How much should the audience know about a play as they head into the theater?
“Well, if the theater wants some publicity, and they don’t capitalize on the synchronicity with this show, then they’re not doing the job,” said Duncan Rogers, who is playing Mickey in Richard Dresser’s “The Last Days of Mickey and Jean,” opening Friday at the Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington. “I don’t know, maybe you can build the expectations too high, but the audience is going to find out eventually anyway.”
What the audience finds out is that Mickey is a fugitive from the law and the mob. He and his girlfriend, Jean, leave Boston and head to France where they rent a small room in Paris and feel like they’re safe. At least for a while. Audience members may or may not pick up on the fact that the character of Mickey very much resembles James “Whitey” Bulger, the former Boston crime figure who on June 22 of this year was finally apprehended in Santa Monica, Calif., after being on the run since 1994. Dresser has indicated that the story is not Bulger’s, but that he did base the character of Mickey on Bulger.
‘The Last Days of Mickey & Jean’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre, Bennington Center for the Arts, 44 Gypsy Lane, Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Friday. Performances 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 5
HOW MUCH: $34-$10
MORE INFO: 802-447-0564, oldcastletheatre.org
“I don’t know how stringently he kept to Bulger’s story, but it is definitely based on him,” said Rogers. “Part of what I like about the play is that he [Dresser] doesn’t make a big deal of it. For most of the play, Mickey is just some guy who is retired and would like to unretire. You don’t realize who he actually is until his girlfriend spills the beans quite a ways into the play.”
The play had its world premiere in Lowell, Mass., at the Merrimack Repertory Company just outside Boston in March of 2010, well before Bulger’s arrest made such big news. Both The Boston Globe and Boston Herald praised Dresser’s work, and John Pietrowski, who is directing the production for Oldcastle Theatre, was also a big fan.
“What I like about Richard’s work, all of his plays, is that on the surface they’re very, very funny, but underneath it all there’s a lot of desperation going on,” said Pietrowski. “There are real human beings, going through some real tough things. Richard deals with class issues, economic issues, and while it is very, very funny, you have all this other stuff coming at you at the same time.”
Like Pietrowski, Rogers appreciates Dresser’s ability to write funny lines in very desperate situations.
“All of his plays have a lot of laughs, but there’s also a pulsating urgency underneath it all that I find really intriguing,” said Rogers. “He does very well writing a comedy, but the play is a whole lot more honest than most comedies. There’s a depth of longing in this character to get back on point, to get back to work doing what he does, and the way Richard writes it it’s very compelling.”
“The Last Days of Mickey and Jean” is a joint production of Oldcastle Theatre, the Bickford Theatre of Morristown, N.J., and the Playwrights Theatre of Madison, N.J. In the show along with Rogers is Beverly Sheehan as Jean and Oliver Wadsworth, who plays three different characters.
Aggressive and frail
Rogers, who is also a filmmaker, grew up in the Boston area but now splits his time between a home in New Jersey and a home in Vermont. When he’s done performing this show at Oldcastle, he’ll head down to New Jersey — with the same cast — where the play will run throughout most of September at the Bickford Theatre.
According to Pietrowski, Rogers was perfect for the role of Mickey.
“Duncan was able to almost simultaneously portray both the aggressiveness and the frailty of the character,” said Pietrowski. “They are both very necessary for this role to work on stage. I hadn’t worked with him before, but I had seen him on stage and I knew he could handle this kind of role.”
Rogers has recently directed three short movies and helped produce two more (also shorts), but he doesn’t see himself leaving acting behind anytime soon if ever.
“In a perfect world, I continue to do both,” he said. “I find them separate but equal.”
Sheehan is another veteran actor who has worked in New Jersey and New York, as is Wadsworth. All three are making their debut at Oldcastle.
Dresser is currently a writing professor at Rutgers University. His plays have been produced in the New York area and in regional theater companies around the country for the past 20 years. Two of his more successful works have had baseball themes: “Rounding Third,” Dresser’s play about Little League baseball, and “Johnny Baseball,” a play about the curse of the Boston Red Sox.
Searching for new place
“The Last Days of Mickey and Jean” is the third of four shows being presented by Oldcastle Theatre this summer at the Bennington Center for the Arts. And, when “Night and Her Stars” closes out the troupe’s 40th season from Sept. 23-Oct. 9, it will be their last at the Bennington Center for the Arts.
“Our residency has been terminated, much to our surprise, but we have been approached by people representing eight different towns and we are in serious discussions about moving into a new venue,” said Eric Peterson, one of the group’s co-founders and currently the artistic director. “We are determined to continue, and we’ve received an amazing outpouring of support and offers to help.”
Peterson learned of the BCA’s decision in June.
“We felt totally blind-sided, but now we’re also looking at this as a new opportunity,” said Peterson. “Our aim is to have a new space by the spring so we can open up our 41st season.”
In a press release announcing the split, the BCA’s board of directors explained the move as an attempt to “expand its offerings to appeal to a wider audience through diverse programming.”
Categories: Life and Arts