Vol. 16, No. 19 Sept. 25 - Oct. 8, 2003


Curtains Open on New Theater Company at Lehman


The signs appeared about a month ago: "A Professional Theater Company in the Bronx?" 

The cryptic black-and-white placards created quite a buzz around the leafy Lehman College campus. "People have really been talking about them," said Dante Albertie, director of Lehman's Lovinger Theatre. Albertie finally replaced the enigmatic signs with more descriptive ones - listing the showtimes for the inaugural run of the Bronx Repertory Company, Lehman's very own professional drama group.

"It was my brainchild," said Albertie, 36, who joined Lehman a year ago after an 11-year stint directing the Belmont Italian-American Playhouse. This new company promises to offer high-quality theater with a unique twist - pairing experienced Lehman students and graduates with working New York actors. "I wanted to offer dramatic works that Bronx residents can be proud of," said Albertie, a native of the borough.

Debuting last week, the company's first undertaking - a double-bill of "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Savage in Limbo" - is something that many Bronx residents can relate to. Both plays take place in Bronx bars. Both deal with gritty, wounded characters who reveal their more vulnerable personas as the rapid-fire dialogue unfolds.

And both of the hour-long plays were penned by John Patrick Shanley, author of the 80s classic "Moonstruck," and a Bronx native and Lovinger supporter. "There's a good possibility he [Shanley] will come see the performance," Albertie said. There would be good reason for Shanley to come - this being the first time either play has been staged professionally in the Bronx. 

"Dante's chosen two plays that are so representative of the Bronx," said Victoria Sawyer, a native New Yorker and professional actor who plays the lead role in "Savage in Limbo." "They're about everyday people who are so thoughtful and profound."

The performances promise to be electric. Lovinger's Studio Theatre is an intimate space with its seating encircling the action. "We use every ounce of the stage," said Sawyer, looking onto the platform set simply with chairs, tables and a pitcher of beer. "The speed of the play is like lightning. It's very high energy," said Sawyer, who gets her adrenalin from Pepsi and Power Bars before rehearsals.

She also thrives on the rapport with the six other actors in the company. "We laugh with each other, and we really trust each other," Sawyer said. "We all come to the table ready to go."

Their enthusiasm has made for a well-casted crew. Chris Cole embodies the role of Danny - the foul-mouthed tough guy with a sensitive spot - clad in ripped jeans, a tank top, and knuckles laced with Band Aids. But his deep dimples reveal the softer side. 

For Albertie, the company is the culmination of a long-time dream - to push aspiring actors to higher levels of performance. Sawyer offers the crew vital experience in real world skills (like how to acquire an agent or where to get headshots). But primarily, she leads by example.

"Some of the young actors have never seen this kind of intensity and focus before," Albertie said. "It's really raising the game." 

For the company, the bar has been noticeably raised. "People really want to work here," said Cole, 29, a returning student who plays roles in both plays. "Usually people don't come on time, they don't know their lines, and they don't stay at rehearsals. It halts the process."

But with this show there wasn't even a possibility of slowing things down, with the 
rehearsal period crammed into a short three weeks instead of the usual eight. "I haven't taken a day off in two-and-a-half weeks," Albertie said. 

As one of only two professional theater companies in the Bronx, - Teatro Pregones, featuring Latino-oriented productions, is the other - Albertie is hoping the performances will attract others to Lehman's department. While there are 30 declared majors now, the program has room for 120 others.

Lehman's administration is also hoping to boost numbers, hiring three other full-time drama staff last year. "I came at a good time here," said Cole, originally from Iowa. "It's a natural place to come back to." 

Albertie hopes the cast's enthusiasm bodes well. "If people are really excited about it, maybe we'll have another show in the spring," he said. 

But the ever-bubbly Sawyer is even more confident. "Bronx Repertory is going to be huge," she said. "It's an amazing program and I hope they have me back."

Ed. Note: The Bronx Repertory Company's staging of "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" and "Savage in Limbo" runs until Sunday, Oct. 5. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Lovinger Theatre. Call the box office at (718) 960-8025 for ticket information.

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