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Starring Darcy Dunn, Dayna Kurtz, John McCaffrey and Mark Singer
Date: Saturday, June 12, 2021 @ 7:30pm
A FREE Virtual event
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In the mood for a laugh? Have you binge-watched everything Netflix and Hulu have to offer? We have a treat for you!
On Saturday, June 12 at 7:30 pm, the Catskill Mountain Foundation will live stream a pre-taped staged reading of the hilarious one-act play, Wanda’s Visit by Christopher Durang. Starring Darcy Dunn, Dayna Kurtz, John McCaffrey, and Mark Singer (who also directed the production), the reading was filmed by videographer David Katzive earlier this year at the Doctorow Center for the Arts in Hunter. This presentation will be shown on the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s YouTube and Facebook channels for FREE!
Originally presented on PBS, Wanda’s Visit tells the story of Jim (Mark Singer) and Marsha (Darcy Dunn), who have been married for 13 years. They seem comfortable in their suburban Connecticut lives … a little bored and restless, perhaps, but reasonably content. Each person has their role to play in the marriage, and they perform the roles well, day after day after day after day … you get the picture. Attempts to shake things up a little bit fall flat: they tried to get drunk to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but just wound up falling asleep. So when Jim receives a letter from an old girlfriend, Wanda (Dayna Kurtz), announcing she’s “up in their neck of the woods,” and wonders if she could pop in for a visit, Jim leaps at the opportunity to relive his youth. Marsha is clearly unhappy about the visit, but nevertheless relents. Wanda becomes the guest from hell. When they decide to go out to dinner, all hell breaks loose in the restaurant, witnessed by a waiter (John McCaffrey), just trying to get through his first day.
Even though Wanda’s Visit was originally set in the 1990s, Mark realized that the play was perfect for 2021, but needed to be updated a bit to reflect current realities. “What was particularly interesting about the play,” he says, “is that it’s about a visitor who intrudes on the humdrum existence of a somewhat dissatisfied married couple. That seemed an interesting topic to explore during COVID when so many couples who are used to living together—but not 100% of the time—suddenly found themselves together 24/7. I think moving the play’s action into our current environment and acknowledging the unique challenges of Covid made for a more interesting production and a new, unusual take on what has been a frequently produced short play.”
Mark Singer is a singer, actor, and writer who has performed extensively in opera, musicals, cabaret, and dramatic theater. He has appeared in many productions of the Catskill Mountain Foundation, and created and appeared in its musical revue series the Mountaintop Celebration of Song. Mark has written several plays with his friend (and co-star in Wanda’s Visit) John McCaffrey, including Books That Did Not Help Me Pick Up Women, and A Milonga for Gabriel Isaacs, and is currently developing All Mankind Has Lost its Reason, his play about the Weimar period in Germany and the rise of fascism, which features the music of that era. He is currently a Managing Partner at Finn Partners, a global Public Relations company. In this production, Mark also takes on the role of Jim.
To bring this production to life, Mark called upon people he knows well and was certain would bring these characters to life. He knew John McCaffrey through a club in New York, where they bonded over playing basketball and their mutual love of writing. It was through John that Mark met Dayna. And, of course, he and Darcy have been married for many years.
“It’s nice to work with friends,” says Mark. “We like to work with people we know and we’re comfortable with.”
Darcy Dunn (Marsha)
Darcy Dunn sings chamber opera, classical music and new works in NYC and is a founding member and featured performer of the Magic Circle Opera. She has performed leading roles with Chelsea Opera, Bronx Opera, Encompass Opera, Theater for the New City, and Downtown Music Productions, and has been a featured soloist at the Windham Chamber Music Festival. With her husband Mark Singer, Darcy was part of the first Catskill Mountain Foundation live performance in 1998, and performed in and helped create CMF’s Mountaintop Celebration of Song, which included original musical productions A Little Bit in Love, Headliners and One-Liners, Weill’d About You, They’re Playing Your Song, and Ain’t We Got Fun.
As a performer who has primarily worked in opera and musical theater, this was one of the few instances in which Darcy got the opportunity to play straight theater. She absolutely nails the role of the uptight Connecticut housewife Marsha, who is horrified by the chaos created in her home, but still tries to be a good hostess.
The biggest challenge for Darcy, though, was the lack of a live audience. “Filming was an interesting experience,” she laughs. “As stage actors, so much what we do is feeding off of live audiences. We’re not people who are used to being taped.”
Dayna Kurtz (Wanda)
Dayna Kurtz is a mental health therapist in Manhattan and welcomes the opportunity to play Wanda, a truly pathological character. Dayna holds a BA in theater arts from Brandeis University and a Masters of Science in Social Work from Columbia. Select Off-Broadway credits include Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Opal in the world premiere of Gloria, at Theater for the New City. She can also be seen (sort of) behind a variety of celebrity guest hosts during her three seasons of background work on Saturday Night Live. She dedicates this performance to her family who always support her in all her roles.
