Marcie Bramucci took on the role of executive director at Hedgerow Theater at an interesting time. For three generations, members of the Reed/Kelsey family had guided the historic suburban theater. Now Bramucci was taking over at a time when theaters across the globe faced the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. It made it difficult when it was time to return to in-person indoor plays.
“Our local arts community was reeling in the wake of the pandemic,” she says. “Folks have moved away or transitioned out of the field, and it can be hard to reconnect with folks to know who’s still around and up for the adventure.”
Bramucci’s choice for a return to Hedgerow’s old grist-mill space is especially fitting for these times. Conor McPherson’s modern masterpiece The Weir sees five people gather in an out-of-the-way pub in rural Ireland and come out of isolation over an evening of stories and drink. Set in the mid-1990s, it premiered in 1997 and is regularly listed as one of the best plays of the last century.
“There’s so much to adore about this play,” says Bramucci. “The excellent storytelling, the playfulness and humor as well as the underlying uncertainties and fears revealed that can, at times, tear us apart or else can connect us deeply. The Weir, is a masterfully crafted play with all of the warmth and creature-comforts needed as we inch our way out of isolation. It is a play about coming together, and one that wants to be performed live and in-person. It is especially at home within Hedgerow’s historic grist mill theater, which lends another aura all around, nestled within bucolic Rose Valley.”
The Weir is unusually intimate for Hedgerow, which often draws up a large cast of artistic associates and long-serving professionals. For this production, Bramucci gathered a team of Hedgerow newcomers: Barrymore winners) Stephen Patrick Smith and Pete Pryor, talented West-coast transplant Nik Menotiades, and Tyler Elliott, a regular at Bramucci’s former employer, People’s Light.
And although she chose the play before figuring out the casting, Bramucci is following in the footsteps of Hedgerow leadership dating back to its founding artistic director, Jasper Deeter, to work as actor-producers, in taking on the role of Valerie. An urban transplant emerging from personal upheaval, Valerie is the sole onstage female character, but Bramucci sees McPherson centering women in his story: they “squeeze and shape the story and each character’s trajectory in meaningful ways.”
Fittingly, the production uses an all-female production team, including director Claire Moyer, stage manager, Kate Sparacio, and technical director Alondra Santos-Castillo. “Ultimately, the behind the scenes leadership team encompassed all women and non-binary individuals,” says Bramucci. “Which was particularly exciting given the dynamic of this play and the unseen women who had a hand in its trajectory on the page and otherwise.”
The Weir opens tonight, October 8, 2021, after two previews, and runs through October 31. The entrancing shaggy-dog monologs which form the core of the dialog draw from ghost stories and Irish folk tales, making this an ideal Halloween-month show. Highly recommended.
Tickets and info here: hedgerowtheatre.org/the-weir
Phindie: How does it feel to be stepping into the shoes of Penelope Reed, after she and her family were in your role for so long?
Marcie Bramucci: The legacy of the Reed/Kelsey family is palpable. Three generations – Jared, Penelope and Janet – who have together and individually stewarded this organization to where we are today. The shoes they have left behind are sizable and will take more than me to fill them! Following in the footsteps of the Kelsey/Reed family is such a privilege. We are building on their foundation and that of other giants, including Jasper Deeter and Rose Schulman, who built this company from the ground-up and entwined artistry and education right at the outset. I’m thrilled to announce that Penelope rejoins us this fall to direct A Christmas Carol – as she is the most perfect person for the job.
Phindie: What makes The Weir an ideal play to return to in-person, indoor theater at Hedgerow?
Marcie Bramucci: What do you like about the play? There’s so much to adore about this play – the excellent storytelling, the playfulness and humor as well as the underlying uncertainties and fears revealed that can, at times, tear us apart or else can connect us deeply. The Weir, is a masterfully crafted play with all of the warmth and creature-comforts needed as we inch our way out of isolation. It is a play about coming together, and one that wants to be performed live and in-person. It is especially at home within Hedgerow’s historic grist mill theatre, which lends another aura all around, nestled within bucolic Rose Valley.
