Word gets around on a small Island. “I only wanted to do this for my grandmother,” explained Michael Domitrovich to the crowd, “but you tell one person, who tells one person, who tells one person, and then somebody tells the Gazette, and then suddenly . . . .”
Then suddenly you’ve got an audience of more than 100 people, sitting in neat white folding chairs on State Beach, for an evening at once unique and yet quintessentially Vineyard.
As written about in last week’s Gazette, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate turned New York city playwright came back to the Island for a single performance of his one-act, On Island. The piece had played off-Broadway for most of August but his parents, who own and run Lola’s Restaurant, could not get away during the Vineyard’s busiest month to see it. Neither could his 86-year-old grandmother.
The play is dedicated to the memory of his grandfather, his Papou, George Hanzakas, and unabashedly reveals Mr. Domitrovich’s roots. Since there were only three actors and the setting was a jetty on State Beach, Mr. Domitrovich decided to literally bring the play home to his immediate family. Thanks to the power of the grapevine (and the Gazette), they were joined by more than a few friends, fans and well-wishers.
The show began at 5:30 p.m. but the “Vineyard experience” began before that. Mr. Domitrovich and his cast parked the van along State Beach and began the arduous task of carrying about a hundred white wooden folding chairs down the dunes, toward the first jetty past the first bridge. Almost immediately, people were parking their cars and jumping out, asking, “Can I help with the chairs? Is this where the play is going to be?” They left their shoes by the path and helped to set up the space. The effect was almost surreal: an un–groomed beach in a completely natural state, without even a line in the sand to suggest what was the theatre and what wasn’t ... and then neat rows of chairs full of audience members, some of them quite dressed up.
Most of the crowd had some connection or other to the playwright and/or his family. Among the many dozens was M.J. Bruder Munafo from the Vineyard Playhouse, one of his mentors as he was a blossoming actor; Taffy McCarthy, the mother of not one but two of his prom dates from high school (the prom dates themselves were unavailable); and Susan Klein, who had had Mr. Domitrovich’s grandmother in a memoir-writing class. (Susan brought the grandmother a blanket to keep warm, because she remembered that she’d been cold during Klein’s recent open-air story telling concert).
By 5:30 it was standing room only on the beach. With a matchless ocean-and-sky backdrop and the most authentic-looking set one could ever ask for, young Mr. Domitrovich stepped onto the jetty to introduce the project. He looked cheerful in a cream-colored cotton suit, and a female voice from the audience called out, “You’re beautiful!”
Mr. Domitrovich thanked the crowd and everyone who had helped to make this special evening possible, and then the play began.
On Island is a one-act about an Island boy getting cold feet minutes before his State Beach wedding to a Boston debutante (admittedly, a lawyer debutante). He and his brother, the best man, have a confessional heart-to-heart about family dynamics; they are interrupted by the distraught bride; eventually crisis is averted and there is a joyful ending. Confessional heart-to-hearts are a staple of short plays, and Mr. Domitrovich’s brothers were snappy, insightful and entirely engrossing. He has a great ear for dialogue and his actors (Anthony Carrigan, Jorge Cordova and Lisa Birnbaum) have a gift for delivery. “We came up with civilization!” says the best man, defending their Greek heritage when the groom frets that they’re not Boston Brahmins.
The play was no doubt enjoyable in an off-Broadway theatre, but seeing it done on-site definitely provides extra magic. When the groom refers to being “on this jetty, on State Beach, with my bride driving over from our restaurant,” one feels as much a voyeur as an audience member. The text is stuffed full of insider jokes — about half of them referencing pop culture (especially The Princess Bride) but just as many referencing the Vineyard. A comment about Carly Simon taking off her blouse at the Hot Tin Roof in 1974 might mean something to a New Yorker, but far more to a Vineyarder. And a line like, “The town would never give us a (zoning) permit” is not so obviously a laugh-line beyond Vineyard shores.
Besides the textual richness, and of course the incomparable set, the actors themselves found wonderful ways to really “be here now.” The best man chucked a stone into the ocean when frustrated; the bride shivered in a very real evening breeze; the groom stumbled dramatically (and accidentally) on a rock and the emotional tension in the scene was so taut that the nervous laughter of both actors actually worked perfectly.
The play ran under an hour, and within less than a minute of the applause dying down, most of the chairs were already folded up and on their way back to the van — again by audience members.
“Better than I could have imagined,” is how Mr. Domitrovich described it later. His grandmother, wearing a classy black outfit with an American Idol baseball cap, said, with misty eyes, “It was just like it happened. And everybody loved it — they laughed at all the right places.”
On Island is not the first site-specific performance done on Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s the first one in a good long time, and it would be a pity if it were the last. The community at large would benefit if others, or Mr. Domitrovich himself, felt inspired to create more such evenings.