Actress-playwright Katharine Houghton's Best Kept Secret, a romantic drama about love during the Cold War, opens its New Jersey premiere Sept. 7 in a staging presented by The New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.
Houghton may be best known for her role in the 1968 film, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?'' She wrote and stars in the autobiographical Best Kept Secret, about an American woman who meets and falls in love with a Russian man during in the post-World War II era.
The two-character, dangerous-liaison drama is set over a 30-year period. Anthony Newfield (Broadway's The Grapes of Wrath) also stars. John Going directs.
Best Kept Secret begins in 1963, during the depths of the Cold War, and tells the story of a young American girl who meets and falls in love with a young Russian engineering student. Their relationship continues for 30 years despite political and personal tribulations.
"Any romance is complicated enough,'' Houghton, the niece of Katharine Hepburn, said in production notes. "Throw in a large dose of adversarial politics and you can't help but have a challenging, stormy and often comedic situation." The drama begins in the Russian resort town of Yalta, on the shores of the Black Sea and ends in America in the mid 1990s. When they first meet, the American girl and the Russian man regard one another with caution and suspicion. As they begin to know and understand each other, their feelings are transformed into "profound friendship and romantic affection," according to production notes.
"The experience the play is based on was extremely important to me and extremely important for me to understand,'' the playwright said. "One of the ways writers have to tried to figure out the mysteries in their lives is to write about them.''
Houghton penned the play at the urging of her best friend, Tina Chen. NJ Rep is producing Best Kept Secret in association with Chen. The work has had two previous productions, including a staging at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and Houghton is hoping for an eventual berth Off Broadway.
Houghton appeared on Broadway in Our Town, The Front Page and A Very Rich Woman and has performed leading roles in more than 50 productions in regional theaters. In New Jersey, she was seen starring opposite George Grizzard in the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of To Kill a Mockingbird. She was seen on TV as Nabby Adams in "The Adams Chronicles." She has also written more than 20 plays and screenplays.
Anthony Newfield's New York credits The Bad Infinity, The Grapes of Wrath and It's Only a Play. Newfield spent six months in Moscow studying and working at the Moscow Art Theatre where he played the role of Jim Casy in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Director Going has staged plays on and off Broadway, regionally and internationally. His New York credits include Hizzoner!' on Broadway, which subsequently traveled to Moscow. In New Jersey, he has directed at Paper Mill Playhouse and at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where he directed Arcadia, The Good Doctor and Les Liasons Dangereuses.
NJ Rep, founded in 1998, is "dedicated to developing and producing new plays with diverse themes as well as to creating an atmosphere where classics can take on a fresh look and forgotten plays can find a home."
Performances continue to Sept. 30. New Jersey Rep presents at 179 Broadway in Long Branch. Tickets are $30. For reservations or information, call (732) 229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org.
— By Kenneth Jones