Phindie: What were some special challenges in getting together a cast for the show?
Marcie Bramucci: Oh, there were certainly challenges with casting, as our local arts community was reeling in the wake of the pandemic at the time. Folks have moved away or transitioned out of the field, and it can be hard just to reconnect with folks to know who’s still around and up for the adventure. I suspect we will feel that for a while.
But once this team crystalized – that was it! And I’ll never be able to say enough about this cast – I am absolutely spoiled!
Phindie: What makes the cast so suited to the roles?
Marcie Bramucci: It is an exceptional group of actors – Tyler Elliott, whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know from People’s Light portrays Brendan. Nik Menotiades, a terrific transplant from the west coast (whom I’ve enjoyed as an actor for years, having first met at Point Park Conservatory which we attended for undergrad) as Jim. And we welcome my favorite all around Philly-area heavy-weights (and Barrymore winners) Stephen Patrick Smith and Pete Pryor to the Hedgerow stage for the first time to go toe-to-toe as Jack and Finbar, respectively. It’s mind-boggling that this is each of their first foray here. We at Hedgerow could not be more fortunate to have their collective talents in our midst, for this reopening. To share the stage with them is electric.
Phindie: What attracts you to the role of Valerie? Was it a role you’d wanted to play? How does this fit into your future at Hedgerow?
Marcie Bramucci: Valerie is an exciting puzzle. She makes a bold step away from all that she knows out into the unknown, among an entirely new geography and community. I came to The Weir for Hedgerow before my own potential involvement, as it feels especially well-suited to this unique venue and community.
It felt important to find a way to introduce myself at the start of this new journey and new season. And there’s this delightful tradition among Hedgerow leadership, dating back to its founding Artistic Director, Jasper Deeter, coming in as actor-producers. So it is exciting to step into the fold with those dual identities, and bring Valerie to life. The last time I performed at Hedgerow was in Three Sisters directed by Harriet Power. It was terrific fun to play the imposing sister-in-law, Natasha, but man, was she was a piece of work! Valerie is an entirely different adventure.
Phindie: Valerie is the only female character onstage, but women play an important role in the play and in this production. Can you speak to that?
Marcie Bramucci: Yes, indeed. this can easily feel like a man’s world, but just as you suggest, women squeeze and shape the story and each character’s trajectory in meaningful ways – Brendan’s intrusive sisters, Jim’s aging mother, former neighbors, Jack’s old girlfriend. Women loom and haunt throughout this play. It is ideal to have a strong female director at the helm and we are beyond fortunate to have this play in the care of the intrepid Claire Moyer. We proceeded to assemble the design team one after another with rockstar female artists, and then I had the opportunity to hire two staff positions – our Production Stage Manager, Kate Sparacio; and Technical Director, Alondra Santos-Castillo. Ultimately, the behind the scenes leadership team encompassed all women and non-binary individuals, which was particularly exciting given the dynamic of this play and the unseen women who had a hand in its trajectory on the page and otherwise.
Phindie: What efforts is Hedgerow making to ensure the safety of its cast, crew, and audience?
Marcie Bramucci: We’ve been strategizing around our approach for months.
Inside the venue, we have upgraded our facility, including the installation of iWave filters by Nu-Calgon, and also installed new seating that already cuts our capacity down by 20% to ensure greater space between patrons and fewer individuals in the theatre venue for any given performance.
The play itself is 90-minutes long and has no intermission, thus reducing time for patrons in the lobby and indoor venue spaces. We will host plenty of pre-performance gatherings, making use of our lush spaces on the theatre’s grounds outdoors.
Hedgerow is aligned with Theatre Philadelphia and so many of our peer theatres in the region in requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID PCR test within 72 hours of a performance. Additionally, patrons are required to wear masks while indoors.
More details can be found on our website. We continue to monitor safety considerations, as patron and artist safety is of primary concern. We want to ensure we can all regather safely and have employed these proactive and rigorous protocols in order to make sure we can.
Phindie: Thanks Marcie!