Michael Tota recently seen at Center Playhouse as Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace. He is also well regarded for his recent portrayal of Father Mark in Tony & Tina’s Wedding at Buona Sera in Red Bank. He’s funny, and while certainly not Bogie… could anybody be? He’s talented enough to convince you of the late great. See him here now, and then watch him again on screen in the film Desiderium scheduled for release later this year.
Abigail Arscott, as Linda, Allen’s best friend’s wife and at one point, Allen’s love interest, and Gina Marie Delio and Taylor Young, both portraying several different characters in the play, are also first timers on the Center Players’ stage, but so talented and enjoyable they’ve already made names for themselves among the local theater crowd, and hopefully will be in many future productions.
Matthew Gochman is well known to local theater goers, having been at Center Playhouse in several different shows over the past two years, including Arsenic and Old Lace and A Christmas Carol This might be the last chance to catch him locally; he’s moving out of the area and most likely will be pursing his passion in both movies and TV where he’s already built up quite a scrapbook. He’s great as Linda’s husband, a real estate workaholic who was born with a phone in his ear. He is a showstopper in the dream scene as the scorned Italian husband!
The play is presented in three acts with one intermission for those Center Players’ desserts you always hear about. It is fast paced, funny, brilliant, and unique. Its all the better, if that could be possible, if you’re a Casablanca fan to begin with. If you don’t catch it here at Center Playhouse, you’ll “live to regret it…maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life…”
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.
Play It Again, Sam opened at Center Playhouse, 35 South Street in downtown Freehold, April 4th and runs for five weekends through May 4th, 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 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.