Highlights: Hanover Playwright Sharpens Her Barbed Humor

  • Marisa Smith, at her home in Hanover, N.H. on Jan. 28, 2019. Northern Stage is to perform Smith's play "Venus Rising." Smith said she often stands this way, which she attributes to her years as a figure skater. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Marisa Smith, at her home in Hanover, N.H. on Jan. 28, 2019. Northern Stage is to perform Smith's play "Venus Rising." (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Shanghai Quartet performs compositions by Tan Dun at Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening, Feb. 5. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2019 12:05:06 AM

Every time a theater company stages a reading of one of her plays-in-progress, Marisa Smith expects to spot holes and flaws.

In January 2017, a member of the audience added an, um, observation after Northern Stage test-drove an early incarnation of the comedy Venus Rising, which opens at the Barrette Center for the Arts this week.

“She said, ‘The daughter is so mean to her mother!’ ” the playwright recalled during an interview at the Barrette Center last week. “I thought, ‘Omigod! She hated it!’

“She remembered it, though.”

The version of the play opening this week retains some of that early mean streak, but Smith feels the audience, her own mother, Madlyn Smith, included, will find Venus Rising memorable for its laughs and poignancy, too.

Take the opening scene: the middle-aged protagonist, Julie, has just moved into her childhood home after leaving her doctor-husband, Marty. In the midst of a long volley of taunts and jibes, her mother, Cora, wonders why Julie always drinks water from bottles instead of a glass.

Julie thrusts a bottle impatiently toward her.

Julie: Want some?

Cora: Is it that time of the month?

Julie (looking in her mother’s refrigerator): Do you have turmeric? I want to make some Golden Milk later.

Cora: Golden Milk? What’s that?

Julie: It’s milk and turmeric and honey and ginger and pepper. It’s really good for your joints. I think my right knee is acting up.

Cora: There might be some in the spice drawer.

Julie: Really? From this century?

Cora: I think Marty is right: You are bitchy and mean!

“The mother-daughter thing is fraught,” Smith said. “It can be very, very fraught.”

To leaven the conflict, Smith added another character, Julie’s childhood friend Grace, to what had been a three-person play — mother, daughter and the mother’s gentleman friend Winslow, a retired professor. Grace and Julie have been estranged for years, over a variety of issues, but re-enters Julie and Cora’s lives after a stint in rehab.

“I wanted someone from outside, to have the audience’s perspective,” Smith said. “Grace is a composite of three different women I know. It shows that you can revisit a friendship. I love putting different people together.”

Overall, the cast skews older than in Smith’s previous plays, which feature the foibles of younger adults. Now that her and ex-husband Eric Kraus’ two sons are grown and on their own, she’s been pondering the struggles of her fellow Baby Boomers to deal with aging parents as well as their own trials.

“A lot of this is new territory for me as far as writing,” Smith said. “Not that this is completely autobiographical, but I’ve been observing friends and what’s going on in the world. You see things you didn’t see before. I wanted to write about women in transition.”

In addition to Julie’s and Grace’s changing circumstances, the play confronts Cora’s difficulty coping with the aches and pains of old age — to which Winslow, much to Julie’s horror, has found a pharmaceutical solution. In veteran stage actor Diane J. Findlay, Smith saw the ideal Cora early on in the casting process.

“She gave a great audition,” Smith recalled. “She walked into the room exactly the way Cora needed to be, and she had all aspects of the character down.”

Trading barbs with Findlay, as Julie, is Laurel Casillo, who performed in Northern Stage’s production of Smith’s Mad Love in 2016. Like Findlay, Kenneth Kimmins and Laurie Wells are making their Northern Stage debuts as Winslow and Grace, respectively.

With Findlay channeling Cora, Smith added, Madlyn Smith can rest assured that the character can give as good as she gets from Julie.

“My mother read the script,” the daughter said. “She was fine with it. She’s very easygoing that way.”

Northern Stage unveils Venus Rising with preview performances at 7:30 tonight and Friday night at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. The midlife-crisis comedy officially opens on Saturday night and runs through Feb. 17. For tickets and more information, visit northernstage.org or call 802-296-7000.

Best Bets

Noah Chute hosts a Truth Be Told session of storytelling at Strafford’s Morrill Memorial and Harris Library tonight at 7. Raconteurs teens and up are invited to deliver tales of up to five minutes, each on the theme of “Lessons Learned (or lesson not learned).” Chute will perform folk music for half an hour before yielding the floor to the yarn-spinners. To learn more, email noah.chute@gmail.com.

■The Silhouette, the White River Junction-based band that describes its repertoire on Facebook as “pop-punk, rock, emo, metal, progressive and post-hardcore,” headlines a convocation of punk-flavored acts Friday night at the Main Street Museum in White River. The doors open at 7 and the show begins at 7:30, with a line-up that also includes the Claremont-based trio Ransom Smith and the greater-Brattleboro band Mind Gap.

■ To celebrate his 70th birthday, pianist Sonny Saul performs a free concert of his recent jazz compositions on Saturday night at 7, at his Pleasant Street Books shop in Woodstock. Joining him are bassist Peter Concilio, drummer Tim Gilmore and trumpeter Glendon Ingalls. The gathering includes free refreshments.

■Need a reminder, for you and/or for the kids, of the value of interdependency in this age of every-man-for-himself? Head for the Grange Theatre in South Pomfret, where the Brattleboro-based Crabgrass Puppet Theatre stages Aesop’s fable The Lion & The Mouse on Saturday morning at 11. For tickets ($5 to $10) and more information, visit artistreevt.org.

