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From “I Am A Camera” To Macbeth, City Repertory Launches Seventh Season Of Razor-Edged Theater

| September 21, 2017

The cast of the City Repertory Theatre production of 'I Am a Camera,' opening tonight and launching CRT's seventh season:  Tyler Adcock as Isherwood, Annie Gaybis as Sally Bowles, Victoria Page as the landlady Fraulein Schneider and Earl Levine as Fritz. (Tom Bird)

The cast of the City Repertory Theatre production of ‘I Am a Camera,’ opening tonight and launching CRT’s seventh season: Tyler Adcock as Isherwood, Annie Gaybis as Sally Bowles, Victoria Page as the landlady Fraulein Schneider and Earl Levine as Fritz. (Tom Bird)

Leave it to City Repertory Theatre to eschew staging “Cabaret,” that classic, Tony Award-winning musical seen and loved by millions, and instead opt to stage John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera.”

No, that’s not some long-lost, obscure Dadaist work. Rather, Van Druten’s drama, which he adapted from the 1939 Christopher Isherwood novel “Goodbye to Berlin,” is the play that composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb turned into the hit musical “Cabaret” in 1966.

City Rep will open its 2017-18 season on tonight and over the weekend with a staged-reading production of “I Am a Camera,” which follows the platonic relationship between a writer and the flamboyant, bohemian nightclub performer Sally Bowles in Berlin in 1930.

“I doubt many people have seen or even had the opportunity to see ‘I Am a Camera,’ ” says City Rep director John Sbordone.

And “Camera” may be a veritable “Our Town” compared to “Blood Knot,” another play in City Rep’s new season. “Blood Knot” is the 1961 apartheid drama by Athol Fugard that slowly and fitfully launched the career of the South African playwright, actor and director.

At City Repertory Theatre:

    “Hand to God,” directed by John Sbordone, staged by City Repertory Theatre at 7:30 p.m. May 3-4 and 10-11, and 3 p.m. May 5 and 12. Performances are at CRT’s venue in City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 students. For more information or tickets, call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or easily book tickets online here. 

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“That show I doubt has ever been seen by anybody in this area,” Sbordone says. But then, the same can be said for most of the shows Sbordone has directed since launching City Repertory Theatre in 2011. The Flagler Auditorium and the Flagler Playhouse stage many a wonderful production that draw sizeable audiences–and audiences sizeably more crushing than any City Rep could dream of drawing. But daring, searching, challenging, cutting edge or ground-breaking aren’t the sort of words usually associated with Auditorium and Playhouse productions. They are the sort of words unquestionably associated with most City Rep Plays. 

New York has its off-off-Broadway. In City Repertory Theatre, Flagler County has its off-off-community theater. Not that there’s anything off about the productions. And Palm Coast desperately needed a production company that went beyond conventional syrup.  

The troupe’s new season, its seventh, also includes the musicals “[title of show]” (that’s not an editor asleep at the keyboard: the title of the play is the bracketed [title of show], a Seindfeldian, self-referential one-act musical about two playwrights writing about two playwrights writing a play) and “Songs for a New World,” and the dramas “Agnes of God” and “Other Desert Cities.” The only name-brand play on tap is “Macbeth” by some dude named Shakespeare.

“That’s the reason we exist — we’re here to provide alternative entertainment,” Sbordone says. “There are many community theaters and many are doing similar kinds of standard shows. They enjoy that. Their audiences enjoy that. But there was no one doing the plays that are good, wonderful, provocative theater, and that’s the role that City Repertory plays.”

Sbordone, who had a long association with the Playhouse before 2011, confesses that “I Am a Camera” was a Broadway hit in the early 1950s. Julie Harris’s portrayal of Sally Bowles won her the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play. The title the comes from a line on the first page of Isherwood’s novel, which was one of a number of stories he wrote based on his Berlin experiences in the 1930s: “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

“The background of ‘I Am a Camera’ of course is Germany in 1930, with the rise of the Nazis, the fascists,” Sbordone says. “The relationship story on top of that is of that lost generation of writers and talent that is looking to find itself with that roiling violence in the background, which keeps seeping through into their lives in some way.

