Axial Theatre Explores Buried Secrets in ‘The Clearing’
by Sam Barron
A powerful new play is set to open in Pleasantville.
“The Clearing,” written by Yale School of Drama graduate Jake Jeppson and directed by Drama Desk Award winner Josh Hecht, will be performed by Axial Theatre at the company’s home base at St. John’s Episcopal Church beginning with performances on Thursday and Friday evenings. The official opening will be on Saturday night.
“The Clearing” is the story of two brothers who climb to the top of a gorge to honor a buried secret from their childhood nearly two decades later. The sanctity of their special place is challenged when one of the brothers introduces his lover into their lives.
Axial Theatre Artistic Director Howard Meyer first learned of the play while judging a playwriting competition.
“It’s a play that both Josh and myself really responded to,” Meyer said. “Axial is devoted to finding new work and giving new writers a voice. That’s essentially our mission. This play is incredibly heartfelt and incredibly theatrical.”
The play features members of the Axial Theatre Company as well as outside actors. Meyer is hoping that the audience is touched and provoked by the production.
“This play really dissects people’s choices,” he said. “I want the audience to have an intensely theatrical experience. Secrets you keep may affect your life.”
McManamon plays Peter, the lover who becomes involved with the family. MacManamon said he enjoys playing a character that causes the conflict.
“I enter and everything (that) has settled in its own way kind of unravels,” he said. “The bond becomes tested. It’s great. I’m loving it.”
McManamon said the play is a wild ride and credits Hecht with making the production work. The story is also presented out of chronological order, forcing the cast and the audience to stay alert.
“We’ve had some exciting times figuring everything out,” McManamon said. “Josh has been helpful. It’s exciting to know the journey and mess with it so the audience can go for a ride. Josh is one of the best there is and one of the best to work with.”
He said he has enjoyed participating in his first full-scale production with Axial, having done a reading a year ago.
“I was hugely impressed with Howard and the company,” McManamon said. “I was impressed with the audience as well. I expected a suburban audience, but I appreciated the questions they were asking and the general vibe of the whole experience. This is a play I wouldn’t expect to be happening in a place called Pleasantville.”
MacManamon said he hopes the audience is touched by what happens to the family.
“There’s a lot of heart, but there’s also a lot of pain,” McManamon said. “It’s really about finding a way to have a family and move into the world beyond family. The play is really beautiful.”
Gene Gallerano plays Peter’s lover, and one of the two brothers who harbors a dark secret that not even their mother knows about.
“I like to choose roles based on something that I haven’t done,” Gallerano said. “This allows me to discover something that might make me uncomfortable, but it makes it a great challenge and it’s rewarding. The truly great roles test your notion of who you are.”
Gallerano also praised Hecht.
“He has been marvelous,” he said. “He’s not scared about curiosities, and he has never forced us to make immediate decisions about anything. He gives us time to find our voice; he allows the actors to find their characters and stories. That’s the most important thing in a director.”
Performances will take place at Axial Theatre, housed at St. John’s Episcopal Church, located at 8 Sunnyside Ave. in Pleasantville. Tickets are $35 for opening night, April 29; all other performances, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m., are $20. Seniors and students are $15. Tickets are available through www.brownpapertickets.com/event/231403 or by phone at 1-800-838-3006. The play is not appropriate for audiences under 17 years of age.
For group sales and other information, contact Jaki Silver at 516-984-4515.