Turning 35, with some new plays to mark the occasion: Chester Theatre unveils its 2024 program

Easthampton actor and writer Jay Sefton, who did a workshop production of his one-man play, “Unreconciled,” at CTC in 2023, brings back the finished play there this summer.

Easthampton actor and writer Jay Sefton, who did a workshop production of his one-man play, “Unreconciled,” at CTC in 2023, brings back the finished play there this summer. Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

Abuzar Farrukh plays an unexpected visitor to a small English village in “Big Blue Sky” at CTC. 

Abuzar Farrukh plays an unexpected visitor to a small English village in “Big Blue Sky” at CTC.  Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

Tara Franklin, co-producing artistic director of Chester Theatre Company, will star in CTC’s opening play this summer, “The Thin Place.”

Tara Franklin, co-producing artistic director of Chester Theatre Company, will star in CTC’s opening play this summer, “The Thin Place.” Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

James Barry, co-producing artistic director of CTC, plays a key role in “Big Blue Sky,” a play that will close the 2024 season at Chester Theatre. He’s also directing “Unreconciled.”

James Barry, co-producing artistic director of CTC, plays a key role in “Big Blue Sky,” a play that will close the 2024 season at Chester Theatre. He’s also directing “Unreconciled.” Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

Young Valley actor Hero Marguerite, who made her CTC debut last summer in a production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” returns this year in “Big Blue Sky.” 

Young Valley actor Hero Marguerite, who made her CTC debut last summer in a production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” returns this year in “Big Blue Sky.”  Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

Veteran stage and screen actor Keira Naughton will direct the world premiere of “Will Sacrifice,” a comedy written by Julie McKee, at CTC this summer.

Veteran stage and screen actor Keira Naughton will direct the world premiere of “Will Sacrifice,” a comedy written by Julie McKee, at CTC this summer. Image courtesy Chester Theatre Company

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 5:18 PM

Chester Theatre Company turns 35 this year, and for its 2024 season, the ensemble is throwing in some new wrinkles to mark the occasion, from the world premiere of two new plays, the addition of some Friday matinee shows, and a production that the New York Times has called “haunting,” with a “beautifully musical” structure.

It’s the second year of leading CTC for James Barry and Tara Franklin, the two veteran Berkshire County thespians who have long track records with the company as performers and directors. They took over as co-producing artistic directors last year from former director Daniel Elihu Kramer, who had led CTC since 2015.

In an email, Barry and Franklin, who are married, said the 2024 season “has something for everyone — mystery, heart, comedy, romance — a bold and refreshing selection of plays that make good on our commitment to delivering the best contemporary work in a range of theatrical styles.”

The new season launches June 20-30 with the mystery element with “The Thin Place,” a drama by Lucas Hnath centered on a transplanted English medium and spiritualist, Linda, and her meeting with an American client, Hilda (played by Tara Franklin), who wants to reconnect with her dead grandmother through that “thin place, the fragile boundary between our world and the other one.”

The play earned mostly favorable reviews after its New York premiere in late 2019, with critics noting the production’s eerie atmosphere, the uneasy relationship between Linda and Hilda, and a plot twist stemming from the introduction of two other characters.

“This being a story about fear and our hunger for it, suspense is the mode,” The New York Times wrote. “‘The Thin Place’ keeps on haunting because it presses against the deepest human longings not only for connection but also for exposure.”

Next on CTC’s schedule is “Unreconciled,” a one-man play that had short workshop productions at CTC and at CitySpace in Easthampton last year but will make its debut as a finished play July 4-14.

“It’s really a tour de force,” Barry, who directed the play last year, told the Gazette at the time.

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“Unreconciled,” starring Easthampton actor and writer Jay Sefton, is an energetic production in which Sefton recalls being abused by a Catholic priest in the Philadelphia area as a teen and how that experience reverberated through his life.

In a sold-out performance at CitySpace last November, Sefton, who co-wrote “Unreconciled,” put on an acting clinic, inhabiting 12 different characters, including his late father, some of his school classmates, lawyers with the Philadelphia diocese, and the abusive priest, a Father Smith.

The play “certainly has its dark moments, but it’s also full of humor and love and empathy, just really moving and powerful,” Barry told the Gazette. He’ll direct the play again this summer.

According to CTC, one audience member who saw the play in Chester last summer said “I’ve been coming to Chester Theatre since the days of Vincent Dowling, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything as powerful or moving at your theater as ‘Unreconciled.’”

CTC will offer another one-man performance during a two-day, mid-summer break (July 14-15) with “It Goes Without Saying,” an autobiographical tale by Broadway veteran and noted mime Bill Bowers in which he recalls growing up in Montana, taking on a wild array of performance roles, and studying with Marcel Marceau.

Bowers, whose Broadway resume includes roles in productions such as “The Lion King” and “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” also appeared last summer in CTC’s “The Making of a Great Moment.” His work in “It Goes Without Saying” has earned comparisons to David Sedaris.

Chester Theatre Company’s full season then continues with “Will Sacrifice,” from July 26 to Aug. 4, and “Big Blue Sky,” Aug. 8-18.

This will be the premiere of “Will Sacrifice,” a comedy written by Julie McKee, in which Bridget, a New York City woman with a troubled marriage, cramped apartment, and stagnant career, tries to find refuge in a country home in the Catskills, where real estate is up for grabs in the wake of 9/11.

As program notes put it, “Armed with a limited budget and plenty of nervous enthusiasm, [Bridget] enlists the aid of Mr. Sunshine to help her realize her dream.”

“Will Sacrifice” will be directed by Keira Naughton, a veteran stage and screen actor who has directed three past CTC plays.

“Big Blue Sky” is set in a seaside town in East Yorkshire, England, where Lauren, a young woman who waits tables at a cafe, mourns the loss of her mum and now has a difficult relationship with her father, Dennis, who’s become withdrawn and ornery following the death of his wife.

But an unexpected arrival in town of a young conservationist, Ed, will alter the dynamics of the characters in what program notes call “a beautifully tender play … that explores nature’s influence on love, friendship and family — the belief that anyone who’s lost can be found, even in the remotest of places.”

Barry, who plays Dennis in “Big Blue Sky,” notes that the play will be directed by another CTC veteran, James Warwick, who he’s worked with “since the 90’s when he directed us in productions at UConn/CT Rep. We’re so pleased to have him back at CTC to direct this life-affirming love story.”

For more information on this summer’s schedule, ticket prices, and post-play events, visit chestertheatre.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.