Playwright Lenore Skomal and director Magda S. Nyiri on the set of The Exes.
Lenore Skomal is a writer turned producer. Not an easy task for any playwright, and certainly not for Ms. Skomal and her husband Rick Sayers, the husband and wife team behind the hugely successful, high-caliber NYC theatre festival, The Broadway Bound Theatre Festival.
To complicate matters - or at least to run on "high-octane challenges" - the team opened the third annual installment of their 20-plus feature length play festival just days before they ventured directly into the world of Off-Broadway with Lenore Skomal’s comedy, The Exes at Theater Row in the Times Square Theatre District. If anything was made easy in this highly ambitious process it’s that both events ran at the same venue, perhaps saving them some travel time and money. It would be safe to say that either this is a formula for chaos and sleepless nights, but somehow they did it.
The Exes, now running in its final performances until October 5th, is a comedy about modern day divorce and relationships involving a group of very wealthy Bostonians on the wedding day of the main character’s daughter.
An homage to the work of Noel Coward and Neil Simon, the play goes for a more sophisticated sort of comedy with lots of sarcasm, unusual circumstances, and a mix of quirky characters, as well as more grounded portrayals. The potion makes for some highly comedic moments and situations.
The play takes place all in one day as self-made billionaire, Richard Killingworth (played by Tim Hayes) is getting ready to attend his daughter, Victoria’s wedding. Richard’s soon to be ex-wife, Mavis (Karen Forte), has abandoned him for her new beau (Kyle Porter as Marcel Nistlerood) and moved to Europe. Richard, not yet over the pain of the betrayal, seeks comfort with his best friend Dick (David M. Farrington), who happens to be Mavis’s first husband, and his stepson - Dick’s son - Garrett (Galen Molk), with whom he has a tight bond. Together with a sharp-tongued, aging butler played by John Coleman Taylor (who prefers the title of House Manager), the men seek to put Mavis behind and enjoy the wedding day. That is until Mavis and her fiancé show up uninvited with some sort of “plot” festering in her wicked mind, and Victoria (Alison Preece) comes flying in with news that the wedding is over because she waited until the last minute to ask her soon-to-be-husband to sign a prenuptial agreement.
The story is clever, different, and full of surprises, and the characters are honest to their intensions, if not always likable. Standout performances by Tim Hayes and Galen Molk hold the whackier moments together and help the rest of the cast provide a good round of laughs. The production is highlighted with sharp, tight direction by Magda S. Nyiri.
One scene in Act 2, when Garrett recalls the craziness that took place at the wedding is acted out in slow-motion strobe by the cast and offers a priceless moment, theatre at its best. The set by Craig Napoliello is worthy of some award…it has to be. And if it's based on some real place in the city, I want to visit it!
Of course, none of this came together without some hard work, tons of money, and a few life lessons. So we interviewed the producing playwright herself.
LocalTheatreNY.com: It seems like yesterday that I first saw The Exes in a reading at The Dramatist Guild. How long was it from concept to the Off Broadway stage and what does that journey seem like to you now that this run is about to end?
Lenore Skomal: The play was in development for about two and half years before we opened in August, including four readings and staged reading. As a playwright, it's always mind-blowing to see your work come to life on stage. Characters who only existed in your head now have bodies and personalities. They move, talk and interact with each other. It's honestly a miracle. Looking back on where I started with this, I can only say it has been the single most exhilarating and, at the same time, tortuous experience of my life. Not unlike childbirth.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What changes took place in the material from the time you did the reading to what we are seeing on the stage this final week?
Lenore Skomal: While the plot has never changed, there are some major revisions to the original material. In fact, I did 34 rewrites on the script before we locked it in. And then some minor tweaks after that. Most writers intrinsically know that a work is never really done. You just have to get the place where you feel nothing else you do will make it substantially better.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Getting a play up and running on the Off Broadway stage is a major undertaking, what was the best lesson you learned and why?
Lenore Skomal: Producing Off-Broadway is not for the faint of heart! It requires nerves of steel. When you're only the playwright, your job literally ends after you lock the script in. When you're the producer, your job never ends. In fact, the real work and accompanying anxiety begins on Opening Night. It's a daily job working to get butts in seats, especially when there are at least 140 other shows on and off Broadway that are competing with you--not to mention all the other smaller performances at cabaret houses, very small venues and colleges. You literally die every day.
LocalTheatreNY.com: If there is one thing you could do differently, what would it be and why?
Lenore Skomal: Opened the show out of town. It would have helped prepare me for New York audiences. But honestly I have no regrets.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Well, what is it about New York audiences that you feel opening out of town would have helped you prepare better?
Lenore Skomal: It would helped prepare ME better. This is the toughest audience in the world. That's why most shows open out of town. Opening a brand new show right on 42nd St. without an out of town opening was truly baptism by fire. But I'm still standing. And the play is better for it.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What was the most memorable moment, or high point, for you during this production?
Lenore Skomal: Finding Galen Molk. He's the actor who replaced our original Garrett Wright, whom we had to replace literally four days before opening previews started on Wednesday. We had to use a dress rehearsal as an audition. And Galen was the last actor to audition at 4:30. We hired him on the spot and he was in rehearsal that night at 6:00, and off book by Tuesday and on stage, fully blocked and in character for Wednesday's opening night. I felt the universe dropped him in our laps and it has served as a powerful reminder that even when things seem to be darkest, the universe has your back.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What happens to The Exes now? Will it change in any way, move forward as is to Broadway, perhaps some other afterlife? What's going through your head as you plan ahead?
Lenore Skomal: I would love for it to have a longer life here in the city, but it's an incredibly expensive endeavor. I've worked hard on THE EXES and always envisioned it as a a perfect play for regional and especially community theatre. I'd love to see it gain traction here in this country and in the UK. It's a perfect play for any smaller theatre with a limited budget to launch. And it appeals to a wide range of demographics.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What's next for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you want to share with us? A new play? A novel?
Lenore Skomal: My first play BLUFF is ready to come back to a larger stage. It had its first run at Hudson Guild in 2016. And now that I have my first experience as an Off Broadway producer under my belt and the white hair to prove it, I'm ready to find a home for BLUFF's next run. It's an adaptation of my first novel. I'm also adapting THIRD WILLOW, my second novel and a coming of age story. I'm borrowing the idea that MOCKINGBIRD has utilized of using using 20 something year old actors
to portray 10 and 11-year olds. That would be a real challenge for me to adapt because the play involves many adult themes as seen through the eyes of kids.
LocalTheatreNY.com: How do you feel about the closing of the show this week? Any thoughts or emotions you care to share?
Lenore Skomal: Bittersweet. It's sad because this is an ending. But it's also exhilarating because I was able to have a successful play run a full 9-weeks Off Broadway. Not many playwrights can say that.
The Exes is playing every night this week with two final performances this Saturday, October 5th. Don't miss it.
To purchase online visit: https://www.telecharge.com/ScheduleAndPricing.aspx?ProductId=12776 call the Theater Row Box office at 212-239-6200 or visit in person prior to each performance.