Over the past 80 years, the Peterborough Players have become a staple of the New Hampshire theater world, producing compelling dramas and witty comedies.
That tradition continues at the Monadnock Region theater with the premiere of playwright Charles Morey’s humorous tale about “The Granite State” on Wednesday, July 23. The production will run through Aug. 3, It follows Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” which is slated to run through Sunday. As the only professional theater in the Monadnock region and one of the oldest summer stock companies in the country, the Players, which is closed during the off season from October through May, have staged more than 300 plays over the years, with seven Main Stage productions presented each season.
Winner of six New Hampshire Theatre Awards, including those for best production and best director, Morey was the Player’s artistic director from 1977 to 1988. He’s written more than 12 plays, including “Figaro” and “Laughing Stock.” He began his career as an actor working with many New York and regional theaters, including the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Ensemble Studio Theatre, the New Dramatists, Ark Theatre Company, The Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, Syracuse Stage and Theatre by the Sea.
With his latest play, Morey centers on a fictitious character named George Gordon, who is living a peaceful life in Hancock, where he wins a prestigious book award and the $2 million prize that comes with it. But, not unlike what happens to some lottery winners, exes, distant relatives and long lost friends suddenly come out of the woodwork.
Joyce Cohen, who married Morey in 1982, plays Anna, George’s understanding second ex-wife.
“I have to say, I am very excited about this play,” she said. “I think it is funny and witty. Charles’ use of language makes me think of a comedy of manners — the kind of wonderful verbal gymnastics that is required of one in Shaw or Coward plays. His play examines aging and creativity with humor and tenderness, and it plays as a farce at times. This will be lots of fun for the actors and hopefully for the audience.”
Morey concurs with his wife about the Noel Coward comparison.
“I love Coward, have directed a lot of Coward, and I think his play ‘Private Lives’ is just about as perfect a comedy as has ever been written,” Morey said. “I played both male roles as a young actor, have subsequently directed it twice, and would direct it again in an instant if anyone would ask.
“One of the two scenes in ‘The Granite State’ that I sketched out in 2010 was the beginning of the dinner table scene, and it was very deliberately a homage to the breakfast scene in the third act of ‘Private Lives’.”
Morey began work on The Granite State in 2010, writing an initial 10 pages which he shelved to, as he says, “ferment.” He spent three years writing his play “The Salamander’s Tale,” and after a brief break, immersed himself in work on “The Granite State.”
“It seemed those years of ‘fermentation’ had paid off as the play had in some ways formed itself in my subconscious, and I was able to sit down and let it take on its own life, as it became something much richer, deeper, perhaps more personal, and, I hope, every bit as funny, as the ‘geriatric sex farce’ I had once envisioned,” Morey said. “In August 2013, I started working on ‘The Granite State’ all day, every day, and had a solid first draft by the end of September that in many ways had just kind of fallen in to place.”
In addition to Cohen, The Peterborough Players cast features Anderson Matthews as George; Tom Frey as filmmaker son Tom; Karron Graves as Tom’s fiancée, Carrie, who works for George’s agent; Beverly Ward as first ex-wife Claire, a former hippie who is now a Texas tea party Republican; and Lisa Bostnar as George’s Russian lover, Yelizaveta, a stripper with a soul.