Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Our Current 2018-2019 Season:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Hannah Weinraub Chases Broadway Dreams as Nora in Brighton Beach

Hannah Weinraub as Nora glamming for the camera with sister Laurie (Meilin Hilton)
PHOTO by Paul Manoian

Sisters can be best friends, but they can also be rivals for their parents’ attention and affection.  This is especially true in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, where teenage sisters Nora and Laurie struggle with the loss of their father, and vie for the approval of their widowed mother Blanche.  In the Farmington Players production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Hannah Weinraub plays Nora, who she describes as a “very ambitious, bright and mature 16 year-old girl who dreams of being a dancer on Broadway.”  Like Hannah, Nora is “very close in age, has one sibling and shares similar dreams” of a theater career.  Hannah says, “I enjoy so many things about playing this role. First off, Nora is incredibly dramatic. She spends a lot of time during the show getting emotional and crying. As an actress, crying on stage is always a blast.”

To relate to her character, Hannah has had to “draw from my own personal experiences of feeling like I’m not enough. It isn’t really fun to go back to those feelings, but it has helped me realize that everyone feels like that about themselves. It is our job to choose whether or not we believe that.  Along with that, a relevant theme in Brighton Beach is inner peace.”   Peace is often hard to come by in the Jerome family, with seven people – including four teenagers – living in cramped quarters under one roof.  Hannah can relate to the fact that “everyone has family drama, and this play shows the inner workings of a family with quite a bit of it.” Director Maureen Mansfield echoes this theme: “No matter who you are or what your family is like, there is something about this show you can relate to.  It will hit close to home and open your eyes as to what your family truly means to you. Families still worry about unemployment, war overseas and keeping a roof overhead.  Puberty still hits, siblings still argue and families still support ... despite the setting, the issues are the same.”

Hannah knows audiences will love this show, saying, “I have never been apart of something so eye opening. Brighton Beach Memoirs shows audiences the true importance of being there for your family and also being there for yourself. Although there is a bit of serious material, the show is mostly a comedy with a dramatic flare. Honestly you’ll feel every emotion watching this show. Each character has a metamorphosis during the show. They each try to find their inner peace, which makes this show so extremely special.”  

Hannah calls Farmington Hills home and discovered her love of performing with the entertainment group, The Earth Angels. She appeared in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in 2016, and says, “I am so excited to be back on the Barn stage, especially with such a great group of people. Getting to know this cast and crew is an absolute joy.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Grayson Kennedy Puts Family First as Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Grayson Kennedy as Eugene Morris Jerome
PHOTO by Paul Manoian
Brighton Beach Memoirs is Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical tale about growing up in a Jewish family in 1930s Brooklyn. In Frank Rich’s New York Times review of the original 1983 Broadway production, he observed: “Far more than most Simon plays, ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ deals explicitly with the Jewishness of its people. While one might fear that this development could lead to caricature, it generally does not. Mr. Simon's characters - the seven members of the extended Jerome family of Brighton Beach - are, for all their archetypal manners, appealing. Even though Mr. Simon is trying to come to terms with his less-than-rosy Depression adolescence, he looks back not with anger but with an affection that is too warm to be fake.”

In the Farmington Players production, Grayson Kennedy plays 15 year-old Eugene Jerome, presumably the character modeled after a young Mr. Simon.  Eugene also serves as the plays narrator, frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, to great comedic effect.  Grayson describes his character Eugene as “a typical, horny teen boy being raised in an impoverished Jewish family in the late 1930s. I relate a lot to Eugene in many ways; being the youngest of a family and growing up without money. Sharing these similarities with Eugene have helped me fully understand and emulate his problems on stage.” 

Director Maureen Mansfield describes Brighton Beach Memoirs as “a coming of age story with many themes. Most of all, Brighton Beach Memoirs is about family.  A family with bonds that are intense and unbreakable despite the wrinkles of real life.  A family that faces adversity but instead of having it tear them down, they find a way to have it bring them closer together.”  Family is also of paramount importance to Grayson, who says, “Growing up, I have always been tethered to my mother; she always offered me a shoulder to cry on, and no matter how angry I made her she was always there to help me. In recent years the roles have reversed as I now take care of her after her stroke. Without her, I don’t know where I’d be today. I’d be nowhere without my family.”

