Some of the actors in rehearsal.
By Orla O’Sullivan
Beck Lee, perhaps best known to readers as the publicist for Origin’s 1st Irish Festival, has his own play opening this week at a new theater complex that sounds worthy of a visit in itself.
Lee’s play “Subprime” features the dark side of the real estate industry, but Jersey City Theater Center, which presents it this week beginning tomorrow has an affiliate that could be considered a paragon of property development.
White Eagle Hall, where JCTC presents some work, just won a preservation award for restoring a 1910 building with tin ceilings and stained glass skylights to its former glory while also modernizing it, all in an eco-friendly way. The 400-seat venue held its first performance six weeks ago.
Lee’s play premieres not there, but in a related complex, Merseles Studios, which includes a 50-seat theater, an art gallery, and studios for resident artists. Merseles Studios is beside the hall, at 339 Newark Ave. — six blocks from the Grove St. stop on the Journal Square PATH train line.
Sadly, “Subprime” audiences won’t be able to see the beautiful hall, which won’t be open again until July 6, for the first of several forthcoming concerts. (It can hold up to 800 people standing). However, they can take in an exhibition at the art gallery. And, in something JCTC plans to make its signature, the theme of the art relates to that of the play.
A Polish priest was the inspiration for the storied hall, but it also has an Irish connection. Bob Hurley, the NBA Hall of Famer, trained a local high school basketball team to record success there.
“We just hosted Bob’s retirement party about two weeks ago, with ESPN, CBS, etc.,” Olga Levina artistic director JCTC told the Echo recently.
Levina is something of lynchpin between the hall and the Studios. Her husband’s company Ben LoPiccolo Development Group, LLC, saved the hall, restoring the stained-glass and reusing wood on which Hurley’s teams trained for bar counters (White Eagle Hall has two restaurants). The day before Levina was interviewed the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy gave LoPiccolo’s company an Excellence in Preservation award.
Levina, whose firm presents all the shows at the Studios and some of those at the hall, has a long background in the arts, as a dancer, actor, and director.
When she came to the United States from Belarus at age 22 she couldn’t believe it when she met people who told her they saw their first play in college.
“I moved to Jersey City in 2007 and met many people who never went to Broadway,” she said. With JCTC, she added, “We wanted to give Jersey City residents something to do.”
Writing “Subprime,” said Beck Lee, brought a lot to the surface in his life and marriage.
PHOTO: VICTOR GIGANTI
Conversely, “Subprime” features two couples who splurge on a trip to Manhattan. Minneapolis may be far away, but the debts and other secrets they hoped to leave there, follow them. As with subprime real estate, the inevitable crash is swift and dramatic.
Lee was living in Minneapolis when he thought up the dark comedy with his then wife Andrea Iten. The play, without being autobiographical, foreshadowed their own relationship, he said, and the pair are now divorcing. “Writing the play brought a lot to the surface,” Lee previously noted.
Iten is coming to see the premiere. This short production follows a few staged readings, including two last year, off-Broadway, at Davenport Theatre and Elektra Theater “Subprime” opens in a Manhattan hotel in the summer of 2008, where we meet the two, well-to-do couples.
Kelly is not an Irish name, the husband of the Crocker-Kellys insists. He thinks a WASP background would be higher status, but that’s the least of his worries. He’s also confused about his sexual identity, maxed out on debt, and blind to his wife’s infidelities. Let the weekend begin!
Directed by Jason Jacobs, the cast is comprised of Taylor C. Hays, John Long, Laris Macario, Jennifer Laine Williams and Cork’s Sarah Street, who starred in the critically acclaimed comedy “Abigail’s Party” at Barrow Group this past season.
“Subprime,” by Beck Lee, co-conceived with Andrea Iten, has four performances this week at the Jersey City Theater Center, Merseles Studios, 339 Newark Ave, near the Grove Street PATH Station, (201) 795-5386. Performances are Thursday, June 8th at 7:30 p.m., Friday, 9th at 8p.m., and Sat.10th at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets, $25 and $18, discounted, from www.jctcenter.org.