Cardboard pieces, broken sticks, a busted wicker chair, a stepladder, an empty pack of cigarettes and a mop bucket lay in a pile on the floor of the Hebrew Center last Monday night.
MJ Bruder Munafo, the executive artistic director of the Vineyard Playhouse, took the stage.
“We want to thank the Hebrew Center for this wonderful space,” she said, looking down at the debris. “Which we’ve immediately trashed.”
The Vineyard Playhouse building, dating back to 1833, is currently undergoing restoration, renovation and expansion. But even without a permanent venue, the show must go on.
The junk on the floor turned out to play an important role in John Basinger’s one-man adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which he performed as part of the Playhouse’s Monday Night Specials.
The character of Goneril was played by the wicker chair. The tin trash can was Regan, and a fetching wooden coat rack became Cordelia – all non-speaking parts, of course.
“It was certainly daring,” said Playhouse artistic associate Joann Green Breuer of Mr. Basinger’s performance. “And that’s one thing that Monday nights can be.”
The King kicked off the Monday Night Special summer season for the Vineyard Playhouse, which will be held every week at the Hebrew Center. “There’s barely a night going by this summer that we aren’t doing a show or a special event, and it was supposed to be our down summer,” said Ms. Munafo. “We look forward to the day when we have our home back, but we are very grateful for the space.”
In addition to producing Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night outdoors at the Tisbury Amphitheater, and the Fabulists each Saturday morning at the same location, the Playhouse will put on plays at venues around the Island including the Performing Arts Center, the Yard, Martha’s Vineyard Museum and Union Chapel.
“I think one of the things we do in theatre is create worlds wherever we are,” said Ms. Breuer.
Unlike most Monday Night Specials, which are typically staged readings, Mr. Basinger performed a nearly-finished work. Originally, he had memorized the lines of the King Lear character for a full production, with a full compliment of actors playing the other parts. But after a few postponements because of some of the other actors’ commitments, Mr. Basinger had another idea.
“I thought, ‘Hell with this, I’m just going to do it as a one-character play,’” he said. “King Lear is not really about the King at all — it’s about all the terrible things he sets in motion.”
With boxes and sticks as his sidekicks, Mr. Basinger explored the emotions and borderline insanity of Lear. Mr. Basinger screamed at the step ladder to get out of his sight, asked the pile of trash to get dinner ready, danced around with the broom and tenderly held Cordelia, the coat rack, as she died in his arms.
After the performance, the director and producer James Stidfole began the question and answer session typical of each Monday Night Special, first asking for feedback.
A woman in the audience admitted she had trouble following the first act.
“I was in the weeds just watching you move . . . . And I was wondering why you changed the name of the stick,” she said.
“Oh, interesting, so maybe we need more props!” Mr. Stidfole joked.
From the fourth row, Gerry Yukevich, the president of the board of directors for the Playhouse, spoke up.
“I think it’s a wonderful vision of a man who is so completely absorbed in the tragedy of his life that he’s reliving it again and again,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense to have debris that he uses, that he grasps for.”
Mr. Stidfole said that the performance is meant to be open-ended, leaving it up to the audience to decide who this man is and what is he doing in a junkyard. “Clearly he’s locked into this cycle that he can never get out of,” he said. “I suppose there’s a definition of insanity there.”
“Probably,” added Mr. Basinger, as he sat in a shirt still wet from the bottle of water he poured on his head in the second act.
Ms. Munafo said the beauty of the Monday Night Specials is that each week will be a completely different experience from the last.
“It’s a one-night-only kind of thing,” she said. “We might have a very amazing performer, or an established playwright or maybe your neighbor’s son from Oak Bluffs. Each and every night is so unique.”
Brooke Adams, Tony Shalhoub and Robert Brustein take the stage next Monday to read two works by Canadian writer Mordecai Richler. Subsequent Mondays include musicals, poetry and satires from locals and visitors alike, including Wild Nights by Joyce Carol Oates and a musical adaptation of Kate Feiffer’s book My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life, done by Ms. Feiffer and Ms. Munafo.
The benefits of the Monday Night Specials are twofold: the playwrights and directors have the chance to receive feedback from fresh sets of eyes and ears, while the audience gets to experience new and varied performances each week.
“There’s always something interesting about a Monday Night Special even if it’s not your cup of tea,” said Ms. Munafo. “That’s what a special at a restaurant is like, too . . . just a chance to try something new.”