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REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ Rep

By Gary Wien

originally published: 08/16/2018

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ Rep

(LONG BRANCH, NJ) — The latest World Premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company is Fern Hill by Michael Tucker.  Wonderfully directed by Nadia Tass, the play features an all-star cast and a story about three couples in the latter half of their lives who come up with a rather intriguing way to avoid a retirement home.

Fern Hill is the name of a farmhouse owned by Jer (David Rasche) and his wife Sunny (Jill Eikenberry).  While the play takes place in the present, the farmhouse contains a mix of appliances like a modern stereo alongside an old fridge and stove.  The combination hits you immediately that this is a rather quaint place which is the perfect escape from city life.

Their long-time friends Vincent (John Glover) and Darla (Dee Hoty) and Billy (Tom McGowan) and Michiko (Jodi Long) are visiting.  It’s a combination of academics, artists, and an aging rock and roller who loves to smoke pot.

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ Rep

“You’re not an addict, you just like to be high all of the time,” Michiko says about Billy - a bass player who also loves to cook... and eat.

The trio of couples have gotten together to celebrate three special birthdays for the men.  They’re each entering different decades - 60s, 70s, and 80s, but Vincent (the eldest) doesn’t want to be part of the celebration since his birthday isn’t for another month and he’s got a hip surgery on his mind.



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“I will be only half a hippie,” he states.

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ Rep

Vincent is a well known artist whose work has been shown around the world. Meanwhile, Sunny has been painting as well, but lately suffering from artist’s block.  She desperately wants to know what Vincent truly thinks about her work.

When the guests tell Sunny how much they love visiting Fern Hill, she surprises them by pitching the idea that they all move in and live together.  She points out how this would be far better than moving into a retirement home with strangers and could be a great financial savings for them as well.  But, most of all, it would mean having fun together, while they grow old together.  She says they are all like orphans right now with no one to take care of them.

“The farm will be our orphanage,” said Sunny.

Everyone in the group LOVES the idea of turning Fern Hill into something like a commune except for Jer.

“We all get along great,” Sunny says, trying to pitch the idea.

“Yeah, that’s because we don’t live together,” Jer replies.

At this point, it’s clear that tensions between Jer and Sunny are getting a bit hot. Billy tries to help out by bringing the guys outside to smoke a little weed.

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ Rep

With the guys out of the room, the women begin talking among themselves - trying to see if the idea of everyone living together could actually happen or if it’s just a fantasy.

“I think it’s time for us to find three younger guys…”

“Where do you go for that?”

“Home Depot.  They have everything!”

The women discover that they all could see the idea of a commune feasible.  Now they have to sell it on the others.  But Sunny doesn’t seem to mind if her husband is part of it or not.  And then she throws out the bombshell question.  She asks if her husband is cheating on her.  Based on the reactions she gets, she has her answer.

“What are you going to do? Are you done with him?” she’s asked.

“I just might be.”

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ RepSunny isn’t content to just let things be.  She confronts her husband directly. When she asks him flat out if he’s been having an affair, he remains silent.

The two go back and forth with the others watching on. He says that she changed, that somewhere down the line she stopped loving him.

“I wish I stopped loving you,” said Sunny.  “I stopped adoring you because you stopped being adorable.  What happened to that guy? Where did that guy go?”

“Where did you go?” asks Jer.

And then the conversation turns to sex.  The good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

“How is we could be married all of these years and have sex 50,000 times and still be so dumb about it?” asks Sunny.

Fern Hill is a very enjoyable play about adult issues - everything from growing older to intimacy and relationships to the difficulties of the myriad levels of love.  It’s about how couples change over time; how some face situations that bring them closer, while others drift farther apart. It offers fascinating insights into the conversations couples never want to have and the parts of our lives we strive to keep private - even hidden from our friends.

REVIEW: "Fern Hill" at NJ RepThe second act features an interesting twist - one that could bring the friends closer or tear them apart. But the big questions remain: will Jer and Sunny stay together and will the commune idea actually happen? Fern Hill is a nice blend of comedy and drama within a very adult issue-oriented play.

The entire cast is outstanding, but I thought three performances truly stood out: Tom McGowan was absolutely terrific as the aging rock and roller; John Glover is brilliant as usual, portraying a character that has to showcase quite a bit of depth; and Jill Eikenberry shows strength as a woman whose world is threatened on many levels.

Fern Hill was developed during a residency at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's National Playwrights Conference in 2017. Executive Director, Preston Whiteway. Artistic Director, Wendy C. Goldberg.

