Denizen Theatre in New Paltz brings sense of surprise to new season

Pictured are the Denizen Theatre founding artistic team (L-R): Harry Lipstein, Ben Williamson and Brittany Proia. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

A play about mental illness directed by the TMI project’s Eva Tenuto and a one-person play that the actor is forbidden ever to have read or seen prior to getting onstage to perform it are two of the dramatic treats in store at New Paltz’s Denizen Theatre in 2019. The new little-black-box-that-could, located on the upper level of the Water Street Market in New Paltz, unveiled the offerings for its second season last Saturday.

Each of the stageworks being planned is cutting-edge in its own way, but the third show scheduled seems by far the most bonkers. Set to run from July 7 to 28, Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit is, according to Denizen founder Harry Lipstein, “a theatre social experiment. Each night, a different actor comes to a stage and is given a script. They don’t know what’s in it… I’ve done this, and it’s extremely terrifying.” There’s no director, no set; just a sealed envelope with the script hidden inside. Both of Denizen’s co-artistic directors, Brittany Proia and Ben Williamson, are among the ten actors recruited so far to participate. “This is something you want to see more than once,” Lipstein recommended, since White Rabbit Red Rabbit becomes a different theatrical experience each time a new “sequestered” actor takes up the challenge and spontaneously interprets and performs the text.

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The new season kicks off with a luminary of our region’s theatrical circuit, TMI Project founder Eva Tenuto, bringing her considerable experience in staging personal memoirs to the director’s chair for Every Brilliant Thing. Written by Duncan Macmillan and described as “a heartfelt story full of hope, resilience and joy,” Every Brilliant Thing is “about a child’s exposure to the mental illness of a mother,” Lipstein explained, and addresses the question: What makes life worth living? Tenuto’s familiarity with how to bring “real stories” to life makes her “perfect for that piece,” he added. Previews of the play will be shown on April 3 and 4, and it will run from April 5 to 28.

Next up is a regional premiere: Companion Piece by Drama Desk Award-winner Kevin Armento, described as “a witty comedy that explores the nature of what it means to make human connections” in an age of cyber-entertainment and online dating. After months in an online relationship, Dolores comes to New England and meets Leonard for the very first time. This face-to-face encounter begins to unravel secrets about his previously lonely existence. Previews for Companion Piece will happen on June 5 and 6, and the play will run from June 7 to 30.

A US premiere of a feminist dystopian tale will be next on the schedule after the aforementioned White Rabbit Red Rabbit. Proia described Penelope Skinner’s Meek as “The Handmaid’s Tale meets Black Mirror,” featuring “three ferocious female roles.”  In a futuristic society where private lives become political and freedom of expression is not an option, we find Irene imprisoned, unaware of her crimes. The play affords a haunting vision of ruthless state theocracy, tense relationships and one woman’s determination not to be broken. Meek will be in preview on August 7 and August 8, with the full run from August 9 to September 1. 

Sender by Ike Holter will wrap up the 2019 Denizen season, previewing on October 2 and 3 and running from October 4 to 27. According to Williamson, this play is “a comedic, raw look at Millennials.” A friend, lover and idol dies; a community mourns; 366 days later the unimaginable happens. This witty, raw and razor-sharp play forces its characters to confront their adolescence and asks the question: What does growing up mean?

A new season on the way means that it’s the best possible time to purchase a season ticket to Denizen Theatre. You can get a full-season subscription and see all three plays for $125; a $75 “Flex Subscription” lets you take your choice of three. But why not make the full commitment, so you won’t be tempted to stay home and miss any of them? Individual shows (which often sell out, especially on weekends) cost $28 general admission, $24 for seniors, $15 for youth under 30 and $5 for students. To order, call the box office at (845) 303-4136 or visit www.denizentheatre.com. The Denizen Theatre is located at 10 Main Street in New Paltz.

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