Weston's 2019 Season: A conversation with Susanna Gellert

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Weston Playhouse Theatre Company's 2019 summer season will mark the first time in more than 30 years that Steven Stettler, Malcolm Ewen and Tim Fort will not be at the helm as founding Artistic Directors. Stepping into their shoes will be Weston's new executive artistic director, Susanna Gellert.

The former associate producer and director of the Studio at New York's Theatre for a New Audience, Gellert sat down at her Weston office to discuss the upcoming season, as well as her role in shaping what Weston has to offer theatergoers and others for years to come.

Gellert has spent most of her professional life in New York City, but had a home in Wilmington for several years before moving more recently with her husband to nearby Landgrove. Becoming a part of the community is important to her, as one of her stated goals is to continue to make Weston a source of entertainment and culture for area residents as well as visitors.

When asked why people in this day and age should attend a play or musical, she answered, "shared breath."

In other words, she explained, live theater remains a form of communication that is incomplete without an audience. When the lights dim, actors and audience share an experience together that changes with every performance.

Weston's slogan for the past several years has been "Celebrating the Classics — Nurturing the New." This season's plays and musicals appear to stay the course with an eclectic potpourri of offerings.

The season opens at Weston's intimate stage at Walker Farm with a fun production for area youth: "The Phantom Tollbooth." Then, on the main stage at the Weston Playhouse, Gellert directs "The Fantasticks," the portrait of a relationship between a guy and a girl (and their parents) that seemingly ran forever off-Broadway and features the classic song: "Try to Remember."

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Later in the summer, Weston mounts a production of "Oklahoma!," the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that also, you guessed it, is about a guy and a girl, set in a small town in the Indian Territory circa 1906. Both "The Fantasticks" and "Oklahoma!" contain scenes that challenge sensibilities in this "me, too" era. Gellert volunteered that each presents a "tricky needle to thread." Celebrating classic stories while addressing such challenges, however, is part of what draws her interest.

The 2019 season also includes two relatively new plays: "I and You," a quirky take on two very different high school students that struggle to find a common vocabulary as they make their way to adulthood, and "Indecent," which shines a light on a 1923 Yiddish play that was closed by authorities for its content. The latter, which opines about freedom of expression and what theater has the power to do, represents what Gellert termed the final installment of Weston's five-year American Masters program.

When asked why another Weston production this summer, Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" did not fit into that category, Gellert simply responded: "semantics," while noting that "Indecent" would be performed in late September for student audiences from area schools with a "talk back" component.

Rounding out the upcoming season will be "Always ... Patsy Cline," a two-actor tribute musical about the late '50s to early '60s country music star, featuring favorites such as "Crazy" and "Sweet Dreams."

Gellert noted with sadness the passing last week of Malcolm Ewen, one of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company's founding artistic directors and stalwart presence for so many years.

Her joint news release with Tim Fort and Steven Stettler stated that "Malcolm was never happier than when creating theater with the Weston family, which he helped to nurture" and that there would be a celebration of his life in Weston later this summer.

Gellert related that Ewen's capacious intellect and excitement about theater were obvious when she first encountered him years ago. I left with the very same reaction to Gellert. The proof, as always, will be in the pudding, but it appears that Weston Playhouse Theatre Company continues to be in very capable hands.


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