Pictured Above: Ryan George, Samaria Nixon-Fleming, Ali Marsh, Skyler Hensley,  Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson.

Join 'the Club' at George Street Playhouse

By Anthony Stoeckert

Writer Anthony Stoeckert dives into the collaboration between David Saint and Chris Bohjanlian (The Flight Attendant) as they team up again, this time on an original play, The Club, making its world premiere at George Street’s Arthur Laurents Theater. 

Four years ago, David Saint, the artistic director at George Street Playhouse, and the writer Chris Bohjanlian, teamed up on a staged adaptation of Bohjanlian’s acclaimed novel, Midwives. Later that year, the series The Flight Attendant, adapted from another of the writer’s novels, was shown on HBOMax (now known as Max) and garnered strong reviews and a bunch of Emmy nominations.

 

The collaboration was a successful one and Saint and Bohjanlian are teaming up again, this time on an original play, The Club, which is making its world premiere at George Street’s Arthur Laurents Theater in New Brunswick, Feb. 27 through March 17.

The play follows three couples in an affluent suburb in 1968, a turbulent year marked by the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The short description of the play on George Street’s website says the couples “collide in a suburban living room one autumn Sunday – what they think is a refuge from the rock ‘n roll turbulence outside their neighborhood – only to discover there’s no escape from the era’s cultural upheaval.”

“What’s fascinating about the play to me is that it takes place in New Jersey in a wealthy suburb that has a country club, but it’s eerily relevant today,” Saint says. “What the play ends up being about, on a deeper level, is the notion of white saviorism, and how oftentimes with the best of intentions, a white person can go out of their way to help a person of color and they don’t represent that person as well as they should. And they make assumptions of how the person wants to be treated and how they can fight for that person, and sometimes that’s not at all what the person of color wants. And that’s the complex area that the play lives in. It’s very interesting.”

Arthur Laurents stated: “George Street, described theater as the last great place where artists can address important issues uncensored.”

Saint says The Club is autobiographical, and that one of the characters is a 13-year-old girl, who’s a sort of stand-in for Bohjanlian.

 

“He grew up in a suburb in a very well-off neighborhood that had a country club,” Saint says. “His parents belonged to the country club and he talked about this Black couple that were friends with his parents, and the difficulties [of that time].”

Pictured Above:  Skyler Hensley, Brenden Ryan. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Indeed, the late ‘60s were a divisive era in America, and so is 2024. In a world of social media where people seem to be ready to pounce on anything that covers sensitive topics in ways they don’t agree with, staging a play that is about race and other issues seems risky. And Saint embraces that.

 

“If we can’t be brave in the theater, where can we be brave?” he says.

 

He added that Arthur Laurents–the legendary writer and director whose resume includes writing the books for Gypsy and West Side Story and who staged several plays at George Street–described theater as the last great place where artists can address important issues uncensored.

“If theater doesn’t provoke a result of sometimes discomfort and adding grist for your mill, it’s not taking advantage of the great thing theater can do,” Saint says.

 

The play has led to interesting rehearsals and thoughtful conversations among the creative team, according to Saint. He says those conversations reflect the time of the play’s setting, when people couldn’t just turn on a cable network that fits their point of view, or follow websites that support just about any opinion or theory.

 

“There was a lot more direct communication, depending on how open the people were,” Saint says. “And with this play, we push that open.”

Pictured Above:  Frederick Weller, Ali Marsh & Ryan George. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The team is also having fun with the setting, which Saint describes as “the Mad Men era”, where alcohol flowed.  Another fun part of the process is working with the design team to capture that late-’60s aesthetic. 

 

“Today, we were all about looking at the fiber of the different shag rugs, and all the 1968 outfits and costumes,” he says, though he did say there is one habit the play had to tone down.

 

“You can’t smoke a lot of cigarettes on stage anymore, so we just have to forego that,” Saint says. “But there is a pregnant woman in the play who has a Coke, and a guy says, ‘You’re not one of those people who believes that nonsense about not drinking when you’re pregnant?’”

Pictured Above: Ryan George & Fred Weller. Photo Credit:  T. Charles Erickson

Saint will follow up The Club by directing Tick, Tick…Boom!, an autobiographical musical by the late Jonathan Larson (who also wrote Rent) about a young composer who is doubting his career choice as he writes a musical.

 

“I directed the original production with Jonathan Larson, who was one of my best friends in the world,” Saint says. “We did three different versions of Tick, Tick… Boom! when he was still alive back in the ’90s. So I feel such a close tie to that play and to that material because of my friendship with Jonathan.”

 

For Saint, directing these two shows back-to-back, one a world premiere, and one that has a personal meaning, is making for an interesting conclusion to George Street’s season.

“One of the things I love about doing a new play is that you get to be part of that process of shaping the play, with the writer in the room,” he says. “And then, with Tick, Tick… Boom, it’s going to be, for me, the emotional memory lane of going back to Jonathan and our relationship.”

 

The Club will be performed at George Street Playhouse, 11 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, Feb. 27 through March 17. For tickets and information, go to www.georgestreetplayhouse.org or call 732-246-7717.

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