“It’s a personal relationship story. It’s Christopher Isherwood’s story and Sally’s story. They’re surrounded by this group of extraordinarily eccentric and entertaining characters.”

The play stars two City Rep veterans: Tyler Adcock as Isherwood and Annie Gaybis as Sally. Gaybis has numerous film and TV credits including roles as a hooker in the 1984 Tom Hanks comedy “Bachelor Party,” a Chicken Ranch girl in the film version of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” a cashier in “Friday the 13th Part III” and a nightclub dancer in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” On television she appeared in “Baywatch,” “Sliders,” “Married With Children,” “Leeza” and other series. She’s performed dancing and non-singing roles in operas with Placido Domingo. She and her husband, comedian-actor John Byner, moved to Flagler County 13 years ago from Los Angeles.

If it’s daring, originality and cutting edge that you seek, there’s no other place but City Rep.

The role of Fritz, a closeted Jew, is played by Earl Levine, who performed off-Broadway in “The Fantasticks” for six years (that show’s run of 17,162 performances over 42 years earned it the title of the world’s longest-running musical). His wife Victoria Page, who portrays the landlady Fraulein Schneider, has performed on Broadway and in London’s West End theater district

Levine and Leigh Ann Singleton, who portrays the German girl Natalia, each will sing and perform on piano in the lobby prior to curtain time and at intermission.

Though this City Rep production is a staged reading, meaning that the actors will be reading from scripts right there on the stage, Sbordone says the show will have no problem evoking the atmosphere of 1930s Berlin: “John Van Druten, who wrote this, is an extraordinary Broadway writer, so the background constantly seeps through. It’s not difficult to evoke because it’s there, it’s in the writing. And it’s a fascinating character study.”

While “I Am a Camera” and other works in City Rep’s new season may be off the radar of many theatergoers, even Sbordone’s choice of a Shakespeare work reveals his contrarian streak. While “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” may be two of the Bard’s more frequently staged tragedies, Sbordone insists that Macbeth, the play Will Durant described as a “macabre contemplation of unmitigated evil,” is  “in many ways is Shakespeare’s most powerful drama. ‘Hamlet’ sprawls. ‘Hamlet’ takes philosophical stances and meanders a good deal more than ‘Macbeth,’ which is pretty sharply focused and probably one of the shortest of his plays. That also intensifies the drama.”

Audiences will recognize its Freudian themes three centuries before Freud, and its usual bounty of coined phrases we now take for granted from Hallmark cards to Instagram (“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,/And then is heard no more: it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury…”). 

“Macbeth” will be staged as a Shakespeare in the park production in conjunction with the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, which has collaborated with Sbordone and City Rep in the past. The play will be performed Feb. 22-25 on an outdoor stage under an enclosed tent at the Palm Coast Arts Pavilion in Town Center, 1500 Central Ave., Palm Coast.

John Sbordone, the force behind CRT. (© FlaglerLive)

John Sbordone, the force behind CRT. (© FlaglerLive)

“I’ve been working on it for three months already,” Sbordone says with a chuckle, belying the fact that Hurricane Irma flooded his Flagler Beach apartment and necessitated a hurried move to another nearby residence a mere week before “I Am a Camera” opens.

“PCAF are wonderful,” Sbordone says. “They are great at marketing and promoting and trying to bring something different into the county. Nancy Crouch  and Sam Perkovich and I have been talking about trying to do something for a while. If it works, then we’ll come back with another one — we’ll do an annual Shakespeare in the park.” (Crouch is the executive director of the organization, Perkovich its board president.) 

All City Rep performances except “Macbeth” will be at CRT’s home at 160 Cypress Point Parkway in City Market Place, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Season tickets are $125 (which includes “Macbeth”). Individual tickets (except for “Macbeth”) range from $20-$25 for adults and $15 for students. For more information or tickets (except for “Macbeth”), call the CRT box office at 386-585-9415 or go online at

Tickets for “Macbeth” are available by calling the Palm Coast Arts Foundation at 386-225-4394 or online at Tickets for the opening night performance at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 are $50 for PCAF members and CRT season subscribers, and $75 for the general public, and include appetizers, two drink tickets and a meet and greet with the actors.

