Friday, June 13, 2008

Fire Island theatre experiences renaissance

Fire Island was, in many ways, an escape for New York's theatre elite as far back as the late 1800s. Oscar Wilde and Christopher Isherwood are among those from Broadway, off-Broadway and other genres who could have been seen on the beach or at then Duffy's Hotel in Cherry Grove.

Local residents are often quick to point out how they feel the Grove is making a come back after years of decline after the AIDS epidemic largely decimated the hamlet in the 1980s and early 1990s. And this season's line-up seems to accurately prove that argument as I reported in EDGE Fire Island.

Many are quick to point out the Grove--and Fire Island in general--is one of the most beautiful places in the world. This writer is inclined to agree, and those within New York's theatre and Broadway elite appear to agree.

As the peak of the all too short summer season on the beach fast approaches, both Cherry Grove and the Fire Island Pines continue to play host to a variety of playwrights, actors, musicians and other fixtures on New York’s theatre, cabaret and concert scene.

Comedienne Michele Balan, Elaine St. George, Jacqueline Jonée and Rose Levine are among the performers slated to appear at the Grove’s Community House this season. The Arts Project of Cherry Grove will also stage its 10th annual "Ocean Aires: Rated X" on Saturday, June 14, and "I Love New York" on Saturday, June 21. "Our Favorite Things" will also show during Labor Day weekend.

Christopher Phillips, a board member for the Arts Project of Cherry Grove, told EDGE in a recent interview these performances and appearances provide local audiences with a unique experience not usually found in traditional venues.

"You really do get a much more intimate view... than anywhere else," he said.

Richard LaFrance, founder and artistic director of the Island Repertory Theatre in the Grove, agreed. Steven Fales will bring "Confessions of a Mormon Boy" to the beach next month. And IRT will stage its adaptation of "Sordid Lives" in August. La France said he feels these productions continue to put local theatre on the map.

"It makes me feel very proud of the work we’re doing out here," he said. "Well-known people in the theatre want to come here-that’s the honor."

In the neighboring Pines, Malcolm Gets and Melissa Errico’s performance at Whyte Hall earlier this month are the latest in a series of concerts and other events on a Fire Island Pines Arts Project calendar that includes Brian Stokes Mitchell ("Man of la Mancha" and "Ragtime"), pianist Henry Wong Doe and vocalist John Putnam.

"[FIPAP] has a long history of bringing arts and culture to the Pines," FIPAP board member Mark Ricigliano said. "As we hold [onto] that tradition, we continue to expand our offerings, from a craft show and comedians and now a cabaret series and classical piano concert."

New York’s theatre and Broadway elite have summered on Fire Island-and especially in the Grove-since the late 1800s. Playwright Oscar Wilde, Catalan actor and bandleader Xavier Cugat, actresses Paulette Goodard and Arlene Francis and gay author Christopher Isherwood are among those who frequented the hamlet during its heyday.

Phillips stressed his hope the APCG’s line-up this summer proves actors and other performers are once again drawn to the Grove.

"The fact these performers want to perform in Cherry Grove is because they feel at home here," he said. "They feel they are with their own."

LaFrance agreed.

"[People] are also coming to Cherry Grove now for the theatre," he said. "We’ve always thought of it as... alternative entertainment, and people do come from all over to see our shows. Theatre is always good for a community."

Log onto Arts Project of Cherry Grove, Island Repertory Theatre and Fire Island Pines Arts Project for more information.

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