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Family secrets surface in Spirit of Broadway’s “Convenience”

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published March 07. 2013 4:00AM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
Zachary Gregusas as Vince and Anne Fowler as the young Liz rehearse the Spirit of Broadway Theater production of "Convenience."

The phrase "emotional baggage" becomes literal in the musical "Convenience."

Spirit of Broadway Theater Founding Artistic Director/CEO Brett A. Bernardini says the Gregg Coffin show now playing at SBT is about how family members keep "secrets from each other and how big those secrets can grow till they become chasms between us. There's no way for us to ever move forward, dragging those secrets behind. They become these anchors that, the more we drag, the bigger they get."

They reach the point where people can't do anything else until they deal with the weight of the past.

And the literal "emotional baggage"? "Covenience" opens with scenes in which a mother and her son separately discuss their estrangement - and, in a way, they start to unpack their past.

The mother and her boyfriend are unloading groceries, and he asks why she won't say yes to his marriage proposal, which he made a year and a half ago.

The scene shifts to her grown son, Vince, and his boyfriend as they are moving into a new apartment. Vince, carrying boxes, stops and bristles. He says they can't live together - what if his mother calls? His boyfriend responds, "Oh, so you don't know how to explain ME. You need to deal with this."

The audience learns that the mother and son have been alienated from each other for nearly nine years, and the secrets they keep are their excuses for not reuniting. Her husband - his father - walked out on the family years earlier. Mother and son blame one another. Even so, they haven't had the courage to say that to each other and instead let their emotions fester.

"Convenience" is sung-through and, Bernardini says, "There are incredible moments of humor in the show - a truly, truly funny show. This is not a sad, depressing Lifetime movie."

And while the son in the show is gay, Bernardini says that "Convenience" is no more about being gay than, say, the TV show "Modern Family" is.

"It's about what it is to be a family," he says.

Some potential sponsors for "Convenience," though, took exception. A couple of businesses - businesses that have been Spirit of Broadway corporate sponsors in the past - didn't want to financially support "Convenience." One representative said it was because sponsoring a show with a gay character is "bad for business," Bernardini recalls.

Bernardini says he also ran into a problem seeking funding for Spirit of Broadway's previous show, "Dani Girl." In that case, some businesses said they didn't want to sponsor a show about a 9-year-old girl with leukemia because they thought it was too depressing. (Bernardini says that, in actuality, "Dani Girl" drew positive reviews and good audience reaction.)

After hearing the comment about "Convenience," Bernardini began wondering how he could help businesses understand that a show with a gay character is NOT bad for business.

Ruth Tefft, Spirit of Broadway's bookkeeper/box-office manager, suggested taking it to the people. Spirit of Broadway initiated a Theater by the People Campaign, asking individuals for donations. Armed with those campaign results, Bernardini hopes to be able to say to those businesses, "I realize this is an issue for you. It's really not an issue for anybody else. I hear you, and (we) have come up with a way to hopefully show you that it really doesn't matter."

Indeed, people donated $12,000 over the course of two weeks to fund "Convenience," enough to get the show up and running.

That said, the theater still needs corporate sponsors in the future. Spirit of Broadway can't continue to produce its shows for the current $32 ticket prices without them.

Bernardini says he doesn't fault anyone for the "Convenience" situation. The businesses involved have been friends of the Spirit of Broadway for a long time, and Bernardini hopes that will continue.

He says, "Hopefully, in the end, the whole thing turns into a positive for everybody."

"Convenience," The Spirit of Broadway Theater, 24 Chestnut St., Norwich; through April 7; 7 p.m. Wed. and Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.; $32: (860) 886-2378.

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