Mark says, “the first play John and I did together, Dayna was in that, and she was a very funny character. I thought Dayna would be perfect for this.”
“It was a joy to get out of the city and flex my acting muscles for this performance,” says Dayna. “I fell in love with the character of Wanda from the moment I read the script. She’s a big personality. As an actor, she’s kind of a dream … playing her provides an allowance to behave in such a way that you couldn’t in real life. She affords an opportunity to really stretch and go over the top.”
Dayna also resonated with the role of Wanda in a different way: “the role was originated by Swoosie Kurtz, who is slender and fair. But a number of different actors have portrayed Wanda successfully … she can be played by so many different body types and looks. Few roles really can be open for interpretation this way. I think that’s part of what makes this character so special.”
You can find more information about Dayna at daynamkurtz.com.
John McCaffrey (narrator, waiter)
John McCaffrey is the author of a novel, two short story collections, several plays (several co-written with Mark Singer), and is a creative writing teacher and a director of development for a nonprofit organization in New York City.
John doesn’t consider himself an actor, but does have an artistic background: “Growing up in Rochester, I was a trumpeter in the band. I thought it would be fun to be an actor, but I was inhibited. I tried stand up comedy for a while for fun, but I found I was more comfortable as a writer.”
Despite his lack of stage experience, Mark was convinced that John would be a good fit for the role of narrator and waiter: “We’ve seen him in action, hosting fundraising events for his job in the City, and he knows how to hold an audience. That definitely translates to the stage.”
“I approached the role as someone who knew nothing about acting,” says John. “I just didn’t want to be in the way, so I did the least as I could to get my point across and get out of the way of the other actors. I think I’m naturally funny, so I knew I could pull off the role of the waiter. Being the narrator, though, was a little more challenging to me.
“As a writer, the role of the waiter was really interesting to me. When I saw the character, I wondered, ‘why did he put that character in? What was his importance to the play?’ He’s an outlier, but he delivers the last monologue the next day that brings it all together. I think ultimately the role is about Durang giving a message that it’s not about him, it’s about the characters and the situation.”
Bringing Wanda’s Visit to the Stage in Hunter
The seeds of this performance were sown through Darcy’s volunteer work with a group called Markers For Democracy. “I have worked with Markers, a voter advocacy and registration organization, since before COVID,” she says. “In the intense environment of the pandemic and the election the group was working incredibly hard and I wanted to explore ways to contribute to the organization as a performer. So I put together a show, as a break and encouragement. COVID has been such an adjustment for everybody. What has helped me, in addition to the activist work with Markers and my performance work, is my reconnection to my martial arts practice, which involves a system of thinking and being, and connection to a worldwide community. All three are about connection to a broad community during a time when connecting has been difficult.”
Mark continues: “Peter Finn was kind enough to lend us the use of Evelyn Weisberg Hall (in the Doctorow Center for the Arts) and the video and editing skills of David Katzive, videographer for Finn Partners. Peter and I both liked the end result and we both had the same response, which was along the lines of, “with the pandemic shutting down live performance for the foreseeable future was there something more the CMF could do with its performance resources given they were not being used much. Years ago the CMF had hosted a series of play readings by Ensemble Studio Theater and Peter thought it would be great if we could do something similar. He was particularly interested in short comic plays. I started a search for candidates and in a book called Laugh Lines I came upon Wanda’s Visit by Christopher Durang. I thought it was just the kind of piece we were looking for, and Peter and his wife, Sarah, liked the script as well.”
“Given the logistical challenges we couldn’t do a fully staged off book performance,” he continues, “because Covid made extensive rehearsal time impossible. And as we thought about doing even a staged reading we knew there would be challenges concerning physicality between the actors. There were moments in the script that called for physical contact between the actors. How could we manage those without making the actors and even the audience uncomfortable? We had the actors wear masks part of the time. We couldn’t have them wear them all the time because of what it would do to the sound quality. We had a narrator read stage directions and added some of our own: whenever the character Wanda, who is very physically expressive, wants to be physical with Jim, we had the narrator express her desires and frustrations, giving an implicit nod to the challenges of the pandemic.”
Communicating with the entire cast was essential, and it helped that they were all friends. “We talked it through with the rest of the cast, and discussed how we were going to adapt it so that everyone felt safe during filming,” says Mark.
Dayna adds, “Moving into any collaborative project, you have to establish a culture of safety and trust. I know everyone in the cast very well, so there’s already a deep trust there.”
Plans are in the works for more performances to be taped in the Doctorow Center and presented to the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s online audiences.