Grayson knows that audiences will relate to Brighton Beach Memoirs because “it’s flat-out hilarious. Neil Simon has masterfully crafted a realistic, hard-hitting family drama without sparing us of his trademark laughs. The cast and creative team is committed to putting on a great show, and I believe audiences will recognize that.” Grayson is entering his senior year at Grosse Pointe South High School and plans to pursue a BFA in acting next year. When he’s not on stage, Grayson says, “I work as a dishwasher at Jumps Bistro and take care of my mother. So far Brighton Beach has been an absolute dream, and my on stage family is really starting to feel like a real one.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mei Shows the Way: Playing a 1930s Girl in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Meilin Hilton interviewed by Tony Targan in the Barn lobby
Mei (18) plays 13 year-old Laurie

In the Farmington Players production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs, the audience is transported back in time to 1937 Brooklyn.  The world is on the verge of World War II, the USA is in the midst of the Depression, and an extended Jewish family of seven people lives in close quarters, struggling to make ends meet.  The youngest of the play’s characters is Laurie, a 13-year-old girl, played by Meilin Hilton, who goes by Mei (“May”). I recently sat down with Mei, and she so impressed me with her maturity and intellect, that I wanted to share our entire conversation.

Tony:  “Mei, tell me about Laurie.  What makes her tick, and why do you enjoy playing her?”

Mei:   “Laurie is a girl who has had ‘flutters’ in her heart, and consequently is given special treatment by the family because of this. While I do believe that she is truly sick, I also suspect that she sits rather comfortably in her ailment and uses it to her advantage, choosing to spend her time laying down and studying up on her schoolwork instead of helping out around the house. This is rather easy because I myself have had quite a few health problems over the years, so I can personally understand the stress it puts on both the family and on Laurie herself.”

Tony:  “What is it like for a young woman from the 21st century to play a young girl from the 1930s?”

Mei:  “This role presents a challenge to me because a 13-year-old in the 1930s is akin to about a 10-year-old in today’s world, and it’s one of the first roles where I’ve had to play to someone so much younger than me. On that same front, I’m finding that it’s actually quite fun to play a younger character, especially when interacting with my sister and my cousins in the show; the simultaneously argumentative and loving dynamic is so fun to play with. Laurie is someone that I’m very excited to explore and develop - especially because she’s a little mischievous.”

Tony:  “What are the major themes of Brighton Beach Memoirs?”

Mei:  “The obvious theme that everyone can relate to is family - a common thread running through almost all of Neil Simon’s works. In this play, I spot many moments that are recognizable in my own household: the meaningless sibling and spousal quarrels, the likeliness of parents to stress over how to ‘make it all work,’ finding your family member to confide in, and the truly serious drama that tears us apart but brings us together in the end. Family in this show is a driving force of not only the plot, but also a driving force for the characters and overarching themes. I think it’s also a reminder that we all have a slightly crazy family, when it really comes down to it.”

Tony:  “Okay, if ‘family’ is an obvious theme, dig deeper.  What else is the play about to you?”

Mei:  “Vulnerability.  When we are introduced to each character we see them on a surface level: Jack is a hard worker, Eugene is a writer, Kate is a busybody, etc. However, as the play progresses, we see so much deeper into the motives and emotions of the characters and why they present themselves the way they do. Each family member has one or two pivotal moments in the show where they’re just completely vulnerable and exposed, where they lay everything out on the table for the audience (and their family members) to see. It can be amusing, such as when Eugene and Stan talk openly about their sexual experiences, or in Kate’s case it can be more dramatic and soul-baring. Either way, I think anyone in the audience can relate to the intimate emotions that end up being portrayed by the members of the cast, or at the very least can recall a time where they themselves let down their guard to show how they truly felt.”

Tony:  “Brighton Beach Memoirs takes place over 80 years ago.  How will today’s audiences relate?”

