Volunteer Call

Call for Entries

Art Teachers Needed

Participate Please

Corrections or additions?

This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the October 3, 2001


of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A New Theater for New Work

Sure, most theaters shy away from doing new and


work," says Leona Maffei, founder of the Lawrenceville Repertory

Company. "But not us."

These words may not sound particularly shocking to the casual


but for those who prize theater as an evolving art form, they ring

with an almost revolutionary zeal.

To say that most professional theater companies — let alone


theaters — shy away from producing new work is something of an

understatement. A stroll along Broadway or a quick perusal of U.S.

1’s local theater season preview of several weeks ago will reveal

a minuscule offering of new work being given mainstage productions.

As one might guess, the reason is economic. Why should a theater risk

time, money, and reputation on developing something new and unproven

when money-making old chestnuts sits waiting to be picked?

"I love new work," says Maffei. Putting deed to the word,

she has chosen to produce two new historical plays to launch


Repertory Company’s first season. "Masada," and


both by Lawrenceville playwright Frederick Olessi, will be staged

at Artists Showcase Theatre at 1150 Indiana Avenue in Trenton on


and Saturday, October 5 and 6, and Friday and Saturday, October 12

and 13 at 8 p.m. There will also be a Sunday matinee performance on

Sunday, October 14, at 2 p.m. Both short plays will be staged at each


Leona Maffei, who has founded the Lawrenceville Repertory Company

with help from her husband David Maffei and directs both of LRC’s

opening works, says that she simply relishes the opportunity to


original work. In a telephone interview from her home in Lawrence

Township, she discusses just why doing new work is so exciting.

"I personally learn a lot and developing a new play has added

depth to my directing," she says. "Instead of being given

a character that everyone already knows and expects certain things

from, as would be the case in an already well-established play, I

enjoy the challenge of taking an active role in molding new characters

into something I feel they represent. That’s the height of


Maffei believes that seeing new work also offers audiences a special

treat that they may not experience when watching the well-hewn


"Audiences get to come in without any expectations," she


"They can watch all these emotions and characters fly out at them

from the stage and it gives them the chance to get swept away with

the show. That’s why I just love original work."

Olessi’s short play "Rumi" chronicles the deep friendship

between Rumi, the 12th-century Persian poet and philosopher, and the

wanderer Shams. Their shared search for God culminates in the murder

of Shams and the emergence of Rumi, one of the best loved poets in

history who remains a 21st century best-seller.

"Masada," set in the year 73 AD, covers an eight-hour period

in ancient Israeli history. The Roman Army is preparing to attack

and claim the mountain fortress of Masada, which is occupied by 1,000

Jewish Zealots. This historic event is told through the eyes of two

Romans and four Zealots.

Following the performance of Saturday, October 13, there will be a

panel discussion featuring Marvin Goldstein, the co-director of the

Koppelman Holocaust Center at Rider University; Dominick Iorio,


of philosophy at Rider University; as well as a Muslim educator from

Philadelphia yet to be announced. The discussion, to be moderated

by Maffei and Olessi, and joined by members of the cast, will focus

on the meaning of "Masada" in today’s world.

Both Leona (whose maiden name is Soltesz) and her husband David grew

up in Bordentown. Leona’s father worked in sales in the Philadelphia

area and her mother was a homemaker. David’s father worked for the

State of New Jersey and was one of the founders of the Public


Office. His mother was also a homemaker.

David graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson and went on to study at the

New York Chiropractor College, graduating in 1981. Leona graduated

from College of New Jersey in 1970 with her teaching degree. After

she and David married in 1970 and moved to Lawrenceville, she worked

as a teacher in the Burlington City school district. She now works

as a massage therapist, working side-by-side with her husband in the

chiropractic business that they run out of their home at 3640


Road. Although neither David nor Leona had much experience working

in theater, it was nevertheless a passion they’d long kept close to

their hearts.

"We had always been interested in theater, but found we were


too busy with things like school and making a living," says


"Finally, about six years ago we took the plunge, starting by

getting small parts in the chorus of several musicals like `Oklahoma,’

`Once Upon a Mattress,’ and `Carousel.’ We loved it."

David soon landed a lead role in a production of "Heaven Can


for the Bordentown Players and Leona was drawn to directing. "I

enjoy performing onstage, but I think I enjoy being behind the stage

a bit more," she explains. "I think that’s where I’m going

to stay." She worked as an assistant director in a production

of "The Music Man" in Newtown, and then directed "Heaven

Can Wait" in Bordentown.

"I think what makes theater so special even in today’s world is

the simple fact that it is live," says Maffei. "You see


performing right before your eyes. What you see is what you get. In

TV or movies, it may take 10 takes to get a scene right, but when

you’re onstage you only get one shot. There’s a powerful energy


Maffei, a member of St. Ann’s Choir in Lawrenceville, got the idea

to start her own repertory theater while attending choir practice.

"I simply looked around the room one day and noticed all the


that there was around me," she says. "I knew some of the


there had worked in community theater before. Between the schools

that participate in drama here and all the adults, there’s a natural

base of talent. To me, starting a theater in Lawrenceville was the

next logical step."

Right now the Maffeis are funding LRC all by themselves, but they

are actively looking for sponsors. "We’re always interested in

people who are interested in us," says Maffei. "We’d like

help in covering the costs of the theater and the things that we do,

like costumes and sets, and all the little things that come up that

you don’t expect along the way. We’ve been fortunate so far because

we’ve had a lot of people donating their time to work with us."

They recently invested in lighting equipment and a sound system.


feel that in today’s world, mobilization is very important," she

points out. "Now we can take our lights and sound system into

another facility, like a church or a synagogue, and put a show on.

