Joe Brancato is fond of saying he likes plays that entertain while “stirring the gray matter.”
In 35 years as founding artistic director at Stony Point’s Penguin Rep, he has presented new works that have done both. Season 36 looks like more of the same in the 108-seat barn theater on Crickettown Road: four mainstage productions, two world premieres, one New York premiere and plenty to think about.
Brancato will direct the first three productions, beginning with Charles Evered’s “Class,” starring Richard Kline, the “Three’s Company” star who has made regular forays onto the Penguin Stage in recent years, in “Ten Percent of Molly Snyder,” “Greetings!” and last season’s “Don’t Talk to the Actors.”
Kline, an accomplished acting teacher in his own right, plays an acting teacher to a Hollywood starlet played by Adria Vitlar.
Brancato says he was drawn to Evered’s script, which he says “has a modern sense of personalities and people and situation in a classically well-written dialogue.”
“What I love about Richard is that, while he is terrific at comedy, he has an uncanny ability to handle straight drama, too. And he’s playing a teacher, which was a perfect fit.”
Adria Vitlar and Richard Kline in rehearsal for “Class,” directed by Joe Brancato. Photo by Aaron Pepis.
The student-teacher relationship is turned on its ear in “Class,” and in Penguin’s second show, Catherine Trieschmann’s “How the World Began,” which involves a New York teacher who moves to Kansas and sets off a controversy when she makes a comment about, well, how the world began.
“She’s a New York liberal girl confronted by a remarkably earnest and perceptive young man who challenges her on her position — and it becomes a firestorm,” Brancato says. The cast includes Penguin regulars Andrea Maulella (“Miracle at South Division Street”) and Andy Prosky (“Around the World in 80 Days”) with newcomer Drigan Lee as the student.
“Catherine is a young playwright who is conveying a principle, an issue, but her characters are memorable,” Brancato says. “That is her great accomplishment, presenting flawed and damaged characters who make this issue relatable.”
Brancato then will turn his attention to Erasmus Fenn’s adult and over-the-top parody “Drop Dead Perfect.” It stars Drama Desk Award-winner Everett Quinton as Idris Seabright, a heartbroken woman who lives in Key West with her ward in 1952. When a visitor arrives, he exposes a web of love and jealousy and loss on the fringes of a very popular 1950s TV family. The roles are played by four men.
“I’m hoping to draw visitors who are drawn to on-the-edge, risky, risque mix of bawdiness and fun and entertainment,” Brancato says. “Given the dynamics of the other plays, this will give the season lightness.”
The mainstage’s final show is “The Farm,” by 27-year-old Boston playwright Walt McGough, a playwriting fellow at the famed Huntington Theatre Company.
“‘The Farm’ is a mystery and a spy story based on the premise of the CIA and its operatives,” Brancato says. “This young man has written a play well beyond his years.”
It will be directed by Mark Shanahan, who staged memorable Penguin mysteries “The Woman in Black” and “Hound of the Baskervilles.”
“Mark will negotiate the mystery, which is also kind of a ghost story,” Brancato says.
Penguin will also continue its popular Monday night “Play With Your Food” play-reading series (June 10, July 16, Aug. 6 and 27, Sept. 10) and again will have a children’s event, “Hot Peas ’N Butter,” a musical group that blends Latin music, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, jazz, folk and rock, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. both Aug. 13 and 14.
Penguin at 36
Here’s a look at the 36th mainstage season at Stony Point’s Penguin Rep.
May 17-June 9: “Class,” by Charles Evered, directed by Joe Brancato. New York premiere.
June 28-July 21: “How the World Began,” by Catherine Trieschmann, directed by Brancato.
Aug. 9-Sept. 1: “Drop Dead Perfect,” by Erasmus Fenn, directed by Brancato. World premiere.
Sept. 27-Oct. 20: “The Farm,” by Walt McGough, directed by Mark Shanahan. World premiere.
Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point. Mainstage performances are at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m., Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Subscriptions to the four 2013 mainstage productions are on sale now and start at $104for the four plays. Individual tickets for mainstage productions are $39 each. 845-786-2873. www.penguinrep.org
Sept. 7: Judy Gold in “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” SUNY Rockland CC, Ramapo.Suffern
Sept. 21: “The Devil’s Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith,” SUNY Rockland CC, Ramapo.
Oct. 5: “A Salute to Sondheim,” SUNY Rockland CC, Ramapo.
Top photo: Joe Brancato in the 108-seat Penguin Rep Theater in Stony Point. Photo by Dorice Arden.