NJ Rep’s production is highly recommended.  Tickets to the remaining performances are limited, so don’t wait.  The show runs now through September 9th at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, NJ.

For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.NJRep.org



Photos by SuzAnne Barabas






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J CITY Theater Returns With "Bakersfield Mist"
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- J CITY Theater launches their first full season in four years with their Fall show: Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs at their new location – The Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne Street.  The production runs Thursdays through Sundays from September 28th through October 13th. Set in a downtrodden trailer park in California, Bakersfield Mist is the story of Maude Gutman (Sandy Cockrell) who has recently purchased an ugly painting at Daisy’s Junk Shop for three dollars.  Turns out, the painting may actually be a lost masterpiece by Jackson Pollock.   
Old Library Theatre Presents "Parade"
(FAIR LAWN, NJ) -- Old Library Theatre, Fair Lawn Recreation Department's resident theater company, presents Parade. Six performances only: October 12, 13, 19 & 20 at 8:00pm and October 14 & 21 at 2:00pm.  Parade tells the story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew living in Georgia in 1913, who is put on trial for the murder of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan, a factory worker under his employ.
The Lord Stirling Theater Company Presents "Treasure Island"
(BASKING RIDGE, NJ) -- The Lord Stirling Theater Company will present Treasure Island in the English Barn Theater at the Farmstead Arts Center October 5-7 and October 12-14. Adapted for the stage by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) from the classic novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island follows the adventures of a boy named Jim Hawkins who comes into possession of a treasure map.
Premiere Stages to Present World Premiere of Liberty Live Commission "Black Tom Island"
(UNION, NJ) -- Premiere Stages at Kean University will present Martin Casella’s Black Tom Island from October 11-21 at Liberty Hall Museum (1003 Morris Avenue, Union, N.J.). Originally commissioned over a two-year cycle through Premiere’s Liberty Live Commission, Black Tom Island will feature actors Damian Buzzerio, Mason Hensley, Jenna Krasowski and Bart Shatto. Producing artistic director John J. Wooten directs.
American Poetry Theater Presents "Gun Love"
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If anyone ever doubts that New Jersey is home to great theatre, just point them to the world premiere of “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater. The cast and creative behind this show by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang includes a combined total of more than 25 Tony Award nominations and seven wins. It’s a cast that would look impressive at any theatre – Broadway  or otherwise. According to one of the stars, the opportunity to work with the 10-time Tony Award nominee director/choreographer Graciela Daniele and to be part of a new musical was too good to pass up.
The Jersey Devil on stage: An interview with playwright Brandon Monokian
Up-and-coming New Jersey native Brandon Monokian has worked as an actor, writer, director, producer, and popcorn sample distributor. He wrote and starred in the film Happy Yummy Chicken and co-founded the production company Love Drunk Life with Katie Frazer. Together they have produced plays, films, books, and, to support their creative work financially, a product line: lovedrunklife.com. Monokian received national attention through Revolutionary Readings (his TEDx talk at Princeton Library), which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. 
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Event calendar
Saturday, Sep 22, 2018


MUSIC

Asbury Park Porchfest @ Booskerdoo, Asbury Park - 12:00pm

Carl Chesna & Co. @ Hotel Tides, Asbury Park - 1:00pm

Echoes @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Cole Swindell @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

GRUPO NICHE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

The History of Motown @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Drake Bell @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

Classic Stones Live feat. The Glimmer Twins @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Opera Theatre of Montclair Presents Hansel and Gretel @ Central Presbyterian Church, Montclair - 4:00pm


Oscar D’León with Tony Vega and Los Hermanos Moreno @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm

SunDog Band at Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ @ Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ, Paterson - 9:00pm

Celtic Thunder X @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Young Person's Concert @ River Dell Middle School Auditorium, River Edge - 1:00pm


Tigerman record release show for “Descend Into Savagery” @ Debonair Music Hall, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Hubby Jenkins @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Incorruptible @ Ritz Theatre Company, Haddon Township - 8:00pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Theatre Brut Session 2 @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 2:00pm

Evita @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Claire, Anton et Eux" @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College, Princeton - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

HUMAN ERROR by Eric Pfeffinger @ West Windsor Arts Center, Princeton Junction - 8:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Assisted Living: The Musical @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 3:00pm


DANCE

SWAN LAKE - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

SOLE Defined @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm


LITERATURE

Monthly Saturday Writing Retreats @ Tiferet Journal, Bernardsville - 9:00am

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