Mei:  “Neil Simon does such a wonderful job at making his shows timeless because he includes so many themes that people can relate to: love, heartbreak, prejudice, the future, family, coming-of-age, war, and most notably, struggle. These are concepts that audiences will respond to time and again, especially when presented in such a raw fashion in so many different characters. I also think that seeing these characters struggle the way they do but still come out laughing, loving each other so strongly and being so generous with one another will make viewers sort of fall in love with the family throughout the show.  Neil Simon creates such a wonderful balance between comedy and drama that I’m convinced audiences will be intrigued from the beginning to the very end. I also believe that any person watching this show can relate to at least one of the characters, and sympathize with the family dynamic as a whole — there is someone for everyone in Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

Tony: “I know you usually do musicals.  Why did you want to be in this play?”

Mei:  “I mainly wanted to be in Brighton Beach Memoirs due to the fact that the script was so gripping - from my first read I couldn’t put the thing down. Also, I was in love with the idea of a seven-person cast: when playing to a family dynamic, it’s so important for the cast to get close and comfortable with one another, and I truly was excited to gain a second family through the course of this show. Furthermore, I love period shows, and I was intrigued by the challenge of playing a) a younger character, b) a character with a Jewish Brooklyn accent, c) a character who is Jewish at the brink of World War II, and d) a girl growing up in the period of the 1930s. At auditions this seemed like an impossible mountain to climb and now, seeing Laurie come to life has been so rewarding and exciting for me as an actress. I am honestly just ecstatic to show audience members this amazing thing we’re building together. I think it’s really going to touch people.”

Tony:   “What are you passionate about in life?”

Mei:  “I’m pretty simple: I love listening to theatre, watching theatre, learning about theatre, and of course, performing in the theatre. Consequently, I’ve become kind of a bookworm throughout the years - I think the only way I can grow as an artist is to observe and learn about people as much as I can. It’s my job to listen and watch as much as it is to act. I’m going to be a freshman at the University of Michigan this fall where I’ll take on a full courseload of pre-med studies, which also happens to be one of my passions... I suppose I enjoy helping people as much as I enjoy playing them.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jared Lane Strolls Down Memory Lane as Stanley in Brighton Beach Memoirs

Jared Lane as Stanley Jerome ...
... during early rehearsals for Brighton Beach Memoirs

Neil Simon’s family drama Brighton Beach Memoirs is set in Brooklyn in 1937.  While that is over 80 years ago, in many respects, the family dynamic hasn’t changed all that much, and the experiences we all share as families are fairly universal.  In the Farmington Players’ production (opening September 28), Jared Lane plays Stanley, the oldest son in the Jerome family.  As Jared says, “Family dramas like these are timeless. Even if some of the specifics seem dated, everyone goes through puberty, everyone has a falling out, everyone makes mistakes. This show really brings to light the saying ‘when it rains, it pours,’ which I think any family can attest to at some point in their lives.”

Jared describes Stanley as “an eighteen year old man whose main drive is to emulate the hardworking, strong principled nature of his father, Jack.  Jack is counting on Stanley to help out financially, and Stanley is desperate to prove he is up to the task. However, Stanley's principles and attempts to make extra money only end up backfiring, leaving him conflicted and embarrassed.” Jared says he can definitely “relate to Stanley in how I tried to cover up my mistakes. At seventeen and eighteen, I was no stranger to making mistakes. The thought of owning up to these mistakes and confessing them to my parents was almost always out of the question. Even minor mistakes, a bad test grade for example, was cause for me to pack my bags and move away. Like Stanley though, I eventually learned that the consequences are far less severe when you're honest and upfront.”

In Brighton Beach Memoirs, the family starts as a collective unit.  But, as Jared observes, “over the course of the play, we watch these characters grow apart from each other, as they look inwardly into who they are and what they want to be. In the end, however, these personal journeys only solidify the closeness of the family. That's what this show's about: Growing as individuals, to grow closer as a whole.”  Jared’s favorite moments playing Stanley are “my scenes with my younger brother, Eugene. I've never had a younger brother, but I imagine I'd act a lot like Stanley if I did. Despite Stanley's mistakes, he's good natured and caring.”

