The notion of a “theater by the seaside” could be just another quaint vacation idea – a sunny, sandy, Jersey Shore summer respite rather than a seasoned, provocative concept with artistic heft or aesthetically minded oomph.
At the Cape May Stage in Cape May, New Jersey, however, and in the hands of longtime stage veteran Ray Steinberg—the shore theater’s Artistic Director for the last 12 years—the integrity of the theatrical arts, thoughtful and meaningful productions, and working with Broadway and Off Broadway’s best, comes before resort wear and beach balls. Especially when your first show of Cape May Stage summer season is ‘Ann.,’ a powerhouse one-woman show revolving around the in-your-face activism of Ann Richards, the great, late Governor of Texas. Written by Emmy Award-winning actress Holland Taylor, directed by Marlena Lustik, and starring Kate McCauley Hathaway, ‘Ann’ runs through Aug. 22.
“I think it is the level of artistry that makes Cape May Stage bold,” says Steinberg. “Our actors, directors, costumers and designers are all, quite literally Tony Award winners.” Pointing to Broadway’s highest honor, Steinberg points out Tony-winning, recent Cape May Stage collaborators such as Austin Pendleton and Karen Ziembra. “We get people that you might not normally see in Philadelphia.”
What lures such exceptional talent to Cape May Stage? One, is the fact that Steinberg has been a part of American theater, film and television for decades, most notably as producer and director of daytime soap operas such as ‘All My Children,’ ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘Guiding Light.’
“I’ve known some of the people I work with at Cape May Stage for 40 years. There’s a network too, a word-of-mouth where actors we’ve worked with tell other actors how great we are, and so-on-and-so-forth.”
‘Ann,’ directed by Lustik, and starring Hathaway is such production. Along with noting that Hathaway is “one of the most charming people –a quality that translates to the character she is creating” in her portrayal of the gutsy, outspoken Texas Governor, she also happens to be a longtime Cape May habitué.
“Her family grew up here, so she is a huge draw within the Cape May community as everyone knows her and her family,” states Steinberg. “And in real life, Kate and Marlena, Ann’s director, are good friends, have worked together, and have a sort-of shorthand. They are their own female mafia in the best sense of the word. And it is a very female-centric production as nearly everyone connected with our staging is a woman.”
Being a female-centric production only makes sense when it comes to the subject of ‘Ann;’ Richards being a forceful woman who demanded equal rights for all during her time within Texas’ legislature, women in particular.
“The reason we wanted to do ‘Ann,’ now, comes from this moment in time,” says Steinberg. “I’m embarrassed to say that it has taken all these years to address society’s issues such as civil rights, woman’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and still little has changed. The things that Ann Richards was working for – 40 years ago, 30 years ago – are still a problem in our country.”
On an artistic level, Steinberg wanted Cape May Stage’s summer season to open with ‘Ann’ on a portrait of social politics relevant to this moment. For a purely practical reason, however, in a slowly-opening, post-pandemic time, a show without a huge cast was most welcome.
“Until recently, there were issues of social distancing and actors having to be downstage of each other. And we were worried about COVID and safety restrictions until the day we opened,” says Steinberg. “There was also the question of patrons feeling safe in a closed space. Fortunately, everyone is fully vaccinated and we have safety protocols far beyond what Equity and the government requires. I am, however, an optimist looking forward for the best. ‘Ann’ is the best. Cape May Stage is the best.”
For more information on ‘Ann’ and Cape May Stage, visit capemaystage.org/2021-season