Weston Playhouse is 'Loving Leo'

WESTON - For the past six years, Weston Playhouse Theatre Company has helped to foster new works by playwrights and composers by hosting an annual artist's retreat and sponsoring an annual New Musical Award.

Winners of that award are given the opportunity to record a professional quality studio demo CD under the supervision of a renowned producer of Broadway albums.

This season, Weston is taking the next step and on its alternative stage at the Weston Rod and Gun Club, is producing two new shows, "Loving Leo" and "This Blessed Plot." Each was either conceived or developed at an artist's retreat in Weston and the former won the New Musical Award. According to Steve Stettler, one of Weston's three producing directors, neither show will have a preview because neither show will formally open. Audiences will have the opportunity to see the plays produced for the first time in complete form, and the playwrights, composers, directors and actors will be able to see what works and what doesn't work without the pressures of an opening night. Reviewers, like me, have been asked not to comment on the works themselves as they gestate, albeit publicly.

Last Thursday, I attended the very first full performance of "Loving Leo," a new musical by composer Zach Redler and playwright Sara Cooper. The piece, the second in a planned triptych of dramatic family portraits, ran just under 90 minutes without intermission. It is about Lena and David, a married couple in their early fifties, who are forced to re-examine their 28-year relationship and the choices they have made when Lena's mother dies and her husband, Leo, comes to live with them. Each character addresses the audience directly. Leo is never seen, but we get the picture.

Actor Michael Winther played David, who embraces much of the non-traditional lifestyle espoused by Lena, but covets a traditional affirmation of his mate's feelings toward him. Lauren Mufson's Lena is a tougher cookie. There is the relationship with her work as an actuary, with her late mother, then with Leo, and then with David.

Both actors gave animated performances and exhibited fine singing voices, well-suited to the conversational songs assigned to them. In the intimate space at the Rod and Gun Club, a little volume goes a long way, but that is part of the process, too.

Following the performance, Winther commented that he had played David in readings and private workshops for the authors, off and on, for over two years. He said that it was exciting and challenging to be part of something from the ground floor. I asked him how it was that Redler and Cooper, both in attendance and apparently twenty-somethings, could write about experiences they could not have lived, at least not yet. Winther shrugged, even as one possible answer, in the form of Cooper's middle-aged father, approached to say "hello."

Performances of "Loving Leo" continue at the air-conditioned Weston Rod and Gun Club through Aug. 4. For tickets, call the box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit on-line at www.westonplayhouse.org.


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