Just a block off the New Haven green you’ll find EBM Vintage, a market that specializes in all sorts of antique goods from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. If you go past the typewriters and kitchen gadgets, rotary phones, books, home décor and a few racks of clothes, you’ll find a small, cozy black box theater that’s home to the New Haven Theater Company. About 40 seats are lined up in three or four rows. The stage, only raised a step off the ground, is currently split into two settings; a homey apartment complete with couch sits to the right with a dilapidated and dirty living room to the left. The New Haven Theater Company [NHTC] is gearing up for the first show of their season, “Love Song” by John Kolvenback, which will be followed by Jordan Harrison’s “Marjorie Prime” and Dale Wasserman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”
I first went to this unconventional theater space In March 2007 to review a production of “Trevor” and have been a fan ever since. Back then, I wrote that “I walked out feeling the buzz one might associate with a surprisingly prosperous blind date” and the admiration for their work hasn’t diminished. NHTC is a small collective – about 12 people – who were all invited to join by other members. They pick the plays together, choose who will act and who will direct, they paint the sets themselves and even hand out their own programs at the door. When they need to find new actors, they hold auditions or look among family and friends. In the best way, seeing a show by the New Haven Theater Company is like going back to the days when you and your friends would put on shows in your living room. Only the living room has a few more seats and all your friends are very talented at performing in and mounting contemporary plays.
The co-directors of “Love Song,” John Watson and Margaret Mann, have been with the group for around ten years and they say it’s the commitment to creating compelling, professional-grade theater in a fun environment that keeps them coming back. “It's not a lot of egos. Everybody's busy,” Mann says, “We just want to do the best show we can.”
“It is fun and really the most pleasant theater company I've ever worked with,” Watson echoes, “Just good, talented people who are not a bunch of jerks. We do it because we love it and we know we're crazy.”
That urge to create something new and just a little crazy is apparent in their selection. NHTC often forgoes classics or community theater staples, instead promoting work by playwrights that only hardcore theater fans would be familiar with. The last few seasons have seen work by Will Eno and Lucas Hnath, as well as the company putting their own spin on plays by Pinter and Simon. With ticket prices at $20, this is the ideal way to introduce New Haven residents to some wonderful up-and-coming playwrights.
“Love Song” was suggested by a friend of a company member and Watson immediately knew it would be a perfect fit for NHTC. “It’s unusual and funny and sexy,” he thought “our audience will like it and we can cast it." Since then, five actors jumped on board (three are related) and the show opens on November 8. “It's about love, sort of,” Watson explains, “There’s a brother and a sister. She's married and she's functioning in the world but she has some signs of trauma. The brother is really damaged. He is not functioning in the world. Another character shows up as a love interest for him and that really transforms him.”
“It's not sitcom stuff,” Mann continues, “It's just the way people talk. There's a lot of emotion in this play without it being a melodrama.” Things have been going smoothly ever since the first rehearsal. “If it plays just as well as it did at the first table reading I would be okay with it,” Watson said, “And it's just steadily gotten better. I really think it's going beautifully. This is a very well-written script. It's funny and its character driven.”
After “Love Song” concludes on November 17, NHTC will present “Marjorie Prime” directed by Trevor Williams opening on February 28. It will conclude with “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” directed by George Kulp opening on April 25.