“I always tell my young directors in seminars, ‘If you’re aiming for the great play, then get a life,” Brancato said. “Aim for character stories. What character’s story am I interested in? What situation do they find themselves in? And ultimately, what comes from that is a great or at least a very good play.”
The 38th year of theater on Crickettown Road has the makings of a great, or at least a very good season, with something for everyone: Disney, religion and art, Dr. Ruth and a comedy from the man who penned last year’s Penguin hit, “Playing the Assassin.”
The season’s first offering is “Small World: A Fantasia,” about the creation — 75 years ago — of Walt Disney’s ground-breaking animated film, “Fantasia,” a movie mixing the world of animation and classical music. It opens May 15 and runs through June 7.
“It’s about high art and low art and finding a happy medium, and how the art is the artist’s legacy,” Brancato said.
“Small World” playwright Fred Stroppel imagines being a fly on the wall as Walt Disney (the man, not the conglomerate) works with composer Igor Stravinsky on creating the milestone masterwork. Stroppel has been attending rehearsals, and Brancato said their collaboration in staging the play mirrors the themes of “Small World.”
Next comes “My Name is Asher Lev,” about a boy from a strong religious background who is drawn into the world of art despite its challenges to his family. Stephen Nachamie directs.
“At this time, everyone has a position on religion and how much a role it should play in our decision-making, so it should make for a interesting conversation,” Brancato said. “Family plays give us an immediate connection and even though this is so specific to this community, it’s universal. If you get the character and the situation purely true, one will accept it and see that point of view.”
Speaking of characters, they don’t come more memorable than Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the woman who revolutionized how Americans talk about sex. She’s the focus of “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” by Pound Ridge playwright Mark St. Germain, who also wrote the Off-Broadway smash “Freud’s Last Session” and co-wrote last summer’s Penguin offering, “The Fabulous Lipitones.”
“Dr. Ruth will make you laugh hysterically and her story will break your heart,” Brancato said. “For someone to come through what she came through and turn her life into such an enormous success is so powerful.”
The final mainstage production comes from David Robson, whose offering last year, “Playing the Assassin” — about violence in the NFL — has gone on to a life after Penguin, at Hartford Theater Works and the Delaware Theater Center before a planned New York run.
Brancato accepted Robson’s new play, “Priceless,” without seeing a final draft.
“I used to dream about this being what the barn is for: Taking an artist and saying yes, and giving him an opportunity to develop it. The idea is the heist of an artwork and an authenticator being brought in to determine its true value, and the value of a friendship.”
“Our audience at Penguin, by and large, wants to see plays that take them to places they haven’t been before,” he said. “They’re allowing us to take them by the hand, take them on a journey and, 90 minutes later, thanks to our actors and directors’ vision, they wind up in someplace they had no idea they were at.”
Penguin’s popular play-reading series, “Play with Your Food,” has become “Just Desserts,” with fruit salad, cakes and coffee accompanying Monday night new-play readings on June 1, June 15, July 20, and Aug. 17.
Photo by Dorice Arden: Artistic director Joe Brancato will direct two of the four productions in Stony Point’s Penguin Rep’s 38th season.