Company will produce locally written plays

Bernie Appugliese is about to make the local-theater scene even more local.

The 47-year-old Youngstown native has been a theater pro — playwright, director, actor — in Chicago for most of his adult life. But he is back in town now and has launched a theater company whose goal is to produce works written by Mahoning Valley playwrights.

Behind the scenes, he already has the pieces in place — including some top local actors. But his plan won’t be visible to the theater-going public until this summer, when he stages his first play.

To introduce himself to the local-theater community, he will present an invitation-only reading of one of his own plays, “Speaker of the House,” Sunday and Feb. 26 in the Moyer Room of the Youngstown Playhouse. He has invited theater executives from the region and beyond, as well as potential backers, knowledgeable friends and others.

The reading of the play, which is about the integration of a school, will feature veteran actors Lynn Nelson Rafferty and James McClellan.

Appugliese sat down in the Moyer Room one day last week after a rehearsal to talk about his plans. And when the energetic Appugliese gets on topic, you pretty much just let him go. It’s like waiting for a rocket to run out of fuel — except he never does.

Many local people want to see their own work produced on stage, and that, says Appugliese, is his goal. But to get started, he will produce plays that he has already written. Appugliese has a half- dozen ready to be produced and a couple more almost there.

The general public will get its first chance to see an Appugliese-penned play Aug. 17-26 at the Oakland Center for the Arts. He has rented the downtown theater for performances of “Gloria Birnmaum’s Broadway Debut,” which will star Maureen Collins, Josh Lewis, Carla Gipson, Eric Kibler and Tom O’Donnell. McClellan will direct.

One thing worth noting is that all cast and crew in Appugliese productions will be paid. That’s because he plans to submit each play into competitions for grants, and a standard requirement for acceptance is a professional production.

Creating a new play is more involved and more rewarding than staging one from the canon, Appugliese noted. The energy is generated as the words on paper transform into action on stage, with actors adding input as the process unfolds.

For that reason, Appugliese is hand-picking his casts for now. He will have auditions for future productions.

Appugliese got his start in theater at age 11 at the Playhouse and spent the next three decades performing, directing, choreographing and writing there and on other Valley stages.

He then moved to Chicago, where he produced a number of plays. With the wealth of talent and facilities in the Youngstown area, he hopes to repeat his success in his hometown.

Stay tuned as the project unfolds.

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