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An Interview with Terry Rabine, Artistic Director of the LGDT, on LGDT’s Newest Production, Skin Deep

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Terry Rabine on Skin Deep, Lake George Dinner Theatre’s Latest Production

By Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower

Terry Rabine, Lake George Dinner TheatreSince taking ownership in 2008 of the Lake George Dinner Theatre, Terry Rabine has made a concerted effort to bring new and contemporary plays to the dinner theatre stage. A veritable force in the theatre world, Rabine’s career has spanned acting, directing and producing, in productions that range from regional to local. Interestingly enough, one of his first acting roles was actually in a production at the LGDT, making his move to Artistic Director of the theatre somewhat of a circuitous coming home for him. Last year, the LGDT staged Our Son’s Wedding by Donna de Matteo—a comic tour de force dealing with parents attempting to cope with their son’s gay marriage. We had the pleasure of seeing it—an absolutely terrific, spot-on, tightly woven production that took a risk that perhaps your typical dinner theatre would not; it’s precisely this aspect that makes Rabine’s vision for dinner theatre so extra special, and why we recommend everyone see this summer’s show. This year’s production, Skin Deep, runs July 14-October 29, 2011 at the LGDT stage at the Holiday Inn at Lake George; looking to be equally entertaining, the play tackles another important issue facing society—weight and image—once again doing so in a comical light. We recently had the chance to speak with Terry to find out more about the upcoming production and his future goals for the Lake George Dinner Theatre.

The Free George: So tell us a little bit about your upcoming production, Skin Deep.

Terry Rabine: Skin Deep is a four-character comedy about last-chance romance and our perceptions of “beauty.” In the play, Sheila Whiting tries to set up her large, lovable, but spinsterish sister, Maureen, on a blind date without having even met the man she’s setting her sister up with. Having been deserted at the altar years ago, Maureen has long since given up on dating and is very self-conscious about herself, while Sheila is obsessed with her own physical appearance and is constantly having plastic surgery to ward off the aging process in hopes that she’ll be able to compete with the younger women who are constantly flirting with her good-looking husband, Squire. When Maureen’s date, Joe, arrives two hours late for their blind date, things get off to a rocky start, but Joe’s simple, honest and sweet demeanor begin to win Maureen over. Nevertheless, she sends Joe on his way, unable to risk being hurt again. When Sheila and Squire attempt to intervene on Joe’s behalf, a series of misunderstandings make for some hysterical fireworks

TFG: The play seems particularly topical right now considering how much importance we place on image and the plastic surgery craze–was that one of the reasons you chose Skin Deep for production this year?

TR: Definitely. While our first priority at LGDT is to produce good comedies that are entertaining to our summer audience, I always try to find a play that has a bit of a “message” that requires the characters in the play to do some soul-searching, if you will.  It makes the characters three-dimensional and allows the audience to empathize with them on some level. We want the audience to have fun, but also to provide touching moments in which they’re asked to, at least question or think about a long held assumption. Skin Deep balances these elements of comedy with something a bit more serious in a very clever way that’s never preachy.

TFG: It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but how do you walk the line between such a touchy subject as weight, without poking fun at it?

TR: The thing that makes the weight issue work in Skin Deep is that Maureen is the character who pokes fun at her own weight problem. She masks her lack of self-esteem by making fun of herself and does so with some very funny one-liners that allow us to laugh with her rather than at her. And Jon Lonoff, the playwright, cleverly mixes Sheila’s self-consciousness about her aging into the message of the play in a very thought-provoking scene with her husband, in which she, too, is forced to confront her own misconceptions about beauty. It’s Lonoff’s interweaving of these two aspects of beauty that drew me to the play.

TFG: You have a mix of local actors in the cast, as well as those who’ve performed on Broadway, including Dennis Holland, who was in Michael Kidd’s 1980 revival of The Music Man with Dick Van Dyke. What is it when you’re casting someone, that makes you say to yourself–that’s the person I want for this role?

