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Recession−proof boro theater helps you forget hard times

The holiday season is upon us, but it’s not like the good old days, and things are looking grim. Jan. 20 can’t come soon enough, although it will take a major effort by the new administration in Washington, lots of time and a couple of miracles to get us out of the mess we’re in. The city and state are hurting too — cutbacks are everywhere, and money is scarce.

So in the spirit of “forget your troubles, come on be happy,” let me remind you of the pleasant and affordable diversion of local theater. Broadway may see a lot of shows closing, but here in Queens and vicinity, the theater companies, used to surviving on a shoestring budget, are still going strong. Check the listings in the weeklies, look for the flyers, go online, and you’ll find what’s playing in your neighborhood.

Across the LIRR tracks from my office is the Community Church of Douglaston, home of Theatre A La Carte, where I recently attended a performance of “You, The Jury,” a courtroom drama featuring several popular and ubiquitous actors, including Nick DeCesare, Mary Lynch and Richard Weyhausen. Directed by the effervescent Nancy E. Keegan, the play asks the audience to decide the fate of the defendant — and if you didn’t know she was innocent, you weren’t paying attention.

TALC has been around since the mid−1970’s, founded by Liliane Bergelt. When she retired to Florida in 1990, Pat Battestin took over and has been running the group ever since, along with the more recent assistance of Susan Emro and the late Jegana Martin.

TALC has a loyal and devoted audience that enjoys their usual selection of murder mysteries and light comedies. A highlight of a TALC production is their opening night reception with food and drink for all.

A few miles west in Sunnyside is the Thalia Spanish Theatre under the guidance of Artistic⁄Executive Director Angel Gil Orrios and super Administrator Kathy Giaimo. It was there that I saw the American premiere of “Don Juan Through the Centuries (Por los Siglos por los Siglos).” Although my Spanish is passable, I didn’t need it since the performance was in English. In fact, Thalia features bilingual productions, so you get your choice of languages.

In the “Don Juan” cast were Raul Julia, son of the late actor with the same name, and the marvelous Soledad Lopez, wife of the director. Housed in a former supermarket, Thalia, now 30 years old, is a professional company that always offers something out of the ordinary.

Most of my time in November was with The Outrageous Fortune Company, producing my 45th play over 16 seasons in the small theater at Queens Theatre in the Park. This one was “Yellow Face,” a comedy about racial identity, and on opening night the playwright, David Henry Hwang, and his actress wife, Kathryn Layng, came to the show and spoke to the audience afterwards.

The play, directed by the talented Sofia Landon Geier, filled all 99 seats for almost every performance. Three question−and−answer sessions with the cast were added to the usual second Friday one, with guest moderators Margaret Fung, a civil rights attorney, Grace Meng, newly−elected assemblywoman, and Dorothy Chin−Brandt, acting Supreme Court justice.

This is just a small sampling of what’s available in local theater. So don’t worry about the economy, snap out of it, and take in a show.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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