Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 31,

2001 edition

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

Art Rising from Floodwaters

The Alliance Repertory Theater Company has a mission:

"We like doing small, intimate, intricate, gritty plays that make

audiences think — like `Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar

Wilde.’" So says artistic director Jerry Marino, who, with

co-artistic

director Jeff Streger, are proving themselves undaunted and dedicated

actors and entrepreneurs in a profession that requires these qualities

and more.

Marino, of Edison, and Streger of Gladstone, founded their company

in 1998. Yet despite a succession of well-received productions, they

suddenly found themselves and their Alliance Theater displaced when

their home base, the Monument Park Hotel in New Brunswick, was boarded

up for an urban renewal project. However, the fledgling company’s

success had not gone unnoticed by the entrepreneurs at the new Brook

Art Center in Bound Brook, who came to the rescue, just as their arts

center itself had been rescued a couple of years earlier.

The Brook Art Center, housed in a 1927 vaudeville house called the

Brook, is currently being restored under the aegis of a community

cultural and performing arts organization called the Somerset County

Cultural Arts Center. Gerry Appel, the founding executive director

of Brook Art Center (www.brookarts.org), is also dedicated to

fostering

the redevelopment of downtown Bound Brook.

Ten feet of water crested in the Brook theater when Hurricane Floyd

hit Bound Brook in 1999. The center had previously won an $83,000

grant for a renovation feasibility study from Somerset County when

disaster hit. Since the flood, the center has been awarded $2.6

million

in renovation funding; $200,000 from the Somerset County Freeholders

and an additional $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Economic

Development

Administration. The center is currently seeking to raise an additional

$400,000, and Appel hopes to see the project completed no later than

early 2003.

This represent a remarkable resurrection for the 74-year-old, 850-seat

theater that has seen the likes of W.C. Fields, Jack Benny, Sophie

Tucker, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and Tony Bennett, to name just

a few of the notables who have trod its venerable boards. The Brook

is one of just a few "Vaudeville vintage" theaters still

standing

in New Jersey. As its brochure states "Truly, one of a kind: The

Jewel of Bound Brook."

The mission of the Brook Arts Center is to serve as a nurturing ground

for new and existing performing arts groups. The mission endures,

but has generated even more impassioned commitment from the

eight-member

board of trustees and the community since the ravages of Hurricane

Floyd, the 1999 disaster that led to $77 million in business losses.

Bill Kraus, the Brook Center’s director of development (who also

serves

as rabbi to the town’s Congregation Knesseth Israel) described the

group’s goal: "Within the next 10 years, downtown Bound Brook,

is going to look similar to Red Bank," as he extols the beauty

of the nearby river and waterfront and particularly the community’s

ethnic mix of residents.

On my visit to Bound Brook and the Brook, the friendly looking

well-kept

mom and pop stores and restaurants that neighbor the theater are

evidence

of the opportunity for renewal and growth. While the old Brook was

never conceived as a major motion picture palace, much of its

deco-styled

beauty is undeniable, particularly its original marquee and a

beautifully

hand-painted water fountain in the lobby and an impressive dome in

the auditorium. As I listened to another theater company rehearsing

on the stage of the still-gutted auditorium, I was immediately

impressed

with the house acoustics.

Marino told me during our chat at the theater, "It

was great to have a home after 18 months of uncertainty," Marino

told me during our chat at the theater. Appel offered the Alliance

both funding and space. While the Alliance Repertory Company is not

yet an Equity company, its current production of "Gross

Indecency"

by Moises Kaufman is being cast, according to Marino, "with some

of the best actors in New Jersey." Marino and Streger have a

decade

of work together behind them.

"About 10 years ago, we were both acting, but never together,

in the community theater circuit," says Marino. "Jeff came

up with the idea that we should form our own company and do the plays

we really want to do. He likes to do heavy roles with a lot of content

and I had started to back away from acting and move toward

directing."

Marino had roles at professional theaters that included 12 Miles West

Repertory in Montclair and New Jersey Repertory in Long Branch, before

he turned pro by landing a small role on Broadway in the Roundabout

Theater’s 1998 Tony Award-winning production of Arthur Miller’s "A

View from the Bridge."

After that show closed, Marino and Streger decided to throw in a few

thousand dollars each to start their company. Alliance made its debut

with David Mamet’s "American Buffalo," and each man took a

key role in the production that won regional awards. Their reputation

grew as producers of Lanford Wilson’s "Burn This" and Edward

Albee’s "Three Tall Women." Although Marino and Streger have

cast themselves in previous Alliance productions, they have chosen

to concentrate on the business end of their new venture. Expanding

that role, Marino says he recently attended a seminar on grant

writing.

"If either Jeff or I act in a production, the other handles the

other responsibilities," he says, in a way that lets me know

neither

he nor Jeff would turn down a plum role. For "Gross

Indecency,"

Jerry is handling the costumes and set and Jeff is taking care of

the props. "That reminds me," he says, "I have to shop

at three costume shops after our talk."

Their director of choice for "Gross Indecency" is Michael

Driscoll, whom they credit with securing the rights to a play that

many local theaters felt was too controversial. Driscoll, one of New

Jersey’s busiest directors, won a Perry (given to non-Equity

productions)

last year for "The Heiress" at Villagers Theater. Mounting

a non-Equity show, but paying actors a stipend, costs Marino and

Streger

between $4,000 and $5,000. "We’ve been breaking even and that’s

good," says Marino, who admits they only lost money on one show

— "Dancing at Lughnasa" produced last summer at Kean

University.

He attributes that to "too much bouncing around from location

to location," a situation that Marino hopes has finally come to

an end.

Marino and Streger can only be pleased that their endeavor is now

part of Appel’s dream for the Brook — to have a resident theater

company.

Fortunately, neither Marino nor Streger rely on theater profits to

survive. Marino, who graduated from Seton Hall in 1970 with a degree

in science and business, is a self-employed broker in the plastics

industry. Streger is a salesman for a company that manufactures

electron

microscopes.

Until the Brook’s restoration is completed, Alliance plays will be

presented in the warm and spacious lobby where a black box theater

has been constructed, complete with a lighting board. While the Brook

Arts Center is actively promoting Alliance through its own brochures

and mailings, Marino admits that it is difficult getting media

coverage

for their non-equity company. "We have our own mailing list of

2,000 people who know our work. I always write `C’mon and see

us,’"

he says in a tone that is far from gritty. We’ll leave that tone for

the play, "Gross Indecency."

— Simon Saltzman

Gross Indecency , Alliance Repertory Theater, Brook

Arts Center, 10 Hamilton Street, Bound Brook, 732-469-7700. Opening

night for the Moises Kaufman play based on the three trials of Oscar

Wilde. To November 17. $15. Friday, November 2, 8 p.m.


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