Karen Ziemba won a Tony for best featured actress in a musical for her work in “Contact.” She was also nominated for “Curtains,” “Never Gonna Dance” and “Steel Pier.”
Gregg Edelman was a Tony nominee for “Into the Woods,” “1776,” “Anna Karenina” and “City of Angels.”
Broadway musicals in big Broadway houses.
This summer, Stony Point theatergoers can see these two Broadway veterans in a setting as intimate as a living room: the cozy confines of the 108-seat Penguin Rep.
Ziemba and Edelman open July 9 for a monthlong run in Steven Dietz’s “Shooting Star,” a two-person play about long-ago lovers who are reunited in a snowed-in airport.
It’s a non-musical, directed by Penguin’s artistic director Joe Brancato.
“There’s a lot more words, that’s for sure,” Ziemba jokes about the straight play.
The actress says she wanted to work with Brancato since he came to the rescue of a “fraught” reading of a play she worked on last year.
“He came in at the last minute and went ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ and all of a sudden this play had focus and it was interesting and the character direction was fabulous. And I said, ‘I want to work with that guy on something.’ So here I am.”
“Here” is in a play by Dietz, a playwright well-known in regional theater but not seen in New York. “Shooting Star” makes its New York premiere at Penguin Rep.
“(Joe) sent me the play and I read it and I was laughing out loud,” Ziemba says. “I thought: ‘That’s a good sign.’ And I was very choked up and very moved by it, too. So it has a little bit of everything.”
Ziemba’s character, Elena Carson, is still a bit of a hippie, after all these years — “out there, but very truthful,” the actress says.
Edelman, who plays Reed McAllister, says he had a similar reaction to the script.
“I think it’s very hard to write a really good two-person play,” he says. “It’s gotta have a lot of different colors to it and a lot of depth. This script had it. It took my heart and my mind on a trip. And I thought, ‘I’d really love to play this part.’”
The trip is into the memories of a long-ago life together.
“It’s amazing how present memories can be with us even though you’re 20 years removed from it,” he says.
Both actors say the intimacy of the show and the space pose different challenges for Brancato than they would for a Broadway musical’s director.
“When you’re doing a musical, the director is the top of the whole pyramid,” Edelman says. “But it’s a collaborative effort that includes more people: There’s the choreographer, the music director, there’s always the composer and lyricist adding things. And eight or nine people on stage on stage at one time. It becomes a whole other thing.
“Here, with us, it’s just (Karen) and me and Joe, It’s a very fulfilling experience. You get a chance to really collaborate with the director day in and day out. It’s the three of us creating this evening. I’m really enjoying it.
“A lot of times in a musical, it’s amazing how little time you have to explore stuff,” he says. “There’s a lot of things to do, a lot of things to coordinate. And you really have to move on pretty quickly.
“Whether it’s a song performance or a book scene, you don’t have a lot of time.”
“Everyone’s trying to get the director’s ear. ‘What do you think about this?’” she says.
“I was just recollecting ‘Curtains,’ where there were so many leading characters in that show. It’s like ‘How about if we?…’ ‘And what about…’ “And when I do…’ Scott Ellis was bombarded by people.”
Edelman also worked with Ellis, on a celebrated production of “1776” with a huge ensemble playing the Second Continental Congress.
“There were so many people on stage, and Scott said right at the very beginning, ‘I’m basically going to give a rule here. Anyone can walk anywhere they want at any time. And let’s just see what happens.’
“We were all like, ‘Really? Do you really mean this?’”
“We all kind of behaved, but he gave us so much freedom that we were all editing ourselves all the time.”
Edelman recalls, laughing, how senior actor Tom Aldredge got up and walked right through the middle of a scene.
“Everyone was thinking: ‘I can’t believe he’s walking down stage. … Oh, I wish I’d done that.’”
As for working in the friendly confines of the Bobbi Lewis Barn Theater on Crickettown Road, Ziemba seems unfazed.
“I kind of go back and forth (between large and small theaters),” she says. “You have to get to the last row or you have to allow yourself to do risky things in front of somebody sitting right in your light. I like it.”
Edelman agrees it’s suited to Penguin.
“Because this show is so intimate, I think it’s a perfect fit. I think we’re right in the pocket,” he says.
Elena and Reed live with regrets. She regrets what might have been; he regrets an unfulfilling life.
Edelman says these regrets aren’t debilitating, but they do weigh on these people.
“These kinds of regrets don’t turn them into people living on Skid Row, but it is something you carry with you. And the playwright explores that, what that means, what it is to live your life with that being there and what happens if you still have that little regret and you have a moment in time to perhaps re-examine that and maybe take another choice in life.”
Ziemba subscribes to one of Dietz’s themes: that life is a series of near-misses.
“I’ll go ‘Oh, woulda, coulda, shoulda.’ We all do that. But if there is some very grounded place in you that doesn’t say ‘Oh, I guess this is where I need to be for whatever reason,’ you’ll drive yourself crazy.
“I think that we don’t know what’s around the corner. When I make a choice to go in a different direction, (I’ll) run into somebody. Or when you’re thinking of somebody and all of a sudden they call you on the phone, which I think is really wacky and cosmic. So why not? You have to embrace that.”
Ziemba and Edelman don’t have any bad airport-delay stories.
“I’ve been pretty lucky with airports, but Lord knows I’ve heard terrible stories…” Edelman says.
With the show right around the corner, and no airports in their immediate future between now and the end of the run, they won’t be able to draw on any personal experience to flesh out Elena and Reed on that score.
But they might just be sharing the light with someone with a story or two to tell.
“Shooting Star” by Steven Dietz
When: Weekends, July 9 through Aug. 1. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point.
Tickets: $33, with discounts for groups of 10 or more and for those 30 and younger.
Photo by Carucha L. Meuse / The Journal News: Gregg Edelman and Karen Ziemba are the stars of Penguin Rep’s “Shooting Star,” which is set to run July 9-Aug. 1 at the Stony Point theater. They were photographed at Pearl Studios in Manhattan June 22, 2010.