The M.V. Playhouse sets the stage

From left, Malika Khelalfa, Leela Khelalfa, and Dillon Fondren wiggle like jellyfish during a warm-up exercise. — Stacey Rupolo

The lights will be on at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse all winter and spring, thanks to a variety of programs and events for both kids and adults. Adding to the playhouse’s already diverse list of weekly or monthly offerings is a new series called Jenny’s Drama Salon, hosted by playwright, actress, and humor writer Jenny Allen. And a new afterschool program for youngsters, Winter Stars, is already underway and will continue throughout the off-season.

Music, film, theater, poetry, and the visual arts are all represented by ongoing initiatives, including the Wicked Good Musical Review series, the monthly Poetry Café, the weekly Monday Night Movies, the continuation of the Shakespeare for the Masses readings, and the rotating art shows exhibited in the playhouse lobby.

Special events include a holiday production of “The Snow Queen” by playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo and Elizabeth Wojtusik, and “Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony,” performed by a group of Boston musicians who will return to the Vineyard after sold-out performances last year.

“I really felt like since we had this beautiful new building, we should use it as much as possible,” says Ms. Munafo. “Our mission has always been to be a year-round organization, serving the community by presenting entertainment and educational opportunities throughout the entire year.”

Drama, discussion, and delicacies

Jenny’s Drama Salon got off to a spooky start in October with a Halloween-themed evening featuring readings of plays based on Edgar Allen Poe stories, and a special appearance by local ghost expert and Times writer Holly Nadler, who related her own experiences with the paranormal and shared stories of Vineyard visitations for a rapt audience.

Next up, host and curator Jenny Allen will present “Please Pass the Salt — and Don’t Forget to Rub It In: Disastrous Dinners in American Theater,” a reading series of classic dysfunctional dinner table scenes from familiar plays. In a selection of dramatic family gathering scenes, audiences will be treated to a sort of “guess who’s coming unglued at dinner” lineup just in time for the holiday season. Comedy, drama, memorable meltdowns, and awkward announcements will all be served up appetizingly by a cast of talented locals.

Future Salon evenings will feature dramatic readings, interesting guests, and stimulating conversation. And, as a bonus, Ms. Allen, who has written for the New Yorker, among other publications (a collection of her short pieces, “Would Everybody Please Stop,” was recently published by Sarah Crichton Books), and who continues to tour all over the country with her one-woman show “I Got Sick Then I Got Better,” will be showing off her considerable culinary skills by providing homemade brownies and other treats — all included in the $10 admission price.

Ongoing events

The Poetry Café, hosted by Arnie Reisman, features readings by local poets. The Wicked Good Musical Review, led by veteran musical theater performer Molly Conole, stars a group of talented musicians and singers performing songs from standards to Broadway. The Monday Night Movies series screens classic films with a monthly theme (November is Hitchcock month). The 10-year-old Shakespeare for the Masses series brings lively readings of abbreviated and enhanced versions of Shakespeare plays to audiences of all ages.

Currently the Playhouse Art Space is featuring Avian Art — photographs by Lanny McDowell through Nov. 16. On Nov. 17, L.A. Brown will open an exhibit of photographs titled “A Simple Truth,” with a reception on Dec. 2 from 5 to 6:30 pm.

“The playhouse becomes this gathering spot in the winter,” says Ms. Allen. “I go to the Poetry Cafe and other events. As much as anything, it’s an excuse to see people in a setting where we’re doing something fun and interesting.”

And there’s more

The playhouse has also expanded its educational outreach this year with a new afterschool theater program for Island kids in grades 3 through 8. Winter Stars commenced with an eight-week session beginning on Oct. 8, and will continue throughout the school year. According to a press release, “the program is a fun exploration of all things theater, with special focus on developing performance skills and creating original work. Weekly activities will include warm-ups, theater games, movement exercises, scene study, and more!”

“The kids have been very enthusiastic,” says Ms. Munafo. “We have a great group fully participating, and they’re all having a lot of fun.”

Ms. Munafo notes that the Winter Stars program is similar to both the playhouse’s longstanding Summer Stars Theater Arts Camp as well as the Fourth Grade Theater Project, which ran for over 20 years. “We’re certainly taking something from that playbook,” she says of the latter. “We’re using a lot of the elements of the Fourth Grade Theater Project. I run into people all the time who reminisce about their experience with that program. I’ve wanted to work with children ever since then, but we had to get the building redone first.”

New to the playhouse
The once-a-week program, which will resume in January, is led by Ms. Munafo, actor Anna Yukevich, and seasoned camp counselor Steven Ring.

A lesser-publicized ongoing playhouse initiative serves the Island population of adults with disabilities. Virginia’s Drama Club meets once a week to offer opportunities for “people who may have never tried doing theater before,” according to Ms. Munafo. “We learn a lot about theater, play a lot of games, and laugh our heads off,” she says, adding that the program is one of her favorites. The program, named after the late Virginia Hackney, is free and open to all adults with different abilities. “The only reason I don’t advertise it is that most of the members come from word of mouth,” says Ms. Munafo.

Another new initiative that Ms. Munafo would like to promote is the playhouse’s involvement in the Blue Star Program, which enables veterans, active military members, and their families to receive free tickets for playhouse events. With so much to choose from, Ms. Munafo is hopeful that Islanders will take advantage of this program.

Jenny’s Drama Salon will present “Disastrous Dinners,” a series of scene readings from Broadway shows, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 7 pm. Admission is $10, and includes brownies.

This article by Gwyn McAllister originally appeared on