■The Shanghai Quartet premieres Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer Tan Dun’s revised Feng Ya Song, and plays works of Haydn and Beethoven, at Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium on Tuesday night at 7. For tickets ($17 to $30) and more information, visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call 603-646-2422.

■Shaker Bridge Theatre’s production of Sarah Burgess’ Dry Powder opens next week at Whitney Hall in Enfield. The dramedy, which runs through Feb. 24, follows the struggle of an equity-fund manager to quell the public-relations meltdown that erupts over his staging of an expensive engagement party after his company lays off workers at a national grocery chain it owns. For tickets ($16 to $35) and more information, visit shakerbridgetheatre.org or call 603-448-3750.

■Jarvis Antonio Green pledges to “shine a spotlight on black female playwrights” next week with his JAG Productions’ third annual JAGfest at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction. He previews the celebration next Thursday night at 7 by co-hosting, with White River Indie Films, a screening of Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart, the 2017 documentary about Raisin in the Sun dramatist Lorraine Hansberry, which includes interviews with Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier.

From Feb. 8 to 10, Green will stage readings of four plays-in-progress by contemporary African-American woman dramatists at the opera house. Admission to the screening is by donation. Tickets to the performances are $20 to each individual reading, or $50 for a pass to all four. For more information on the festival, visit jagproductionsvt.com.

Looking Ahead

Boston-based comedian Sam Ike will headline the monthly comedy night at The Engine Room in White River Junction next Thursday at 8. Admission is $5 to $10; ages 21 and older.

Theater/Performance Art

The Grange Theatre in South Pomfret holds auditions on Tuesday and Wednesday for Tintypes and Forever Plaid, the productions scheduled for the third annual ArtisTree Musical Theatre Festival in the fall. To schedule an audition time and learn more, email artistreecasting@gmail.com or call 603-234-5454.

Music

The Etna Olde Time duo of Marc Shapiro and Billy Corbett play their mix of folk and bluegrass for the Sunapee Community CoffeeHouse on Friday night at 7. Admission is by donation.

■The Moondance sextet plays tribute to transcendent troubadour Van Morrison at the Lebanon Opera House, on Friday night at 7:30. For tickets ($22 to $30) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

■The Green Mountain Roots quartet performs at the Skinny Pancake in Hanover on Friday night from 8 to 10.

■Cellist Benjamin Kulp plays works of Bach, Kodaly and Alexander Tcherepnin on Saturday afternoon at 3, at Hanover’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Admission is by donation to the Upper Valley Music Center’s tuition-assistance fund.

■Mezzo-sopranos Betsy Alexander and Laurel Stavis sing works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, Roger Quilter, Edvard Grieg and other composers on Saturday afternoon at 4, at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Admission is by donation.

Dance

The Old Sam Peabody Band sets the old-timey rhythm and Delia Clark calls the steps for the contra dance that the BarnArts Center for the Arts is hosting at Barnard Town Hall on Saturday night. After a potluck supper that starts at 6, the dancing runs from 6:30 to 9. Admission is free.

■ Carlos Ocasio leads his Frydaddy ensemble into the Tunbridge Town Hall on Saturday night at 7:30, to set the soul-infused rockin’ rhythm for the monthly Shindig dance. Admission is $10.

Bar and Club Circuit

The Road Home trio performs Americana music from 6 to 9 tonight at at Peyton Place restaurant in Orford.

■The Tunbridge-based roots quintet Wool pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7. The big band Mother Ton performs there on Friday night at 9:30, Funk Shui appears on Saturday night at 9:30, and singer Meadow Eliz and keyboardist JD Tolstoi come from Burlington to play soul, rock, funk and reggae on Tuesday night at 6.

■Bassist Peter Concilio, guitarist Draa Hobbs, saxophonist Matt Langley and drummer Tim Gilmore play jazz at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 8.

■ Royalton singer-songwriter Alison “AliT” Turner performs at Margarita’s in Lebanon on Friday night at 9.

■The Conniption Fits rock The Engine Room in White River Junction on Friday night at 9.

■ Richie Hackett plays country-infused pop music at Lebanon’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and the Windsor-based RoadTrash Band roams through its repertoire of classic rock, rebel country, cow punk and thunder-boogie on Saturday night at 9.

■The weekend lineup at Salt hill Pub in Hanover features jazz singer-guitarist Rowley Hazard on Friday night at 9 and singer-songwriter Amanda McCarthy on Saturday night at 9.

■Amanda McCarthy plays Salt hill Pub in Newport on Friday night at 9 and guitarist Ted Mortimer leads his blues trio on Saturday night at 9.

■Sonny Saul plays jazz at On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

■Saxophonist Michael Parker, bassist Peter Concilio and guitarist Billy Rosen play jazz at Carpenter and Main in Norwich on Tuesday night at 6.

Open Mics

Woodstock musician Jim Yeager hosts open mics tonight at 7 at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, and on Wednesday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

■String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

■Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads an acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson hosts an open mic at Colatina Exit in Bradford on Tuesday nights at 7.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Send entertainment news to highlights@vnews.com.

Correction

Laurel Casillo plays the character of Julie and Kenneth Kimmins portrays the widower Winslow in Northern Stage’s current production of the play Venus Rising. In addition, a spectator at a staged reading of the play two years ago said, “The daughter is so mean to her mother!” An earlier version of this story misspelled Casillo’s first name and Kimmins’ last name, and incorrectly attributed the reaction to the playwright’s mother.   




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