Celebrity & Politics At Bay Street

A Hollywood friendship during the McCarthy era. A famed interview with a fallen president. A woman who rose from impoverished commoner to become the First Lady of Argentina.

These are the three Main Stage offerings at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater this summer — Fellow Travelers, a world premiere directed by Michael Wilson, Peter Morgan’s tour-de-force drama Frost/Nixon, and the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber smash hit musical Evita.

“I know I say this every year,” Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s Artistic Director, acknowledged. “But I think this may be the best year during my time here. Also, this season is an experience that will add up, and raise questions that will relate to our time today.”

There’s also a bonus fourth production this year, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, a true tale written and performed by Steven Fales, which is “funny but graphic. This one is for adults only,” Schwartz described.

Fellow Travelers depicts the deterioration of a friendship between three Hollywood powerhouses — the playwright Arthur Miller, his wife, Marilyn Monroe, and famed director Elia “Gadge” Kazan — set against the backdrop of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s witch-hunt for communists in the arts.

Kazan was what was known as a “friendly witness,” offering up the names of possible members of the American Communist Party, while Miller did the opposite — admitting his own leftist leanings but refusing to name anyone else — which earned him kudos from his liberal compatriots and a contempt of court ruling.

“It’s even handed,” said Schwartz of Fellow Travelers, which is written by Jack Canfora and represents the fifth year in a row that Bay Street has kicked off its season with a world premiere. “It really tries to speak from their perspectives in a Shavian way. It’s about people speaking their truth,” he continued.

“What should we be loyal to? Who should we be loyal to? To our friends, our political ideals, our country?” he posited.

Next up is Frost/Nixon, which has already had a successful run in London and New York, along with an Oscar-nominated film version directed by Ron Howard and starring the original leads from the West End: Michael Sheen and Frank Langella. Bay Street brings two perennial faves and remarkable talents to the stage, with Daniel Gerroll as David Frost and Harris Yulin as Richard Nixon.

“They’re brilliant actors. We’re so honored to have them back,” said Schwartz. “And Harris and Danny have both directed here too.”

The show, Schwartz promised, is quite a high-tech video production, but “at its core, it’s about these two guys and what makes them tick. And it’s another show that doesn’t take sides. It really tries to honor both of these very flawed but very passionate men.”

This year’s Mainstage musical is Evita, which has, according to Schwartz, “been on my list for a long time.” Like other musical forays at Bay Street, a house that fits 299 people, the show is “focused and stripped back, more elemental and actor-based.”

Set in a run-down tango club, sort of a play within a play, Schwartz is excited that Evita will feature an all-Latin cast, “with one small exception, a local child, but I feel that the entire adult company is ethnically authentic,” he said.

In keeping with the celebrity and politics theme that seems to run through all the shows this year, Schwartz described the Rice-Webber hit as “a look at a very complicated woman who frankly uses her sexuality to gain power, but then transforms herself, and the world.”

Along with these shows and Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Bay Street will offer its Music Mondays with stars like Lucie Arnaz and Charles Busch, comedy turns by Paula Poundstone and Colin Quinn, among others, theater camps for kids of all ages, and a new intern program (with a show, Obama-ology, staged and acted by the interns), and the annual summer gala on July 27. This is the last year that Bay Street will hold the fete on Long Wharf.

But at the heart of the summer are the Mainstage productions. “The shows raise questions without taking sides,” Schwartz reiterated. “This isn’t telling you who’s right and who’s wrong or what you should believe. These are versions of their stories.”

For more information, visit www.baystreet.org.

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