Former firefighter forms new theater company

By Ron Hellman

“Why not do something that scares us and is challenging? What else are we here for?

James Lapine, director and three-time Tony Award winner for Best Book of a Musical

Joe DiPietro is not a guy who frightens easily. After all, he was a New York City firefighter and a baseball umpire —neither are occupations for shrinking violets. He was a fire marshal in Queens and ended that career as a lieutenant in Brooklyn. Now, along with his partner Eva Dolan, he has taken on the challenge of forming a new theater company, the Hardscrabble Theatre, out in Farmingdale.

DiPietro (not to be confused with the playwright of the same name) was born and raised in Astoria and attended St. John’s University. Recently, he has spent a lot of time with the Parkside Players in Forest Hills, performing in their productions of “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Black Coffee,” and stage-managing for “Cabaret.” Elsewhere he took on Shakespeare with a role in “Taming of the Shrew,” and by all accounts was able to conquer iambic pentameter.

Dolan, the other half of the Hardscrabble team, hails from Saratoga Springs in upstate New York where she was the Education Coordinator of the Saratoga County Arts Council for 10 years. She is an actor, writer, and producer with regional and national credits in theater, television, film, and commercials. With DiPietro, she wrote the play “Gutmusik.”

For their first theater venture, the team decided to play it safe — after drinking some elderberry wine — by producing the classic “Arsenic and Old Lace,” by Joseph Kesselring. The comedy originally ran for more than three years on Broadway in the early 1940s, was made into a film starring Cary Grant, and since has had countless revivals on the community theater circuit. Under the direction of Evan Donnellan, Hardscrabble debuts with “Arsenic” May 26 to June 4 at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in Farmingdale. For more information contact info@hardscrabbletheater.com.

Coming up in the lusty month of May are three shows that are rarely, if ever, produced in Queens, deserving of a round of applause from me — and your attendance. The Royal Star Theatre in Jamaica Estates has the musical version of “Little Women,” based on the Louisa May Alcott classic about the lovable March sisters and their mother Marmee (running April 29 to May 7). It had a 2005 run on Broadway, starring Sutton Foster. The local cast includes yet another opportunity for Jim Haines groupies.

“Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz, will be performed the first three weekends in May by the Douglaston Community Theatre. The play was Off Broadway and On a few years ago, and features family intrigue with political overtones.

Last but never least is APAC, the highly acclaimed Astoria Performing Arts Center, with its production of “Raisin,” based on Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” winner of the 1974 Tony Award for Best Musical and a Grammy Award for Best Score. You can catch it May 4-27.

Best of all, baseball is back — Let’s Go METS!

Contact Ron Hellman at RBHOFC@gmail.com.

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