IN THE PRESS
It could be a scene out of a story by John Cheever or Richard Yates. Onstage, in early December, five actors, dressed in street clothes and holding bound scripts, read and act out lines on a darkened stage, the only prop a lonely poinsettia. Watching and laughing appreciatively is a small but enthusiastic audience, bundled in winter sweaters...
SHORT CUTS is presented by JIB Productions, the Westport company behind the popular lunchtime short-play series Play With Your Food.
Nancy Diamond, co-founder and producer of JIB, hoped to take the idea behind that series and create a film program. Diamond said the films represent a "socially conscious, internationally eclectic mix" that will broaden audience exposure to short-form cinema from around the world.
"The films come from Ireland, India, Poland, Australia and other countries," she said. "It's interesting to see the sensibilities of directors from abroad."
...Seasons Readings, an offering of holiday-themed, whimsical short plays and stories read by a quintet of professional actors under the direction of Carole Schweid. This new production was a chance to offer audiences fresh and provocative holiday-oriented material and in the evening.
Audience members had praise. "I thought it was fabulous, great Christmas spirit, wonderful acting," said Susanne Addessi of Westport. Her friend, Jeanette Linsey, added, "The selection was great, very diverse. They mixed it up really well."
Maxine Paul of Weston was particularly impressed. "I saw four Broadway shows in the last four weeks and enjoyed these pieces more than them. Every time I come here it's remarkable."
Schweid’s understanding of her Fairfield County audiences has helped Play With Your Food sell out since its first show at Toquet Hall.
“Too many theater people think they have to create elaborate productions, sets and venues for a successful season. First-rate writing and fabulous acting is what makes memorable theater. If you keep your eye on audience experience and expectations, you can create a magical lunchtime, or evening or holiday event.”
“Right from the beginning, ‘Play with Your Food’ struck a chord,” said Schweid, the group’s artistic director and co-founder.
She has several theories on why: “There are so many quality actors around here, and they make the readings very special. It’s really good stuff. I’ve been involved with theater all my life, and I have a very deep love of good writing and good plays, real treasures that can be unforgettable, funny to serious, from the classic to the cutting edge.”
Artistic Director Carole Schweid, Producer Diana Muller and their team read hundreds of plays throughout the year and attend many one-act play festivals to ferret out clever and well-written plays from both established and emerging playwrights.
“Our audiences in Fairfield County and beyond really appreciate and support the arts and they are well-versed in theater. There’s really nothing else like what we do," said Producer, Diana Muller.
"I'm always looking for what I call little gems -- short plays that pack a wallop. I want to find stuff you can't get out of your head," Schweid said of the material she spends months tracking down.
Sometimes, she finds a perfect short play, other times she carefully extracts scenes from plays by famed writers, such as Neil Simon and Wendy Wasserstein, that can work on their own.
For nearly 20 years, a lunchtime program — the deliciously named Play With Your Food — has combined a gourmet lunch, professional readings of intriguing plays, and stimulating post-performance discussion.
The actress and occasional cast member of Play With Your Food, Patricia Kalember, said she enjoys the immediacy of live theater, and that the readings provide a particular intimacy with the audience members that goes beyond a full-fledged production.
That connection often spills over to the "talkback" session that follows the readings. It affords actors and audience alike to delve into the work and its meanings.
"The people who come have a great time," said Kalember.
Play With Your Food is the brainchild of producers Nancy Diamond and Carol Schweid, who put on an annual season of lunchtime theater consisting of a catered meal, a few short plays and then a spirited discussion.
Schweid and Diamond scout out new plays in New York, looking for tight and smart pieces that deliver big ideas and big laughs in small packages.
The plays are gems yet surprises are bound to happen and no two performances will be the same.
“It’s show business, you never know until you put a play in front of people whether it’s going to go over so there’s a certain amount of excitement about it," said Schweid.
Schweid searches for plays that delve into subjects that would cause her audience to think beyond entertainment.
“My whole thing is to use these plays to bring awareness about issues...get people in heart-to-heart conversations so that maybe they will understand something they did not understand before they walked in the room,” Schweid explains. “We get to the heart of the play, that’s what our actors do so well. They’re very skilled.” When asked if she “lets them fly with it,” she replies, “That’s the only way you can do it.”
...The crowd seemed to be old friends, as folks sat on the edge of the low stage chatting and noshing.
The fare was chicken and roast beef wraps plus an outstanding eggplant and tomato salad courtesy of Abbondanza on Charles Street. Coffee from Starbucks, Pellegrino water, white wine and yummy chocolate chip cookies also came along with the tickets.
...The lines leap off the page in these carefully chosen short dramas, and it all feels very fresh, alive and accessible. Adding food and the wrap-up discussion makes for a wonderful bargain. All of the actors used by Play With Your Food are professionals and members of Actors' Equity, and it shows.
Forget your tuna and ham and cheese sandwiches in favor of real entertainment with a gourmet flair. Let Play With Your Food tempt you to expand your cultural horizons.
Come "Play With Your Food." It's okay. You have your mother's permission. Enjoy Fairfield County's most popular and entertaining series for award-winning theater, fine acting, lunch by enticing local eateries and a chance to chat with all the players. Who could ask for anything more?