BWW Interview: Director John A.C. Kennedy of PLAY ON! at The Chatham Playhouse

BWW Interview: Director John A.C. Kennedy of PLAY ON! at The Chatham Playhouse

Need a good laugh? The Chatham Community Players may have the cure with Rick Abbott's hilarious play within a play, Play On!

Directed by John A.C. Kennedy, it's an uproarious behind-the scenes comedy in the tradition of Noises Off. An unlucky troupe of actors desperately tries to put on a play in spite of meddling from the playwright. Will they manage to pull off the opening night without a hitch? Of course not! Don't miss this non-stop, mischievous backstage romp! Those who have participated in community theater - especially New Jersey's actors and backstage volunteers - seem like the ideal audience for this well-staged and well-cast production of a play that revels in the amateurish pitfalls and ego-driven excesses of community theater. At just under two hours, though, including two intermissions, "Play On!" will move fast enough that it won't have the time to outwear its welcome.

The talented group of actors that make up the "Play On!" cast are Jessica Phelan of Montclair as Aggie, Shane Long of Jersey City as Billy, Aaron Kellner of West Orange as Gerry, Jim Clancy of Basking Ridge as Henry, Roseann Ruggiero of Ledgewood as Louise, Julie Anne Nolan of Little Falls as Phyllis, Lauri MacMillan of Rockaway as Polly, Chip Prestera of Stirling as Saul, Rachel Gesner of Short Hills as Smitty and Ali Archetti of East Hanover as Violet. Rounding out Kennedy's talented production team, the Producer is Joe DeVico, Stage Manager is Joëlle Bochner, Scenic Designer is Steve Ruskin, Costume Designers are Christina Kirk, Kai Movsovich & Carol Saso, Lighting Designer is Ed Whitman, Props & Decoration by Tish Lum & Kate Pierce and original music is composed and performed by the Sound Designer, Joe DeVico. interviewed John A.C. Kennedy about his career and Play On!

What was your first experience with live theatre?

I saw Peter Pan at the Paper Mill Playhouse when I was very young, but my first onstage adventure was in 8th grade when I played Conrad in Bye Bye Birdie. The stuff of middle school legend, I'm sure.

How did you first become involved in the theater?

Both my parents did a lot of work at the Barn Theatre in Montville when I was a kid. They made the idea of grown-ups playing around look like a lot of fun.

How did you choose this particular show to direct?

I'm usually skeptical of plays about actors (or songs about singers, or books about writers...), but the nature of this script gave us the opportunity to create an entire, fictional theater company. Because the cast is so inventive and willing to play, we were able to develop the Bluestocking Spotlight Theatrical Players Society, an "acting company" complete with a rich history of productions, personalities (and issues) that should be familiar to many in the community theater world.

Can you give us an explanation of how you orchestrated auditions and what was expected of the actors?

People will sometimes come in and try to show what their idea of character is, but I'm mostly interested in what an actor brings when just honestly being themselves. We had everyone read short, two-person scenes with another auditioner. If I felt someone was working too hard, we'd talk about that for a moment and then try it again. I'm mostly looking for who you naturally are, and how you might fit into the piece.

We'd love to know about the cast/creative team for Play On.

We had a terrific turnout for this, and I had to pass on some very talented people. We ended up with a wonderful, large cast of 10, very wide age-range, and half of whom I'd never worked with before.

Have you ever worked with Chatham Community Players prior to now?

I first appeared in Chatham a few years ago, in Taming of the Shrew. I've since directed CCP productions of Clybourne Park, Christmas Cards 2013 and a piece for Jersey Voices 2017. I had small parts in Bell, Book and Candle and Christmas Cards 2013.

What would you like New Jersey audiences about the show?

Play On! is certainly about a challenged acting company but, for me, bad actor jokes run thin. I'm lucky to have a very, very talented cast, so we've been able to take the approach that they are actually a pretty good, experienced acting company who are doing their damnedest to stage a new play... while an amateur playwright continues to hit them with last minute changes. I find the story of talented people attempting to surmount the insurmountable to be pretty compelling. And in this case very funny.

What is next for you, whether it's directing, acting, etc.?

I'm directing Circle Mirror Transformation, a warm, funny piece about a small-town Vermont acting class for Alliance Repertory ( in Summit, opening May 3rd. It's the story of four novice students who end up learning, through the class exercises, surprising things about themselves and each other. The teacher, as well. Yes, another play about actors, but this one's a bit less... let's say "manic". Should also be terrific, though!

Box Office Information - Online Ticketing

Performance dates are February 22, 23 and March 1, 2, 8, 9 at 8pm and March 3 at 3pm. All performances are at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 North Passaic Avenue, in Chatham. Tickets are $25 for adults and $23 for youth/senior.

Tickets can be purchased at their Box Office or Online. To access the theater's new online ticketing service, where you can now reserve your particular seat, simply go to The service is available 24 hours a day and tickets can be purchased online up until three hours prior to curtain on the day of a performance. Chatham Playhouse's box office will begin accepting phone reservations on February 12 at (973) 635-7363. For information regarding box office hours, please call the box office number listed above. Patrons with special needs requiring seating accommodations should contact the Playhouse at least 24 hours prior to the performance. Without prior notice, accommodations cannot be guaranteed. "Play On!"is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French.

About the Chatham Playhouse

The Chatham Community Players has been entertaining residents of Morris County and the surrounding area since 1922. The organization's mission is to produce high-quality theater for a diverse audience, while elevating its standard of excellence and providing a creative outlet with educational opportunities and outreach programs. For more information, including details of CCP's 2018-2019 season, visit Funding has been made possible in part by Morris Arts through the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Photo by John A.C. Kennedy

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