TR: I have two important criteria that inform the casting process. The first is to find an actor that is physically and psychologically right for the part; that includes finding an actor in the right age range, as well as an actor who has a well-developed stage technique and an understanding of the character. The second criteria has more to do with the personality of the actor. Because our productions have extended runs of 16-18 weeks, I need to select actors who I feel will work well with the rest of the cast over a three-month period and who are collaborative, friendly, flexible and who I think will be fun to work with.

TFG: I remember the last time we spoke you were telling us how the casting of Maureen was a particularly difficult process. Can you talk a little bit about that?

TR: Because the role of Maureen is a physically big character in her early 40s, I knew going into the audition process that this role would be difficult to cast. The professional theatre business requires that in a majority of cases, actresses must be slim and attractive. (This, by the way, goes right to the themes of Skin Deep.) After our first round of auditions in NYC, I still hadn’t found our Maureen. So I started reaching out to colleagues in the theatre, asking if they knew of any actresses that might fit our needs. And, in fact, an actress friend of mine recommended Emily Mikesell with whom she’d worked at Capital Rep a year earlier in THE DEAD. I reached out to Emily and a few other recommended actresses and went back to NYC and read them with two of the actors I was also considering for the show. When I read Emily for the show, I knew I’d found our Maureen.

TFG: Jon Lonoff, the playwright, had quite a success a few years back with his documentary about Nepal, Top of the World–has he or will he be involved in the rehearsal process, and how much do you typically work with the playwright, as you’re molding the script for production?

TR: Jon joined me in NY for the initial auditions and was very helpful in clarifying his intentions about the play and characters when we discussed it together. We then planned to have him join us up here in Lake George for rehearsals but a death in his family has now required that he be in the Midwest for a couple of weeks. He still plans to spend time with us during the run and we’re all very much looking forward to his comments on the production.

TFG: We read that fresh out of high school, you actually performed in one of LGDT’s first productions, The Fantasticks, and then you also worked with the LGDT on and off over the years. Now you’re Artistic Director, interesting when you consider how things come full circle. Has this (fairly) new position been somewhat like coming home for you? What have been some of the challenges?

TR: It’s literally coming home when you consider that I grew up in this area and lived in other cities in the Northeast for 15 years before returning to the region to step into a role at LGDT in the fall of 1987. I can honestly say that becoming the artistic head of LGDT never crossed my mind until Vicky Eastwood, the former owner, told me she was in the market to turn the theatre over to a new producer. So, yes, it is like coming home.  The challenges have been more on the administrative arena rather than the creative one. When I stepped into the producer’s position I’d had little experience with marketing, accounting, finance, contract negotiations and a host of other skills that I needed to learn quickly. And it didn’t help that I took over the theatre in 2008 just as the economy went into a tailspin. Four years into the job, I feel like I still have so much to learn.

TFG: You’ve also done quite a bit of acting in the past, are you still acting, or do you have any plans to return to it in the future? Any possibility you might be the Hitchcock of stage, showing up in cameos of your own productions from time to time?

TR: I do still enjoy acting and hope that at some point I’ll be able to do more acting. After being responsible for so many different elements of production at LGDT, it can be a refreshing break to have to worry only about performing a single character. And I have pulled a “Hitchcock” or two as a recorded voice-over in our productions. (I’m somewhere in Skin Deep, too.)

TFG: So we know one of your goals is to bring new and contemporary plays to the LGDT and to somewhat reinvent dinner theatre in general–can you talk a little bit about your goals and your vision for LGDT’s future?

TR: I wouldn’t say I want to reinvent dinner theatre, exactly. But because what we do at LGDT is such a unique entertainment experience and so different from what typical dinner theatre is like, be it professional or non-professional, my mission from the start has been to mount superior productions of very good plays that equal or surpass the quality on other professional stages in the area. And I want the theatre to be a social event that’s fun to participate in. I think much of our theatre in America has forgotten how to be fun.

For more information on Skin Deep and the LGDT, visit www.lakegeorgedinnertheatre.com.

–Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower are Publishers of The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=13165

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