Jared grew up in Midland, but has been living in Auburn Hills while he pursues his undergraduate studies at Oakland University. He’s majoring in creative writing with a double minor in history and communication and is the president of the University's competitive Speech Team. Jared’s hobbies include writing, reading, going on walks, and raising his two cats, Caesar and Augustus. He says, “this is my first show with the Farmington Players, but I can already tell that it's a special community theater and have enjoyed getting to know the cast and crew of this wonderful production.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs has 10 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from September 28 – October 13.  The show is proudly sponsored by Mall Malisow & Cooney.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Taylor Dalton is Not Nice as Little Red, and That’s Good!

Taylor Dalton is sassy as Little Red Riding Hood, but she still has a weakness for the Wolf (Keith Janoch).
PHOTO:  Jan Cartwright

In the classic fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood is a bit ditzy.  I mean, how naïve do you have to be to mistake your grandmother for a wolf?  But in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, “Little Red” is no pushover.  In the Farmington Players’ production, Taylor Dalton brings an edge to the character.  As Taylor says, “I love my girl Red because she’s sassy, tough, and very blunt. She’s so much more than just a little girl who gets eaten by a wolf; there’s more depth to her and she’s more dynamic here than in her other fairytale stories and that’s what I love most.”  Even though Taylor looks totally adorable as Red, her biggest challenge with the role is “finding ways to make her more likable to the other characters. Little Red is quite honest and she speaks her mind which may annoy some characters, but deep down she means well and she cares very deeply about those around her and I want to make sure that shows.”

In developing her character, Taylor has focused on “the difference between nice and good. In the song I Know Things Now, Little Red sings about that. As I was rehearsing the number I had this revelation that just because someone is a nice person doesn’t mean they are a good person. Take the wolf for example. He’s very nice to Red and says all the right things but he doesn’t have good intentions. That theme resonates with me the most because after some self-reflection I realized I have tendency to mesh the two together. I think ‘oh this person is so nice, they must be good which means I can trust them’ but that isn’t always the case.”  Into The Woods has also taught Taylor to “be careful of what you wish for. There have been multiple times where I’ve pursued a dream or a wish and things didn’t turn out how I’d hoped or didn’t turn out how I thought they would. But in those moments, you learn a lot about yourself and about what you need versus what you want. Then, you find new dreams and new wishes to strive towards. I think any experience that doesn’t go your way presents a lesson to be learned which helps us grow as individuals.”

Taylor loves this show because “it features a multitude of characters we all know and love but with a twist. Not only do the stories intertwine in interesting ways, but this show gives you a deeper look at each character and reveals their motives, their hopes, their dreams, and their uncertainties. Into The Woods humanizes these classic tales and makes it easy to relate to one or many of the characters.” Into The Woods is Taylor’s first show since high school (she recently graduated from Oakland University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and a minor in Theatre), and Taylor has “missed that feeling of being in a production: the feeling you get when you’re rehearsing and things are starting to come together; the feeling when you step on that stage and the lights hit your face and everything just feels warm and right in that moment. I could not have picked a better place to get back into theatre and back on the stage. Everyone in the Farmington Players family has been so kind and welcoming and supportive. This cast and crew are phenomenal and I cannot say enough good things about them. I feel very much at home when I am at rehearsal and it’s all very surreal for me; I keep waiting for someone to pinch me and tell me it’s all a dream!”

Into the Woods has 12 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from April 27 – May 19.  The show is proudly sponsored by Tru-Vista Wealth Advisors.  Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Couple Finds Solace as Cinderella’s Parents in Into the Woods

Seάn ÓTuathal finds her inner "Faery" as Cinderella's spirit mother
PHOTO by Heidi Gabel
In Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, the woods are where the magic happens. Fairy tale characters come to life and live out their dreams.  And when your name is Seάn ÓTuathal – which in Irish means "of the Faery Folk," – the play has even deeper meaning.  In the Farmington Players production, Seάn plays Cinderella's mother, who is actually dead, but her spirit inhabits a hazel tree Cinderella planted at her grave. Seάn says, “I love playing a tree spirit, it's kind of an homage to my Irish heritage. Also, I love playing the loving mother who gets to say, 'yes' to her daughter and support her dreams. Everyone has dreams, some have support systems which help them to at least strive for, if not realize them. Some do not. I did not. Playing a mother who supports her child's dream is cathartic for me; it puts something to rest.”
As a psychology major, Seάn can get pretty deep in deciphering Sondheim’s hidden meanings:  “I like how he takes the Shakespearean convention of removing people from society (where we have the illusion of control), into the woods (where magical things happen); also, how short-sighted we are; how we are never happy with what we have (and need to learn to be); how it often takes great challenges to make us see the light. I like especially how Sondheim gives voice to the outsider; how all sides are valid, not just ‘Our side.’ That's an important one these days.”

