Andy’s Summer Playhouse
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Lawson said there’s a Hans Christian Anderson quote that goes something like, “I tell stories to children while ultimately remembering that mother and father are in the room, and must have something for them as well.” To Lawson, this explains what Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton does.
The 37-year-old summer theater is unique in that although children perform, the productions are almost always premieres of original work with avant garde leanings. The children work with professional artists to create the shows. Kids can appreciate their roles in production, but both the adult artists and audience can find deeper layers in the pieces, Lawson, the artistic director, said.
This year’s main stage shows make up Andy’s “Summer of the 19th Century” and draw inspiration from familiar tales, but are “not adaptations per se,” Lawson said.
The theme formed around Anderson’s Case, which will run July 20 through July 28. Lawson wrote a biography of Hans Christians Anderson about six years ago, and thought the material lent itself to a play. “So that ended up being metaphysical mediation on his life and stories,” Lawson said.
It’s about “Anderson’s transformation from being a neurotic individual, which he really was, into being an artist ... transforming his craziness, his neurosis, into timeless art,” Lawson said. At times the play is “completely farcical,” but it also has “some serious metaphysical existentialism,” said Lawson, who is also directing it.
Much of the work Andy’s produces has serious undertones, Lawson acknowledged.
“I don’t know if that’s because of the world we live in now or what writers seem to be doing,” he said, but he pointed out their plays almost always have a “madcap” quality, as well.
Their first show this season, Creature Double Feature, is an example. DJ Potter and Karen Smith Vastola wrote two plays inspired by the transformation stories of Frankenstein and Pinocchio. The first pulls from the original Frankenstein novel and film, and more. “About 20 different versions of that have been sort of put in the Cuisinart,” Lawson said. The second is a Pinocchio story set in World War I, in which children try to reclaim their father who is at war by making a wooden puppet. “It’s a very moving drama,” Lawson said. Potter was an Andy’s actor and is now a New York theater artist. Vastola’s work has been presented by Andy’s for the past two seasons. Jonathan Farmer is another Andy’s alum who now works in New York and will direct the 29 children and teens.
Potter directs the last main stage show of the season in August, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Lawson had a script that David Lindsay-Abaire had written a few years ago. Lindsay-Abaire won a Pulitzer Prize in May, and Andy’s had commissioned him to write about four plays in the late 1990s.
“He re-read it and decided it was embarrassing work,” Lawson said. So Lawson started to adapt the Robert Louis Stevenson tale into a musical. The first act takes place in 1931 Hollywood when the original film version came out. The second act brings in other characters like Bonnie and Clyde. “It’s really about how do we become who we ultimately are, and the mystery of that,” Lawson said.