Tickets for “Macbeth” performances on Feb. 23-25 are $30 general public, $25 PCAF members and CRT season subscribers, $10 students with ID.

Here’s a look at the City Rep season:

* “I Am a Camera” – 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21-23 and 2 p.m. Sept. 24. $20 adults, $15 students. Set in Berlin in 1930, this staged reading follows a writer and his platonic infatuation with the nightclub singer Sally Bowles. As the insouciant Sally performs in a seedy bar, she’s surrounded by such eccentrics as the skirt-chasing Fritz, the landlady Fraulein Schneider, the young Jewish woman Natalia and the American millionaire Clive, who wants to spend his way into Sally’s heart.

* “[title of show]” – 7:30 p.m. October 13-14 and 20-21, 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 22. $25 adults, $15 students. This 2006 Obie winner is a musical about the creation of a musical. With music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and book by Hunter Bell, the cheekily titled show chronicles their struggles to create a work to enter in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Just as cheekily, the duo say their work is “a postmodern homage to the grand tradition of backstage musicals like ‘Babes in Arms,’ ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ and ‘A Chorus Line.’ ”

* “Other Desert Cities” – 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10-11 and 17-18, 2:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 19. $20 adults, $15 students. A writer upsets her conservative parents when she visits them and announces she is writing a family memoir – including the suicide of her older brother, a protestor who was involved in the bombing of a draft board during the Vietnam War. The play by Jon Robin Baitz was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

* “Songs for a New World” – 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-13, 19-20 and 27, 2 p.m. Jan. 14, 21 and 28. $25 adults, $15 students. Songwriter Jason Robert Brown had written pieces for many unrelated occasions, events and venues when he noticed “songs that had been written years and miles apart seemed to make sense together,” he says on “Words and melodies that came from different times and places all seemed to add up to one statement.” The result is “Songs for a New World,” which debuted off-Broadway in 1995.

* “Macbeth” – 6 p.m. Feb, 22, 7 p.m. Feb. 23-24, 2 p.m. Feb. 25. For opening night Feb. 22, tickets are $50 PCAF members and CRT season subscribers. $75 general public, and include appetizers, two drink tickets and meet and greet with the actors. Performances Feb. 23-25 are $30 general public, $25 PCAF members and CRT annual subscribers, $10 students with ID. Tickets available by calling 386-225-4394 or online at Pre-show meals will be offered through PCAF as a fundraiser for its efforts to build a new arts center. Shakespeare’s tragedy tells the tale of Macbeth, a general in the army of medieval Scotland. When Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesy that he will become king, his resultant lust for power breeds dire consequences for him and all those around him.

* “Blood Knot” – 7:30 p.m. March 23-24 and 30-31, 2 p.m. March 25 and April 1. $20 adults, $15 students. First performed in 1961 and premiering on Broadway in 1986, this drama by South African playwright Athol Fugard tells the story of two brothers, Morris and Zach, who live together. Though raised by the same black mother, they have different fathers — and the fair-skinned Morris is able to pass for white in apartheid South Africa. When Zach’s pen pal, a white woman, decides she wants to visit his home and meet him, Zach realizes the harsh consequences that would result when she discovers he is black. And so the brothers launch a scheme for the white-looking Morris to meet her and pretend to be Zach.

* “Agnes of God” – 7:30 May 4-5 and 11-12, 2 p.m. May 6 and 13. $20 adults, $15 students. Faith and justice clash in John Pielmeier’s drama about a young nun accused of murdering her newborn infant — a birth she claims resulted from a miraculous virgin conception. A court-appointed psychiatrist is sent to assess the sanity of the young nun, but the psychiatrist clashes with the convent’s protective mother superior.

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1 Response for “From “I Am A Camera” To Macbeth, City Repertory Launches Seventh Season Of Razor-Edged Theater”

  1. Jan says:

    Good, provocative productions. Thanks for drawing our attention to this valuable community asset.

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