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Rockland’s Diverse Theater Scene

Rockland’s Diverse Theater Scene

Cast of Pride and Prejudice points to open captioning board above Elmwood’s stage. Photo: Kathy McCarthy Simpson

On February 2, patrons in the Elmwood Community Playhouse saw something onstage that nobody had seen before in the 75-year history of the Nyack theater.   

As the actors of The Lifespan of a Fact performance spoke their lines that night, the words heard could simultaneously be seen, thanks to an electronic panel perched above the set that displayed every word spoken.

The Elmwood enhancement is a godsend for hearing-impaired theatergoers. Through the services of C2, an assistive technology company, captioner Robert Clark transmits the onstage dialogue verbatim in real time.

The idea of open captioning was brought to Elmwood by Jonathan Taylor, president of the NYC chapter of Hearing Loss Association of America, and Elmwood member Darren Carfano. The Lifespan of a Fact director Claudia Stefany tapped her contacts at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Putnam County to connect Elmwood with C2. Taylor praised Elmwood as “a great friend of the hearing loss community.”

Open captioning is scheduled to be used at the first Thursday performance of each new Elmwood show. The next open caption performances are June 1 (The Shape of Things) and August 3 (A Sherlock Holmes Showcase).

The cost of captioning to Elmwood is underwritten in part by a generous grant from the Orange & Rockland Community Partnership Program.

Penguin Rep Theatre: From Barn to Broadway & Beyond 

Penguin Rep rivals what you can see in Manhattan.” —Edie Falco of The Sopranos, pictured here with Penguin Rep’s Founding Artistic Director Joseph Brancato. Photo: Dorice Arden Madronero

In Stony Point sits a stately hay barn of the 1880s, where audiences are entertained by top-quality performers and writers. That’s what makes Penguin Rep Theatre one of the most beloved performance spaces in our region. 

No matter which production is on the boards, a sense of wonder permeates the place. The joy of discovery and of presentation that rarely fails to surprise and satisfy audiences comes straight from the top, in the persons of Founding Artistic Director Joseph Brancato and Executive Director Andrew Horn. 

Prior to the mainstage start of its 45th season, now underway and titled “A Celebration of Laughter and Love,” Penguin presented Emmy-winning actress Edie Falco in a workshop reading of Jason Pizzarello’s The Brat, directed by veteran film actor Bob Balaban.

Brancato and Horn justly pride themselves on the rock-solid professionalism of their product.  Penguin Rep is what is known as an “Equity House,” employing members of the Actors’ Equity Association. “When I started the theater, I was not interested in seeing my dentist play Tevye,” quips Brancato, whose droll delivery enlivens the welcoming remarks he makes to audiences before each performance. 

Shades Repertory Theater: Revisiting Black History 

Samuel Harps, Founder and Artistic Director of Shades Repertory Theater

There’s a well-worn actors’ adage: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

Rockland theater veteran Samuel Harps might add to that, “Theater is hard. Local theater is harder.” He would know. Now in his mid-sixties, he’s been at it for decades as a playwright, director, and mentor to young people.

“I feel like a nomad,” says Harps, Founder and Artistic Director of Shades Repertory Theater. “After so many years of having your own place, you get complacent with a sense of comfort.” For about 15 years starting in 2002, that place was Central Presbyterian Church in Haverstraw, where he started the theater with Pastor Genaro Marin. Following that, he found a home at Garnerville Art Center, until the pandemic.

Now, he says, RoCA “will be my Rockland base for staging works in the future.” But he also likes being bicoastal. East of the Hudson, he’s found a “haven” at Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT).

As an African American, Harps has a particular interest in historical material that explores “unique stories of the human experience,” centered on Black culture.

His newest project, In Search of a New Land, tells the tale of Paul Cuffe, a wealthy 17th-century entrepreneur who set out to colonize Sierra Leone, which had become a settlement for freed slaves. The play will be performed June 23-24 at WCT (with a cast of local actors, including this writer).

“It took us 20 years to build an audience in Rockland,” Harps says. His efforts earned him The Arts Council of Rockland County Executive Award for Literary Artist. “I love the art of writing,” he says. “So many stories are untold about African American history. Every time I turn over a new stone, a new story comes up.” 

Antrim Playhouse: On the Move

Jim Guarasci, President of Antrim Playhouse

“Antrim Playhouse is relocating to The Manse Barn on the grounds of the Tappan Reformed Church. We are renovating the historic barn (once used as a USO hall to entertain our troops) into a state-of-the-art community theater. We look forward to seeing everyone there later this year,” says Jim Guarasci, President of Antrim Playhouse. 

Bruce Apar, Editorial Director of Rivertown Magazine, also acts and reviews Hudson Valley theater for 

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