September 16, 2016
From left, Catherine Bertrand, artistic director; Nate Bertone, director and set design; and Catherine Majeski, hair and make-up, on the set of the new play they’re working on, “Entangled.” Item Photo by Owen O’Rourke
By Bill Brotherton
SALEM — Nate Bertone was visiting London a couple of years ago. To relax, he started reading “Entangled,” a play by Lynn native Leah Miles, his former teacher at Collins Middle School in Salem. It left him terrified and unable to sleep.
“The piece of writing was so haunting, so riveting and so psychologically thrilling … I was determined to produce the play in America,” said Bertone.
That happens starting Wednesday, Sept. 21, when Bertone and the Salem Theatre Company present the U.S. premiere of “Entangled.”
Miles, who grew up on Marianna Street in Lynn, said it’s “pretty cool” that Bertone is the one directing her play. “I first met Nate when he was 11 years old, a sixth grader. He was not only my student during the day; he joined my after-school theater program at Collins School. Even then I could tell he had a hunger for theater,” said Miles, chatting on the phone from her New York City home. “Now we are working as peers. That’s how it is in the theater community. … I owe so much of where I am now to Mary Ann Flanagan and Larry Lowe, my teachers at Lynn English High School, and Dirk Hillyer, my music professor at Salem State. We are all still close and they have come to New York to see some of my works.
“In theater, you make lasting, lifelong relationships. After I graduated in 1990, I did two or three shows with Larry Lowe at English High as his peer. It’s so funny for me now to be in the position to be like Mary Ann and Larry were to me,” Miles added.
Bertone, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University, lives in New York City these days. He’s enjoying his time in his hometown, even if every waking hour is spent readying this production. Last year he worked on “Shrek” and “Sister Act” at North Shore Music Theatre and his own “Letters From War” at Salem Theatre Company.
“In sixth grade, Leah gave me the opportunity to move scenery around the stage and sing at the same time in ‘Into the Woods,’” said Bertone. “I was hooked.”
Bertone is standing in the center of the Salem Theatre Company space, which has been transformed into the interior of a Maine cabin. He’s jazzed about “Entangled,” and is excitedly talking about the play. He is joined byCatherine Bertrand, the theater’s executive director, and Catherine Majeski, who’s in charge of hair and makeup design for the production and — surprise — is another Collins Middle School grad who benefited from Miles’ tutelage.
Majeski said Miles was “so much more than a teacher, she was a huge, huge influence to me in my middle-school years. Losing her after middle school was so, so hard.”
“Catherine (Majeski) and I built a little model of ‘Pirates of Penzance’ when we were 12,” said Bertone, smiling. “For me, it was a lightbulb moment. Leah taught us that acting isn’t the only option … it was finding what works best for you.”
In “Entangled,” two best friends, Ian (John Manning) and Scott (Lee Holmes), along with Hillary (Caroline Keeler), the woman Ian loves and a woman Scott dislikes, find themselves trapped together on a snowy New Year’s Eve on secluded Peaks Island in Maine. Bad things happen.
Miles majored in psychology at Salem State, which might explain her unexpected switch from musical theater, her forte, into the psychological thriller genre.
“The genesis of ‘Entangled’ came out of my reaction to the school shootings that are plaguing our existence. The Sandy Hook shootings really got to me. From 9 to 7 every day I teach children, and Sandy Hook was a dagger to the heart,” she said.
“I started thinking about what would drive somebody to do this. I started thinking about kids who fall through the cracks. … The first character I thought about was Scott, who was bright and full of potential as a kid but not guided in a way to help him succeed. The play came together rather quickly. It’s a story that really needed to be told.”
“I’m excited,” continued Miles. “I met the cast at the first rehearsal. Then I went back to New York. My play is in great hands. I completely trust Nate, the cast and crew.”
Bertrand, too, is enthusiastic about “Entangled” and the future of the Salem Theatre Company. The Lynn native and English High grad, an award-winning director herself, has been active with the company for many years, as artistic director from 2005-08 and as a longtime board member. She said the company’s move from 90 Lafayette St. to its current home on the third floor of 35 Congress St. in the Shetland office park has worked out great.
“This is a bigger space. We can do more. Shetland wanted us here. There are many artists in the building, and the owners want Shetland Park to be a destination for theater and the arts. And there is space for us to expand as needed.”
She got hooked on theater as an eighth-grader, when she and a friend saw a production of “How to Succeed in Business” at English High. “At the time, I thought ‘I love animals. I want to be a vet.’ But at that musical, an energy happened that I never experienced before.” She joined the drama club at English her freshman year. Like Bertone, Miles and Majeski, acting has never appealed to Bertrand. “I am most definitely not an actor. At Salem State, at a third audition, I tripped up the stage and dropped my resume. … I want to tell stories and work with people.”
“Entangled,” at Salem Theatre Company, Shetland Park, 35 Congress St., third floor, Sept. 21 to Oct. 1. Tickets: $20; www.salemtheatre.org. The playwright, Leah Miles, will be present at the Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 shows.