Boro playwright will have 3-week run at Kean

Glen Ridge residents Craig Garcia and John Wooten

UNION, NJ — Premiere Stages, the professional Equity theater company in residence at Kean University, is presenting a new play by Glen Ridge resident Craig Garcia with performances beginning tonight as part of the 2018 Premiere Play Festival. Garcia’s plays have been given readings before, but this will be his first full-scale production. The production is being directed by borough resident, John Wooten.

The play is titled “Linger.” It is the story of a family faced with social media judgement after their 15-year-old son is suspected of a physical assault upon a boy his own age and gay.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Garcia, 52, said he moved to Brooklyn from the San Francisco Bay area where he attended the University of California, at Berkeley. Both his father and brother are journalists and Garcia, who has being writing for most of his life, said he worked in the film industry as a “script doctor.” He discovered the theater after moving to NYC for his work. Following Brooklyn, he resided in Bloomfield then settled in the borough with his wife, a daughter and son, about three years ago. He works in retail.

“I always really wanted to get to the East Coast,” he said. “They have theater in the Bay area, but on a much smaller scale. Off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway were new to me.”

In the film business, he said, a person could spend years trying to raise money to produce a film. Even a small independent film would cost $5 million.

“You almost get there and it doesn’t work out,” he said. “You had no control.”

So, he and a friend, Tim O’Brien, decided to pool their resources and produce a play. O’Brien also is from San Francisco, but Garcia said he did not know him until they met in Brooklyn. They found a play they both loved and produced it in 2000. It was titled, “Never Swim Alone.” It was again produced in 2006.

“I wouldn’t say we made money, but we did alright,” Garcia said of the effort.

He was still doing script doctoring to pay the bills and admits that he was fairly good at it. But he wanted to write a stage play and began to teach himself how to do it. The result was the 90- minute, “Good to Go.” He entered it into the New Voices Play Festival sponsored by Theater Resources Unlimited. It was selected for a reading at Baruch College, in New York. This was in 2014.

“It’s about a young man who discovers he is going to die,” Garcia said. “He wants to do something meaningful for a friend.”

Last year, another of his plays had a reading. This was at Luna Theater, in West Orange. The play was “After the Fast.”

Garcia said a big difference between film and stage writing is that film writers have no say in how their work is presented, but that is not so for the stage.

“In theater, the writer has one of the most important voices and they are part in all aspects of production,” he said. “I was fortunate to work with John Wooten. When the curtain goes up, it has to be the director’s show.”

Since this is the first time a play of his is being staged, Garcia said without exaggeration that this week is big for him.

“‘Linger’ is about how difficult it is to raise kids in the world now and how much control do you have over your own kids,” he said. “You don’t really know them”

Garcia wanted to combine that idea with forces that can break families apart.

“I’m the parent of teens and the world moves fast,” he said. “There is a lack of control. The question of who your children are bubbles up. You try to make the world secure for them, but you feel there are so many forces pulling that away.”

Although he was the playwright, Garcia said it was interesting to see what Wooten and the actors revealed about the characters.
“Seeing it come to life was magical,” he said. “That’s the wonderful part of this.”

Wooten, 52, was born in New Mexico and has lived in the north Jersey area since 1987. He attended Montclair State University and moved to Glen Ridge in 2009. He is the producing artistic director of Premiere Stages and also the director of arts programming at Kean University.

In a telephone interview early this week, Wooten said that after graduating from college, he worked as a professional actor. He was also a playwright and had several plays produced in NYC. In 1992, he said he was at a “crossroads” and decided to put aside acting and instead write, direct and produce plays. As the producing artistic director at Premiere Stages, he was responsible for selecting “Linger.” Five hundred and seventy-two plays were submitted for consideration for the 2018 festival.

“Craig’s play was one of three selected for full production,” he said. “We produce plays that are topical and resonate with modern audiences.”

Wooten said “Linger” resonates because a suspected crime explodes on social median and people are pre-judged. “Privacy is more difficult with social media,” he said. “It’s more difficult to stay under the radar.”
According to Wooten, the play is about a family of parents with a teenage boy and girl who are living the American Dream when their lives are turned upside-down.

“The kids cannot escape social media,” Wooten said. “Another appeal is that together the family begins to unravel. When people are backed against the ropes, you really see what they’re about. Craig has done a really good job of crafting it.”

“Linger” is very naturalistic, Wooten said.

“It was a challenge to serve the play,” he said. “It’s very dramatic. You don’t want to go from drama to melodrama. There’s a lot of heightened tension.”

The actors playing the boy and girl are the actual ages of the characters they portray, 16 and 14, respectively.

“It was especially important for me to have actors actually their age,” Wooten said.

“Linger” will be performed July 12 to 29 in the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center on the Kean University main campus in Union. Performances will be July 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, and 29 at 8 p.m., and July 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29, at 3 p.m. Admission is charged.