Allan Rieser, a playwright and lyricist whose work was seen Off Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, was putting the finishing touches on his latest play, A Chain of Summer Voices, last November, when he died of heart disease.
At 86, Rieser had a number of plays under his belt, and this final work, which had its world premiere Off Broadway March 6, was a bittersweet, personal family drama inspired by events and people of his past. The production ends March 25 at The Pantheon Theatre in midtown Manhattan. The Seraphim Company and Vangie Hayes present the staging, directed by Rieser's longtime collaborator and friend, Don Price. Opening night was March 7, following one preview.
The play is set in the summer of 1937 and takes place in a remodeled Pennsylvania farmhouse owned by a wealthy and domineering aunt; the extended family has enjoyed many happy summers there. Family members, including a young man who would become a writer, experience epiphanies that summer in what's described as "a complex comedy-drama."
The cast includes Michael Berkowitz, Doug Coler, Kurt Everhart, Kate Gilligan, Brett Hemmerling, Richard Herron, Linda Howes, Carol Mennie and Georgia Southcotte. Designers are Barry Axtell (set) and Clifford Capone (costumes).
Tickets are $5-$15. The Pantheon is at 303 W. 42nd St. For ticket information, call (212) 866-5680. *
Rieser (pronounced "reezer") was 86 when he died, and had seen a number of his works staged in New York City and regionally since the 1960s. Don Price, his longtime director and collaborator, told Playbill On-Line that Rieser was rewriting A Chain of Summer Voices as late as a week before he died, Nov. 26, 2000. An earlier draft of the play was heard in a reading in March 2000.
"Every summer his aunt would take the whole family to the farm in New Jersey and give them this summer vacation," said director Price. "The play is about one summer there. It's set during the Depression."
Rieser was born in the Inwood section of Manhattan and raised in New Jersey and New York City. He studied acting and playwriting at Columbia University, but did not graduate. While working in summer stock as an actor, he met his future wife, actress Deborah Wood Rieser. She predeceased him.
Among Rieser's writing credits are The Brownstone Urge, produced Off-Broadway in the 1960s; co-librettist (with Don Price) and lyricist for the musical, Time Again (about reincarnation, with composer James Campodonico); co-librettist and lyricist for the gay-themed musical, The Cherry Pit, with co-librettist and director Price and composer Richard Demone; and the plays The Glass Coffin, The Merry Wives of Scarsdale, Elysian Fields, Lady on a Leash, Celebrity Suite and He or She as the Case May Be.
In 1990, Dorian Gray, his musical version of the Oscar Wilde novella, was staged in Harrisburg, PA. It was later produced at the Judith Anderson Theatre in Manhattan. He also wrote book and lyrics for Mamushka, with composer Amy Engelstein, which was seen at the Waverly Place Theatre (its new title is The Embracers). Recently, his plays Angels of the Apocalypse and Mrs. Bromley (with Merle Louise) were produced in New York.
— By Kenneth Jones