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Premiere Stages to Present 2013 Play Festival Winner 'The Beautiful Dark'

Heather Kelley

Thursday, August 8, 2013 • 1:53pm

Premiere Stages, the professional theater company in residence at Kean University, will present the winner of its 2013 Play FestivalThe Beautiful Dark by Erik Gernand, Sept. 5-22 in the Zella Fry Theatre. Selected from 400 submissions, this affecting new play tackles a subject ripped straight from the headlines. A woman's life is turned upside down when she suspects that her teenage son may be planning an attack on a school. Is her son capable of the unthinkable? And if she's wrong, will she ruin any chance he has at a normal life? A powerful and thought-provoking new play, The Beautiful Dark is a topical, non-political examination of a topic that haunts the American psyche. 

“Gun violence is a politically charged issue that has divided America,” stated John Wooten, producing artistic director of Premiere Stages, who is directing the production. “But Erik’s important new play is apolitical and points no fingers. Rather, it is an incisive, moving story of a modern mother’s ultimate dilemma.” 

The Beautiful Dark will feature Dana Benningfield (pictured) as Nancy, and Kean student Daniel Pellicano as her son, Jacob. Benningfield’s performance as Pidge in New Jersey Repertory Company’s production of Cabin Fever earned her a “Best Featured Actress” nomination from The Star-Ledger; Daniel Pellicano recently appeared in the National Geographic television series, Inside the American Mob.  Premiere’s cast also includes Steven Rishard (Tom), who appeared in the Public Theater/Shakespeare in the Park production of The Bacchae; Mitch Greenberg (Mr. Marsh), a veteran of multiple Broadway productions, including Laughter on the 23rd Floor; Kean student Cara Ganski (Sydney), who appeared last season in the Premiere Stages production of Farragut North; and Logan Riley Bruner (Charlie), who appeared in Keen Company’s acclaimed revival of Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky. 

Playwright Erik Gernand was the winner of T. Schreiber Studio’s 2012 New Works Project, and a finalist for the Woodward/Newman Drama Award. His award-winning short films have screened at more than 100 film festivals worldwide, and been broadcast on IFC, PBS, and the Logo Channel. Director John Wooten has developed and produced numerous new plays at Premiere and elsewhere, including Follow Me to Nellie’sThe Good Counselor, and Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, all of which have been honored by the American Theatre Critics Association. He founded the Premiere Stages Play Festival, an annual competition for playwrights born or residing in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, which has received over 2000 submissions since 2005. 

Premiere Stages will partner with the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association in support of The Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play for the production. Inspired by the senseless violence in Newtown, Connecticut, and in an effort to restore the storm-ravaged East Coast after Hurricane Sandy, The Sandy Ground Project endeavors to build 26 playgrounds as living memorials to all children who have been victims of violence while creating safe, fun places for children to be children. A special benefit performance of The Beautiful Dark is scheduled for Sunday, September 15, beginning with a pre-show reception at Kean University’s Human Rights Institute at 1 p.m. The performance, scheduled for 3 p.m., will be followed by dessert and champagne with the cast. Tickets are $100 ($70 of which is tax-deductible), with a portion of the proceeds to benefit The Sandy Ground Project. To purchase tickets to the benefit, call (908) 737-4092. For more information on The Sandy Ground Project, please visit http://www.thesandygroundproject.org/. 

Premiere’s popular post-show talk-back series continues with a Q & A with Erik Gernand, moderated by Resident Dramaturg Clare Drobot, on Sunday, Sept. 8 immediately following the 3 p.m. performance. For a full schedule of upcoming talk-backs, please call 908-737-4092. 

The Beautiful Dark runs Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m.  Standard tickets are $30, with discounted rates of $20 for seniors, and $15 for students and patrons with disabilities. Significant discounts for groups of 10 or more apply. All performances take place in the Zella Fry Theatre in Kean's Vaughn Eames Hall. To purchase tickets or request a season brochure, call the Kean Stage Box Office at (908) 737-SHOW (7469) or visit Premiere Stages online at www.kean.edu/premierestages. 

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