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Summer Of '77

By Gary Wien

originally published: 04/20/2015

Summer Of '77

Tar Beach revolves around sixteen year old Mary Claire and her best friend Mary Francis as they begin the day sunning themselves on the roof of an Ozone Park row house.  Claire’s younger sister Reenie is searching for her lost Greek Mythology class project, while their parents are consumed by the battles of their troubled marriage. The boy crazy girls hatch a plan to stay out all night, but an overstressed electrical grid leads to a city-wide blackout and a sudden loss of innocence.

Ryan says the play is based on events that happened around that summer, but it is not autobiographical.  She previously took a look at the summer of 1977 in her play, Dark Part of the Forest, which was seen through the point of view of the mother; Tar Beach, however, is seen through the experience of the young girls.   

“It was the late seventies, which was a weird time in New York,” recalled Ryan.  “Financially, there was crisis; socially, there was upheaval.  It was a time of people unmooring, I think.  Children weren’t supervised.  Parents were going wild too.  It was just a crazy, crazy time.”

It was also a very dangerous period of time.  The Son of Sam began killing people in 1976 and wasn’t caught until August the next year.  He is famous for using a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver and believed he was merely following the orders of a demon that took the form of a neighbor’s dog.  And those orders were to kill young women.

Ryan describes the play as a coming-of-age story for two young girls in a society where sometimes it is dangerous to be a female.  The time period forms the perfect setting for her with the blackout and the Son of Sam serving as the ultimate predators.



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“It was this pressure cooker,” recalled Ryan.  “You knew something was going to blow.”

Fear of the dark is seen in the play as a primal experience, something that has been with humans since the dawn of time.  Mary’s father is afraid because he thinks the only thing keeping society from anarchy is electricity.  As looting spreads across the city, his fears are somewhat realized.

The play also focuses on the relationship of the two siblings.  In fact, the original concept for the play came from a writing workshop at Premiere Stages which utilized an exercise called “On the Roof.”  The instructor had the class write very quickly with constant stops and restarts.  The idea was to write without even thinking about what was being written.  For Ryan, the exercise led to the teenagers on the roof.  The early stages of the play was entirely focused on the relationship of the family.

Summer Of '77“I don’t know exactly when the Son of Sam came in, but if I’m going back to the seventies with the point of view of a teenager, I’m going to think of the Son of Sam,” said Ryan.  “It was that impactful in my life.  Growing up in Queens and being that age — sort of sexually coming of age at a time when he was killing young girls making out in cars — there was that connection that it was dangerous to be a young girl.  That connection is what always pulls me back there.”

In the back of her mind, she may have been thinking about her own girls.  Her youngest is entering her teenage years.  She wonders what lessons from the Summer of 1977 she might be passing on to her own children.

“The girls in the play think Son of Sam is what they all need to be afraid of, but it actually turns out to be closer to home,” add Ryan.

Tar Beach was named a finalist for the Terrence McNally Playwriting Award, The Source Theater Festival and a Jane Chambers Playwriting Award honoree.  The play was included in the 2014 edition of The List compiled by The Kilroys as “one of the most excellent new plays by female-identified authors of last year.”

Since moving to Pittsburgh 25 years ago, where her work is often performed, Ryan’s plays have been staged all across the United States and she’s found something of a second home in New Jersey.  It began in 2006 when Premiere Stages presented one of her works.  In the years to follow, her work has debuted at Premiere Stages, the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, and now Luna Stage.

“The connection with New Jersey probably stems from my voice sounding familiar being from New York,” said Ryan.   “It’s nice to kind of have two homes.”





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Center Players Presents "The Emperor's New Duds"
(FREEHOLD, NJ) --  Center Players Dessert Theater will present a family-friendly production of “The Emperor’s New Duds” at Center Playhouse, 35 South St, in downtown Freehold, NJ from December 7 – 16. A musical adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” the play was written by Bernice Garfield-Szita, who co-directed the production with Enid Bush.
Centenary Stage’s Young Performers Workshop presents 2018 Winter Festival of Shows
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Godspell is composed of various musical parables from The Gospel. Jesus Christ recruits a group of followers and teaches them various lessons through song and dance. Toward the end of the second act, the show begins to follow a more linear narrative as Jesus is betrayed by Judas and eventually crucified. Performances are Sunday, December 9 at 5:00pm; Saturday, December 15 at 8pm and Sunday, December 16 at 7:30pm.
The Shakespeare Theatre Presents "The Winter's Tale"
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run from December 5 to December 30. 
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(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- American Theater Group has announced the full cast and creative team for its World Premiere production of Tell Them I’m Still Young, a new play by Julia Doolittle, which will run at the South Orange Performing Arts Center from January 24 - February 3, 2019. Joining the previously announced Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets, Men of a Certain Age, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) andMichele Pawk (Hollywood Arms, Hairspray, Mamma Mia) are Janice Amaya (Seen/Unseen) and Seth Clayton (The Madrid).
Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.


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Broadway is in the house at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts with a Fearless live concert performance by Broadway star, Mandy Gonzalez!
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“I saw something in her that you rarely come across,” recalled Ted Wioncek III, Artistic Director at Eagle Theatre in Hammonton. “She’s more than wise beyond her years; I believe she’s going to be a game-changer and a trendsetter for this art form.”
Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
It’s Friday, October 26, 2018, and the Broadway’s Next H!T Musical cast is just about ready to take the stage at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ.
The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
Jennifer Fawcett’s new play centers around a mother in a kitchen, doing something countless people across America will take part in over the upcoming holiday season: making an apple pie.
See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
Leapin’ Lizards! Annie’s finally made it to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ, and it stars Broadway’s original Annie, Andrea McArdle, as Miss Hannigan!










Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


MUSIC

THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery” @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm

THE FAB FAUX A HARD DAY'S NIGHT AND REVOLVER IN THEIR ENTIRETIES @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


COMEDY

Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


DANCE

BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


KIDS

ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


LECTURE

Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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