Truth raises issues in theREP’s ‘Secret Hour’ in Albany

Joshua David Robinson, Marina Shay and Whit K. Lee, left to right, share the stage in Jenny Stafford’s new play, “Secret Hour,” opening with previews on Friday at the Capital Repertory Theatre. Inset: Jenny Stafford. (Photos courtesy theREP)
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Joshua David Robinson, Marina Shay and Whit K. Lee, left to right, share the stage in Jenny Stafford’s new play, “Secret Hour,” opening with previews on Friday at the Capital Repertory Theatre. Inset: Jenny Stafford. (Photos courtesy theREP)

ALBANY – Jenny Stafford was 11 when she realized exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Well, almost.

“My parents took me to a production of ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’ and after the show we were walking out in the parking lot and I said, ‘that’s what I want to do when I grow up,’ ” remembered Stafford, a Denver native and Philadelphia resident whose play, “Secret Hour,” is being produced by the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany beginning tomorrow and running through Feb. 19. “My parents were like, ‘oh, isn’t that cute.’ I was probably thinking about acting, but I said it again, ‘no, that’s what I want to do.’”

While Stafford may occasionally perform in one of her own one-woman shows these days, she is first and foremost a playwright, not an actor. She’s had her hand in one Broadway production — as a lyricist — and has seen her work produced by off-Broadway theaters as well as at prominent regional venues around the world. Her new work at theRep is a world premiere, and will run in previews for three days before having it’s official opening on Tuesday, Jan. 31. “Secret Hour” is the story of a married couple, Kate and Ben, who devise a game for getting out the truth in their relationship. While the idea seems to be a productive one, at some point things take a decided turn when the characters realize that too much truth might be a bit problematic.

“Most playwrights have issues in their life that you’re grappling with, and while this play isn’t autobiographical, the characters are drawn from my own life experience,” said Stafford. “In ‘Secret Hour,’ a woman and her husband are trying to have a baby, and there’s a big plot twist about a quarter of the way into the play that changes everything. Some big questions are raised, and they have to deal with these new issues.”

“Secret Hour” was the winner of theREP’s 2021 NEXT ACT! New Play Series. It was the first time Stafford had submitted a new work to the Albany venue’s new play competition.

“This was really my introduction to Capital Rep,” said Stafford. “It was so enjoyable to have a staged reading of the play back in the summer of 2021, and I feel so fortunate to continue to have worked with them on this new play. The people have been wonderful. I’m having a great time.”

Cap Rep’s Associate Artistic Director, Margaret E. Hall, is directing the production. Marina Shay plays Kate, an ethics professor, while Joshua Daniel Robinson is her husband, Ben. The third and final member of the cast is Whit K. Lee, who plays both the couple’s handyman and their doctor. All three are professional actors based in New York City.

Stafford has been working with the cast and crew for more than a month now.

“It’s been a very collaborative process, and I really love it,” she said. “Margaret and I will sit at a table during rehearsals and ask each other questions. It’s nice to be able to make changes along the way, and it’s great to see the play on its feet with actors, and not just from staring at it on your computer screen for four years. Sometimes when you hear an actor say it, you question yourself, ‘does that really work?’ Sometimes the words that were in my mind end up not sounding quite right when you hear them spoken by actors.”

While “Secret Hour” is not a musical, Stafford has created many shows that are.

“It feels sort of 50-50 right now,” she said, referring to the ratio of musicals to serious dramas in her repertoire. “I really enjoy writing both, and sometimes the plays I write will be humorous, and the musicals I write will be serious.”

She concedes that at times, she has changed horses in midstream.

“I’ll be working on a play, struggling, and I’ll be thinking to myself, ‘why am I struggling so much with this?’ ” said Stafford. “Then I wonder if what I’m doing would be better told with music and lyrics or strictly dialogue. Something will then click, and I realize, ‘hey, I think maybe this is a musical.’ Oh yeah, that does happen to me.”

A few years after she fell in love with “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the theater, Stafford left the Colorado Rockies and headed east to school at Shenandoah University in Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. When she finished her undergraduate degree, she headed to New York University where she got a masters in musical theater writing.

Along with her work that’s been performed in the New York City area, including Lincoln Center, Stafford has also had her plays produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, as well as prominent venues in Florida and Colorado.

“When I perform these days it’s going to be one of my one-woman solo shows,” said Stafford. “The only stuff I’ll do is what I write myself.”
A special “Behind the Scenes” program with theRep Artistic Producer Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.

‘Secret Hour’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 North Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: In previews Friday through Sunday; opens Tuesday, Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 19; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8
HOW MUCH: $62-$27
MORE INFO: Call (518) 346-6204 or visit www.capitalrep.org

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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