Queens needs better theatrical treats

By Ronald B. Hellman

Happy Halloween to all you trick-or-treaters! Let’s see if I have any goodies for you before you slip into your costumes. Perhaps a poll will keep you interested — Election Day is almost here and it seems these days that almost all political decisions are based on what those in office think the electorate thinks.

Here’s my poll. Tell me how many of these play titles are familiar to you: “Venus in Fur,” “Clybourne Park,” “Good People,” “Other Desert Cities,” “4000 Miles,” “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike,” “Detroit” and “God of Carnage”.

How many have you seen?

And what do you know of these playwrights: Christopher Durang, Sarah Ruhl, John Patrick Shanley, Tom Stoppard, August Wilson and Amy Herzog?

According to American Theatre magazine, published by Theatre Communications Group, those plays and playwrights were among the most produced in our country in the last year or two. If you’re a Manhattan theatergoer, you probably hit these lists out of the park. But if you rely on what you can get to see in Queens, it’s more likely you struck out. (Baseball references courtesy of the World Series.)

The reality is that most theater in Queens, and on Long Island, is limited to comedies and mysteries that are generally known to you, as well as hit musicals from Broadway’s golden age. Challenging and edgy contemporary work, available Elsewhere, USA, seldom gets produced on this side of the East River. There are a few exceptions, so seek them out.

I often wonder why some projects seem to take off, while others lie dormant. A case in point, highlighted in my columns and in a couple of this paper’s recent editorials, is to do something about the lack of modern, comfortable and plentiful theater venues in Queens, especially compared to two of our neighbors (one to our south, the other to our west). Sorry, no action yet to report.

But in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a relic from the 1964-65 World’s Fair — the New York State Pavilion — with apparently no practical use, is being promoted for restoration at a cost of as much as $70 million (presumably from taxpayers). There seems to be a lot of support for this proposal, including from the borough president’s office. By comparison, the Colosseum, one of the great works from the Roman Empire, constructed 70-80AD, and a worldwide tourist attraction, is undergoing a facelift for a privately donated $35 million.

Two playwrights I left off the list of most produced are being represented by two of our major local groups. The Gingerbread Players, playing at St. Luke’s Church in Forest Hills, has “Three Sisters,” by Anton Chekhov, on Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 8-16. The quality of this company and this classic play, along with a ticket price of a mere $12, makes this a bargain not to be missed. Don’t get them confused with “The Gingerbread Lady,” Neil Simon’s dark comedy, which is offered by the Douglaston Community Theatre, now in its 64th year, running on weekends Nov. 14-22 at the Zion Episcopal Church.

Michael Wolf, the president of DCT and an all-around popular guy, ventures into East Williston for a role in the rarely performed “The Big Knife,” by Clifford Odets, playing Nov. 8-23 at the Community Church.

One of the biggest of musical blockbusters, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” gets a showing Nov. 1-16 at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center, by Theatre by the Bay in Bayside. Back in Forest Hills, the long-lived Parkside Players present “The Foreigner,” a clever comedy by Larry Shue, Nov. 22-Dec. 6, at the Grace Lutheran Church.

There you have it, four churches and a synagogue.

You might want to try The Killing Kompany for one of their comedy/murder mystery dinner shows at Riccardo’s in Astoria on Nov. 7. They’re in a catering hall.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBHOF‌C@gma‌il.com