Directors’ notes – “Coney Island Christmas”

Rochelle Flynn’s notes:

I first read “A Coney Island Christmas” late one night in the middle of June. I couldn’t

WebArt-ConeyIslandstop smiling even as my eyes filled with tears. I fell in love with the show for several reasons. As a first generation, only child of Jewish immigrant parents, I resonated deeply with the Abromowitz family and their struggles. As a woman, I appreciated the sense of empowerment and joy that Shirley feels when she truly finds her voice. As a human being, I applauded and embraced the play’s message of tolerance, understanding, and the essential connections we all have underneath our outer differences. Finally, I smiled and snickered at the pageant scenes with their all too familiar, endearingly goofy, awkward, panic-stricken, middle schoolers. Sigh! I was hooked. That was my initial visceral response.

Then I put on my “director hat” and thought, “Holy Cow! This is one complex technical show. I think I’m going to need some help.” Luckily that is just what BAT had in mind. Enter Maggie Larrick, the best tech-savvy, super creative, good-humored, collaborator/co-director a girl could ask for. Working together has been a delightful adventure as we have blended our unique perspectives into a solid unified vision.

Next, we auditioned and cast the wildest, zaniest, boldest, sweetest cast ever, amassed a stellar team of designers, found a wonderful, flexible crew willing to take on warp-speed scene changes and lo and behold, a thoroughly charming production began to take shape.

So, we hope you enjoy the results as much as we have enjoyed the journey to bring this amazing show to life. Speaking of life, I can only echo the family and say, “L’Chaim!”

Maggie Larrick’s notes:

“Coney Island Christmas” became part of Burien Actors Theatre’s 2013-14 season in an unusual way—at least insofar as choosing our season typically goes. While we were looking for a Christmas show to perform this season, Cyndi Upthegrove, Managing Trustee of the Highline Historical Society, asked if we would consider doing a play set in the 1930s.

The HHS was then in the planning stages of its “Hope in Hard Times” exhibit about the Great Depression era of the 1930s in Washington State. One of the HHS’ goals was to expand on the exhibit through events about the Depression put on by Burien organizations and businesses. Since the exhibit would run from mid-October through Jan. 4, we needed to find a Christmas show from or about the 1930s.

The search for a suitable script turned out to be far more difficult than anyone anticipated. Scripts written in the 1930s featured unfeasibly enormous casts and were dated in ways that wouldn’t entertain a modern audience. Finally, our artistic director, Eric Dickman, ran across “Coney Island Christmas,” a brand new, entertaining script with a manageably large cast written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies. The script moves between modern-day California and 1935 Brooklyn, and had been performed for the first time just last Christmas at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

When I first read the script, I immediately identified with Young Shirley’s struggle to overcome the obstacles preventing her from doing what she loves. I had been through that same fight, both as a youngster and an adult.

I also resonated to Mrs. Abramowitz’ fear and her need to hold her family’s Jewish identity intact. As a teen, I read Leon Uris’ novel “Exodus” about the creation and settlement of Israel, and became fascinated with what it would have been like to be discriminated against, threatened or killed simply because you were born Jewish. It seemed so unfair.

And I absolutely loved the hilarious comedy of the kids’ interactions and the pageants. The humor doesn’t come from one-liners, but rather from the reality of what could go wrong with a bunch of gawkily self-conscious pre-teens.

Turns out both Rochelle and I were interested in directing this play, but neither wanted to do such a complicated show alone. Rochelle was the perfect choice. Not only is she Jewish, but she had also brilliantly directed a delightful staged radio-play version of “A Christmas Story” for BAT that involved adult actors playing children, a challenge we would face with “Coney Island Christmas.” Plus Rochelle had shown a knack for drawing out the emotional heart in the shows she had directed for BAT, also critical to this play. In rehearsing this production, our visions have merged so completely that we constantly finish each other’s sentences and sometimes even speak in unison.

This production wouldn’t be what it is without the talent and long hours of hard work of our amazing designers, actors and crew. Please sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor!

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