Stage company eases writer’s cramp with laughs

Kristen Jacobsen, left, playing Anne, and Rob Richnavsky, playing Will Shakespeare, rehearse a scene from ‘Writer’s Cramp (Or How Will Shakespeare Got Into Show Biz).’ Monday night. The play will open Saturday at the Phoenix Stage Company in Naugatuck.

NAUGATUCK — The old bard’s at it again.

The Phoenix Stage Company is poised to take its audience on a rollicking journey through pseudo-history with its latest play, “Writer’s Cramp (Or How Will Shakespeare Got Into Show Biz.”

The play reimagines the “lost years” of Shakespeare’s life, when he disappeared from public records and into public myth.

“It’s a comedic look at his life before he became a famous playwright and how he got his inspiration to write his plays,” said Ed Bassett, co-founder of the Phoenix and director of the play.

Expect plenty of witty dialogue and one-liners as Shakespeare navigates the pitfalls of domestic life in his quest to become a true poet.

Six other players join Shakespeare, played by East Haven’s Rob Richnavsky, on the stage in this bawdy look at the bard’s life circa 1585.

Naugatuck resident Rick Dufresne will take the stage for the first time as Old Jack, a travelling actor and the play’s narrator.

Dufresne said he decided to try out after the encouragement of a friend in one of the Phoenix’s other productions. His only other experience in acting was playing Santa Claus for area children and presenting sales seminars for engineers. When asked what part he was trying out for, Dufresne put down, “old bald guy.” Luckily for him, that was one of the roles available.

“I am absolutely loving it. … It’s really interesting to be learning something from the young kids,” Dufresne said, referring to the other actors, mostly several decades his junior.

Dufresne said his church group has already reserved 41 seats for his final performance.

“It’s nice to be able to be active in something in the community,” Dufresne said.

The play is a new work by New Mexican author Larry Glaister. It won the Connecticut Playwright’s Project at the Thomaston Opera House in 2009, as well as several playwriting awards in other states.

“We are actually the first theatre that will be producing this work and paying royalties to do so,” Bassett said. “This is a really important step for the author to have his play published,” Bassett said.

Since winning the Connecticut playwriting competition, Glaister rewrote the play to work out some of the kinks. In order to get published, Bassett said the play needs to be performed in an established theatre and reviewed by a critic.

“It’s one of the easier plays that I’ve every directed because it is so well written. It flows and you don’t have to force a lot,” Bassett said.

Bassett said the Phoenix’s audiences like seeing theatrical readings and new works.

“This just seemed like a good fit for us,” Bassett said.

Bassett said he contacted Glaister when the Phoenix decided to do the play, and cast members have been e-mailing him with questions.

“It was nice to have that contact with the playwright,” Bassett said.

Glaister will be flying out for the play’s opening Saturday night. Bassett said he hopes the playwright will enjoy the performance.

“As a playwright myself, I know what it’s like when you turn your work over to someone and you see it and it’s not exactly what you have in mind. … As a director, you have a 50/50 shot of getting it exactly the nail on the head as to what the writer meant,” Bassett said.

From left, Chris Evans, playing Hamnet, Kristen Jacobsen, playing Anne, Bailey Cummings, playing Ned, and Rick Dufresne, playing Old Jack, rehearse a scene from ‘Writer’s Cramp (Or How Will Shakespeare Got Into Show Biz).’ Monday night. The play will open Saturday at the Phoenix Stage Company in Naugatuck.

Bassett felt he kept it true to the writer’s intentions while adding some Phoenix flavor to it.

“We know what our audiences like and what kind of comedy they like,” Bassett said.

With the Phoenix’s intimate setting, Bassett said audiences are not afraid to relax and have a good laugh.

Although the play is about Shakespeare, Bassett said the language is not Shakespearian.

“By focusing on the comedy … it just makes it really easy to have fun with the show,” he said.

He said the play is accessible to everyone.

“If you know Shakespeare, you will get all the inferences to the plays and quotes. If you don’t know Shakespeare, the comedy built around it supports the material,” Bassett said.

The Rundown

What: “Writer’s Cramp, or How Will Shakespeare got into Show Biz”

When: Jan.21, 27, 28, Feb. 3 & 4 at 8 p.m.

Jan. 22 & 29 at 2 p.m.

Where: Phoenix Stage Company, 686 Rubber Ave., Naugatuck


Regular Admission:  $22

Students & Teachers:  $18

Seniors (60+):  $18

Groups of 12 or more:  $17

Box office: (203) 632-8546