Living Room Theatre performs an original

Company known for intimate stagings, tight-knit cast thrives in North Bennington

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NORTH BENNINGTON — When William Shakespeare had Hamlet utter "the play's the thing," he couldn't have known how that simple phrase would be co-opted by centuries of future theater professionals, often to describe the singular focus of how everything in the business is in support of the brief moments actors have on stage.

For the denizens of Living Room Theatre, now in intensive rehearsals for its one-show season, consisting of "Lucy's Wedding" running July 17 to 28, the professional company's eighth season is a communal

experience.

To achieve that, it takes a kitchen, said Living Room Theatre's founders, artistic director Randolyn Zinn and her husband, actor and director Allen McCullough.

"With each new rehearsal period, we begin with a read-through and dinner with the cast at our home in Brooklyn," Zinn said. "We provide snacks in the studio, and sometimes improvisations will center around a meal or a picnic."

Then, Zinn said, when the troupe arrives in North Bennington, they live together at a farmhouse the couple owns on the grounds of the historic Park-McCullough House and cook meals together, using ingredients from the couple's organic garden. (McCullough is a direct descent of the eponymous former owners.)

"Kitchens are a lot like rehearsal rooms because both rooms balance creativity and generosity and end up nourishing everyone involved," Zinn said. "Audiences will feel the special camaraderie among our actors onstage."

The couple, both with long New York stage careers to their credit, began offering short summer seasons consisting of one or two plays, and have become a local fixture. Their productions are staged on the grounds of the Park-McCullough House, and are primarily acted out in the carriage barn.

"Lucy's Wedding," written and directed by Zinn, has been in the works for a few decades, and Zinn said the "time felt right" to bring it to the theater company.

"In 1996, I began scribbling a comedy about my own family," Zinn said. "But creative work tends to develop its own life, so characters, objectives and circumstances transform, twist and turn relationships inside out. The play became itself, a separate entity from its initial inspiration."

As a 10-minute short, Zinn said,

"Lucy's Wedding" won first prize in a play contest. As a one-act play some years later, it was read in New York and Los Angeles "before resting for a decade in the magic drawer in my study," she added. In the meantime, she went on to perform and direct and earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from The New School.

"Lucy's Wedding" is back out of the magic drawer.

"After I wrote a second act, it was read at the Dorset Theatre Festival and Manhattan Theatre Club in New York," Zinn said. "This past winter, I made another revision, and now here we are."

"Our mission has always been to produce new as well as classic plays," McCullough said. "This is our fourth new play and third by a female playwright since our inception in 2012. In fact, it's strange that we haven't done one of Randolyn's plays until now."

The story is set in the Midwest in the early 1980s, before Google and cell phones — when private life was private. There, three sisters, their mother, grandmother and the groom and his brother all pray, dream and scheme as they struggle for independence from the family matrix.

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McCullough said the three sisters "shake off the wrong partners for the right reasons and choose between making art or children." He added that the play also "meanders through the dream time of its characters."

Zinn's work has been produced at New Georges and other theaters in New York as well as at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. This winter, McCullough said, when the company gathered together to read scripts, "Lucy's Wedding" was the unanimous choice.

"I think right now is the time to hear the strong female voices, concerns and characters," McCullough said. "Plus, it's very funny."

Living Room Theatre welcomes back Mike Broadhurst in the role of Cal. Rocky Friedman Vargas will serve as project manager, Colleen O'Connor makes her third appearance at Living Room Theatre as Doreen and Bennington College professor Kirk Jackson will play Gaga.

Making their Living Room Theatre

debuts will be Karen Trott as Mom, Sara Canter as Merle, Julia Valen as Lucy and Will Gallacher as Eliot.

Trott, who plays "Mom," is a Vermont native and graduate of Woodstock High School and the University of Vermont. Her acting career took her from the Green Mountain Guild after college to New York stages, including Broadway.

Trott also directed an early version of "Lucy's Wedding" at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York. She said that Zinn, with whom she has worked in New York, has asked her to be in Living Room Theatre shows over the last eight years. This is the first year she's been able to participate.

"This brilliant cast has such talented, generous and hilarious actors," Trott said. "I've seen three plays at Living Room Theatre so I'm familiar with the high caliber and creativity of the productions, and the breathtaking setting."

In the years since she first read

"Lucy's Wedding" and directed its one-act iteration, Trott said she's "become a wife and mother, and the caregiving daughter of an aging mother," so she's "grown into this role."

"This play is closer to who I am right now than I could ever imagine," Trott said. "I feel as if the play and its characters swirl about me in my own life."

Trott was quick to say how much she admired the play's "humor and authenticity with its characters that are so real and familiar," and said that audiences will be drawn to the familiar, human themes.

"As a one-act, 'Lucy's Wedding' was about one incident, and rightly so," Trott said. "As a fully realized play now, it remains funny and familiar, but is so much richer. It resonates with the clash of conflicting desires, both of immediate gratification and of lifelong dreams."

"Lucy's Wedding" will run from July 17 to 28 at Living Room Theatre, Park-McCullough Historic House Carriage Barn, 1 Park St., North Bennington. Information and ticket reservations: 802-442-5322 or lrtvt.org.

Reach freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com, or on Twitter @TellyHalkias.


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