Cinderella’s father is played by Seάn’s real-life husband Bart Burger, who says, “Playing Cinderella's father has been wonderful, especially being able to share the stage for the first time with my wife, Sean. Cinderella's father is an interesting character, as I believe he is searching for a rebirth of hope and connection which he lost with the death of Cinderella's mother. He found some of it when he married his second wife, but that has dwindled. He spends the show trying to recapture this.”  As Seάn says, Into the Woods is “a work of profound meaning for my husband and I. We have been lost in the woods for several years now. Knowing ‘No one leaves for good,’ is a great comfort to us.”

Seάn hopes that audiences “not only enjoy the clever way the messages in this show are presented, but leave the theatre with something to think about. To me, that's key.” Seάn and Bart have both really enjoyed their first experience at the Barn.  Bart says, “I have always found theatre as an avenue of connecting and touching others. That has been a dream of mine, which is why I have been doing theatre most of my life, and also why I became a psychotherapist.”  Seάn adds, “This cast is great. Folks are funny, and friendly, and so talented! Our directors are wonderful. It's really a thrill to be surrounded by all this professionalism, especially since I am a neophyte.”

Into the Woods has 12 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from April 27 – May 19.  The show is proudly sponsored by Tru-Vista Wealth Advisors.  Proceeds from the 50/50 raffle on opening night (April 27) will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Barb Bruno Is Wicked Good as Evil Stepmom in Into the Woods

Barb Bruno delights in playing Cinderella's villainous Stepmother 

“It's always more fun to play the ‘villain’!” So says Barb Bruno, who plays Cinderella's Stepmother in the Farmington Players production of Into the Woods.  Bruno is no stranger to dark Steven Sondheim musicals, having played Sarah Jane Moore in Assassins at the Barn in 2014.  So how does Barb channel her evil side to get into character as the Stepmother?  As she says, “The trick with villains is that not one of them feels like they are doing anything wrong. In their minds, they are usually correcting some injustice that's been done to them.  Of course, the Stepmother is a total narcissist, so pretty much anything that doesn't serve her own agenda is an injustice.  The other trick is to give them depth and make them people; not a one dimensional, ‘hey...I'm evil!’”  Barb’s biggest challenge with this role is that “there is a very compressed amount of time on stage to say who she is, and to see the character change – broken as the world around her falls apart.  It's challenging to say that in a short amount of time, and so the subtext and the layers of the character become more important to show it in an economical way.” 
Barb knows audiences will love Into the Woods “for the same reason that Wicked is so popular … a different spin on characters we all know from childhood.  The music is wonderful and it is a very strong group of singers and actors in the company, not to mention brilliant designers and dedicated technicians, all of whom are committed to bringing their best to the stage.”  Barb also thinks the classic battle of good versus evil makes for a compelling story line.  As she says, “I'm fascinated by the themes of morality in this show ... what is right, what is wrong.  There's recurring dialogue about wrongs needing to be punished.  Reminds me of Gandhi – ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’  EVERY character has a perspective on right and wrong.  … It's the moral ambiguity of this show that gets right to the same ambiguity we face on a daily basis and leaves a lot of food for thought.”
Barb is originally from New York and has been in Michigan for a few years. She lives in a log cabin, grows lots of veggies and has just started to produce her own maple syrup! She’s truly enjoying her return to the Barn: “I am very much enjoying being with old friends on this show and making new ones. Most of all, it's just a lot of fun to be in a musical!”

Into the Woods has 12 performances at Farmington Players Barn Theater from April 27 – May 19.  The show is proudly sponsored by Tru-Vista Wealth Advisors.  Proceeds from the 50/50 raffle on opening night (April 27) will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tickets are available online at farmingtonplayers.org or by emailing boxoffice@farmingtonplayers.org or calling the Barn box office at 248-553-2955.