It’s wonderful not to have to be tied to one location."

Although the company is initially using Artists Showcase Theatre in

Trenton as a home base, where it presented two performances of


in June. Maffei says she is close to finding a more convenient space

in Lawrenceville, but adds that "it’s too early to make any


The decision to kick things off with two short plays by Lawrenceville

playwright Frederick Olessi was a no-brainer as far as Maffei is


"We wanted to start out by working with a Lawrenceville playwright

and Mr. Olessi was the first person I thought of," says Maffei.

She had a role in the production of Olessi’s play "Guvalade,"

which was performed as a part of Lawrence Township’s Tricentennial

celebrations in 1997.

"I was deeply impressed with Mr. Olessi’s work and with him as

an individual," says Maffei. "So I just went to his home and

asked him if he had any plays he thought would be appropriate for

our theater to do. He gave us four and we chose `Rumi’ and


An added bonus to working on original work is the opportunity to work

directly with the playwright throughout the development and rehearsal


"Mr. Olessi is actively participating in our production,"

points out Maffei. "It’s wonderful. My cast can go to him and

ask questions or he can offer his advice if he feels things have


a little off track. Since the characters in both plays are very deep

people and the way he writes is like poetry, it has been a great


to have him there with us."

Maffei describes the rehearsal process as intensely collaborative.

"Both plays were highly structured when we got them, but we had

to take his words and put them into sentences and meld them with our

interpretation in order to make our characters come alive. Mr. Olessi

was there at every rehearsal, so if our interpretation was something

he hadn’t intended, he was there to offer guidance."

After the run ends, Olessi will be traveling to Rome in November to

continue his work with the Vatican in an ecumenical council for Jewish

and Catholic relations.

Although Lawrenceville Repertory Company’s second production is not

scheduled until the spring, and a decision has not yet been made as

to what play they will do, Maffei will be busy through the winter.

"We’ll be doing a series of short original plays for public access

television. They were so kind in giving us a regular time period that

we can fill," says Maffei.

The company is still a work in progress, and Maffei sees it extending

beyond the limits of theater and becoming something of a haven for

all the arts. "We don’t want to stop at just doing theater. We’d

like to eventually include the exhibitions of drawings and paintings

as well as the performance of original music," says Maffei.

But right now, theater is where Maffei is putting all her energy,

and vows to maintain an open door policy. "We’d really like the

repertory company to be open to everyone," she says. "If you

want to work onstage, on set design, or maybe in costuming or lighting

design, come to us. If playwrights would like to submit their work,

we will take a look. We’re looking for anyone from teens to older

adults eager to work in theater."

Lawrenceville Repertory Company begins its existence with high


and it will be interesting to see how just how much applause and


they will garner from the local community. Although she maintains

that the focus is to remain on presenting new work, Maffei does plan

on occasionally mixing in productions of classic musicals and dramas.

After all, theater is a costly enterprise.

— Jack Florek

Masada and Rumi , Lawrenceville Repertory Company,

Artist’s Showcase Theater, 1150 Indiana Avenue, 609-683-3932. Two

original plays by Frederick Olessi, directed by Leona Maffei. $10.

Friday and Saturday, October 5 and 6, at 8 p.m.; Friday and


October 12 and 13, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, October 14 at 2 p.m.

Top Of Page

Omicron Theater Productions has open auditions for


and non-speaking parts, male and female, ages 20 to 50s. Appointments

available every Friday and Saturday in October. Call 609-443-5598.

Washington Crossing Repertory Company has auditions for

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" on Wednesday, October 10,

at 6:30 p.m., in the Communications Building of Mercer County College.

Boys and girls, ages 8 to 15, are needed. Register with Debbie Malmros

at 215-493-2101.

Playful Theater has auditions for "Guys and Dolls"

at Kelsey Theater, on Saturday, November 3, from noon to 5 p.m.


Jim Azzinaro seeks 10 men and 10 women age 18 and older. To schedule

an appointment call 609-882-9636 .

Top Of Page
Volunteer Call

Outta Sights and Sounds , a folk music production series,

seeks volunteers at its fall shows. There is no obligation to work

a minimum number of shows or attend meetings. Contact volunteer


Chris at

Top Of Page
Call for Entries

Washington Township Arts Council invites anyone 18 and

over to exhibit their work in the third annual photography exhibit.

Entries must be received on Saturday, October 13, from 10 a.m. to

noon. The show will be juried by Lawrence H. Parsons, president of

the Princeton Photography Club. Call Deborah Paglione at 609-259-3502.

Top Of Page
Art Teachers Needed

Artsbridge seeks art teachers for their first summer arts

camp scheduled for the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks

of August, 2002, at Fisherman’s Mark in Lambertville. They are also

seeking a project director and camp counselors. Deadline for resumes

is Thursday, November 1. Call Chris Snyder at 215-340-0354.

Top Of Page
Participate Please

New Jersey Theater Alliance offers a discount theater

package for the fall season. Call 973-593-0189, e-mail:,

or website:

New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants offers

scholarships to high school seniors who plan to major in accounting

in college. The recipients are chosen based on their overall score

on the NJSCPA’s scholarship awards examination scheduled for Saturday

and Sunday, November 17 and 18, at 10 a.m. Application deadline is

Friday, October 26. Call Janice Amatucci at 973-226-4494.

VSA arts of New Jersey is accepting applications for the

2002 art achievement awards to honor New Jersey students ages 14 to

21 years old, who are classified and in mainstreamed, inclusive, or

self-contained classes. Deadline is Monday, January 14. For


call 732-745-388

Previous Story Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments