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Playground Theatre kicks off 2018 with dramedy ‘The Tutors’

Pondering your day job versus your dream job is at the thought-provoking heart of Erica Lipez’s 2013 off-Broadway dramedy “The Tutors,” receiving its local premiere courtesy of Playground Theatre beginning Thursday, Jan. 4 in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center. 

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Set in New York City circa 2007, the play concerns Joe, Toby and Heidi, friends and roommates whose dream of creating a Facebook-esque social networking site has difficulty getting off the ground. In order to pay the rent, they tutor wealthy prep school students, but it’s a line of work that doesn’t compare to the possibilities of impacting the world with their site joinme2u.com. Disappointed and distressed, they question their future while craving connection. 

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“This play is very relevant to what’s going on in today’s society,” said Playhouse co-founder Jenna Valyn, sharing directorial duties with co-founder Christopher Hahn. “In many ways, loneliness surrounds the whole story. One important line in the play, the thesis of the play, mentions how we can survive without shelter and food for a little bit, but kindness is too close to water, and if you go for too long you’ll become dehydrated. These characters are dehydrated and are in need of and seeking kindness.” 

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“The social media aspect is important to the plot but the relationships, how everyone intertwines with each other even if it’s not necessarily obvious at first, are also important,” said Playground newcomer Ryan Grissett, a 2017 Beavercreek High School graduate portraying privileged high school student Milo coping with anxiety. “There are so many deep connections and interactions in this play. I also feel many adults kind of undermine what millennials are going through. I hope this play brings an understanding and appreciation to what we’re experiencing and how it affects us.”  

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Listen to “The Tutors” Spotify playlist here:

In the same regard, Skyler McNeeley, who will deliver his Playground debut as Toby and has been previously seen in shows with Sinclair Community College and Dare to Defy Productions, particularly feels “The Tutors” will resonate with anyone who has faced an existential crisis in their 20s. 

“On the surface, we’ve all come to the realization when turning 25 that things aren’t as easy as you thought they would be and that’s a lot to deal with,” McNeeley said. “But there’s also the internal, under the radar elements that matter such as desperately wanting to connect with people. The social media angle is a good framework for the play because we’re living in a time where it feels like it’s easier to connect with people but it becomes isolated because we’re used to looking at people on a screen.”

Two cast members of "The Tutors." From left to right: Jenna Gomes (Heidi) and Boyang Zhang (Kwan). PHOTO CREDIT / KNACK CREATIVE (Knack Creative)


“Social media is an interesting symbol for what this show is about because it has characters who want to be seen and heard but they don’t want to risk anything,” added A.J. Breslin, who portrays Joe and whose credits include Playground’s productions of “This Is Our Youth” and “Tape.” 

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“These characters are afraid of one-on-one interaction. They talk in circles around each other. It’s so much easier to put your stuff on the Internet and close the screen when you’ve had too much and come back when you want a little more than it is to actually go out in the world, communicate with someone and think about what they’re going through.” 

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Another intriguing facet of the play focuses on Heidi’s mental illness. She attempts to navigate her illness and loneliness without telling anyone it’s a problem. She is especially close with a whimsical character named Kwan, a role that contains a bit of fantasy and is portrayed by Playground newcomer Boyang Zhang, a Cincinnati-based actor. 

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“She puts up a very harsh front but it’s very relatable,” said Jenna Gomes, who portrays Heidi and was previously seen in Playground’s local premieres of “Really Really” and “Jailbait.” “Even though we’re all being more open on social media about certain things, especially mental illness and other struggles, people put up a big front. We want to ask for help but we’re really afraid to ask. By the end of the play, I feel Heidi has worked through the peak of her problem and is willing to be more open to talking about her issues although she still has a lot of work left.”

Ryan Grissett, who plays Milo in "The Tutors." PHOTO CREDIT / KNACK CREATIVE (Knack Creative)

Lipez, a Harvard graduate who worked as a tutor in New York, wrote “The Tutors” while in graduate school at New York University. She also served as producer and writer of such TV series as “Lone Star,” “Suits” and “Bates Motel.” All involved in the Playground production hope audiences are eager to embrace another new and edgy work from the progressive troupe.

“This play contains heavy subject matter but it ends on a very hopeful note,” McNeeley said. “We all go through things but it gets better.”

“This play is about new beginnings,” Valyn echoed. “We all fall down but get back up again and that is humanity.”

Want to go? WHAT: “The Tutors”
WHERE: Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton
WHEN: Jan. 4-7; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday  

COST: $15-$20 
TICKETS: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com

INFO: Visit theplaygroundtheatre.org

FYI: You can follow Playground’s Spotify playlist at http://pgdyt.org/tutors-soundtrack. The indie/rock/folk artists featured include Vampire Weekend, Blitzen Trapper, Band of Horses, The Shins, and Arctic Monkeys. 

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.

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