Nyack playwright Tom Dudzick and Penguin Rep artistic director Joe Brancato form a mutual admiration committee.
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Brancato starts his barn theater’s 33rd season the way he started its 32nd, with a Dudzick play. Last year it was “Our Lady of South Division Street,” the hilarious story of a family who believes their patriarch was visited by the Virgin Mary. (It has since been renamed “Miracle on South Division Street.”)
This year, it’s “Over the Tavern,” the play that catapulted Dudzick to stardom in his Buffalo hometown. Read more about that play here.
Sitting on Penguin’s breezy porch along Crickettown Road, Dudzick, Brancato and I chatted about the process and a newfound artistic friendship.
PK: “What does it mean to you, Tom, to have a theatrical home like Penguin Rep?
Dudzick: “Joe is great to work with. My first taste of it was ‘Miracle.’ He’s so open. I mean, ‘This director wants to hear from me. He wants my input.’ Rehearsals were a joy.”
Brancato: “But hard. Hard work for this guy.”
PK: “What was hard about it?”
Dudzick: “How do we solve this problem?” (Laughs.)
Brancato: “I wrote Tom the other night that (playwright) Bill Mastrosimone wrote that good writers write, but great writers rewrite. We went into ‘Miracle’ and when we started it was good. It was interesting. But I met him in Nyack and I had never worked with the guy. And I didn’t care for the way he had started the play. It didn’t work for me at the top. So we met at the Runcible Spoon and I gave him a strong note about the opening. I said ‘I’m not sure if I’m going to do this, but it’s going to depend on how he reacts to this note.’ Within two or three weeks, he got back to me with a whole openness to reconceiving the way into the play while still keeping his truth. I was like ‘This is good stuff. This is good energy.’ And that’s how we began. When we got into the process I think we found a deeper play than any of us imagined was going to be there. He was writing and rewriting every night and the actors involved were so game and going for it.”
PK: “Weren’t you done with the play, Tom?”
Dudzick: “I’m not done with it now.”
Brancato: “We just presented it at the Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury. A lovely theater and a professional theater.”
PK: “How was it received.”
Brancato: “We’ve been holding onto this project because we didn’t want to let everybody do it yet because I knew we still had work to do on it. Tom felt that, too. We go up there. We sit there and as we’re watching this wonderful production that was being so well received, we were saying, ‘You know what? This needs to be fixed in the first act and that needs to be fixed in the first act. It was such a beautiful place to be in, the kind of place I’ve wanted to be in: creating, rewriting, reconceiving, always to make it better. And that’s where we’re at with it now.”
PK: “Get me rewrite.”
Brancato: “And even this play (“Over the Tavern”), a play that has worked for Tom for many many years, my director Tom Caruso has done a little tweaking for Tom to see today. I think that’s amazing. It’s a living thing. It’s not something on canvas. It’s not a sculpture. It’s not on film. It’s alive. As they say: ‘Film is art and theater is life and TV is furniture.’”
PK: “What next for ‘Miracle’?”
Brancato: “We’ll be doing a reader on June 28 in New York City for potential backers of the play.”
PK: “Did you keep some of the cast from Penguin for the Seven Angels production?”
Brancato: “Oh, yeah. There still with it. That’s what’s so exciting for your readers and our audience: Once again, a new play is coming out of this theater. In these times, to have new plays coming out of a 100-seat barn theater that are going to affect the people all across the country is inspiring.”
Dudzick: “And the play is different now than it was at Penguin. There were times last spring when I was watching it and watching the audience toward the intermission and silently telling them: ‘Don’t leave. It gets better in Act 2.’”
PK: “But there are directors who would have taken Tom’s play last year and said, ‘This is great. It’s written down.’ And they would have had a fine ride.
Brancato: “You’re hinting at something that’s, in fact, true. When a play is published and has been done for 16 years, it doesn’t warrant a reinvestigation like a period piece of ‘The Subject Was Roses.” It works as it is. I tend to gravitate more to new works or works that haven’t been addressed recently. When a playwright’s willing, I enjoy recreating them.”