Fall Arts Preview: A new chapter in Warren

2nd Story expands; plus, a full slate of dramatic expression
By  |  September 11, 2013

'SIMPLE YET COMPLEX' Val Westgate, Jeff Church, Ara Boghigian, and Marion Carey in 2nd Story's 'Lobby Hero.' [Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.]

As successful theaters go, 2nd Story Theatre in Warren is especially thriving. As in opening a second performance space this month, and this summer closing a $100,000 deal with the city to purchase a former school for set-building and rehearsals.

Combining talent and ambition, artistic director Ed Shea has developed 2nd Story in leaps and bounds since its first performances in 1978. That was when co-founder Pat Hegnauer was directing his acting, above Harry’s Harbor Front Restaurant on Long Wharf in Newport, hence the theater’s name. There have been periods of dormancy, with Shea joining the company at Trinity Rep for 12 years and becoming a late-blooming undergrad at Brown University.

But Warren became 2nd Story’s home in 2001 when Shea and Lynne Collinson, his former 2nd Story acting colleague, reestablished the theater in a large building on Market Street — in its second story, of course.

Shea has never stayed still for long, so why should his theater? When did he feel it needed to expand? “I found that the theatre was in a state of maintenance, not growth,” he said in an email exchange. “I looked around and saw an audience that wanted more plays; an acting company that wanted more roles; a staff that wanted more challenges; and a building that could house it all. Drama is about growth, transformation, and change. Shouldn’t the theatre be a reflection of that?”

Have there been plays he wanted to produce that he didn’t because they wouldn’t fill the 150 upstairs seats?

“Absolutely. There always will be. But our second venue will shorten that list. The DownStage season consists mostly of plays that, in my view, wouldn’t fill UpStage. Still, I’m a theatrical populist at heart. And I say that with pride. The challenge is to choose a season, up or down, that they want to see and that I want to do.”

Is there a particular play he wouldn’t do upstairs that he’s especially pleased with being able to stage in the 70-seat downstairs space?

Lobby Hero is the perfect vehicle to christen our new venue. It’s small, smart, sophisticated, and significant. It’s modern and timeless, entertaining and existential, funny and philosophical, simple yet complex. It challenges everyone: actors, designers, director, and audience. I expect everyone to come away with a greater knowledge of themselves: Gnothi seauton. A mirror up to nature. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

A wide variety of plays are slated for 2nd Story’s two theaters this fall. In the new downstairs space, Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero (through October 6) is set in the entryway of a Manhattan apartment building, where we follow a twentysomething doorman’s interactions. Sons of the Prophet , by Stephen Karam (October 25-November 24) is a comedy about, believe it or not, chronic pain. In the upstairs theater, Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa (September 27-October 27), set in Ireland’s County Donegal, recollects the narrator’s summer as a seven-year-old in his aunts’ country cottage. George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan (November 15-December 15) is an examination of the life and trial of Joan of Arc. And in a special event at the Bristol Statehouse, the theater will present William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony , with Golda Meir looking back on her life on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (November 8-December 8).

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