Jersey, humor, and a little outdoor theater

Hudson version of classic comedy comes to Sinatra Park

Poking fun at New Jersey culture in 1985, one Hudson County resident has completely rewritten a classic English comedy from 1641 and, with a versatile army of actors, plans to put it on for free in Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken.
Billy Mitchell’s Bartholomew Fair, N.J., adapted from Ben Johnson’s play, will be open to all live theater fanatics – and curious passers-by – on Saturday, June 20 and 27, starting at 4 and 7 p.m.
The original production might have employed about 45 actors, said Mitchell, but he narrowed it down to five portraying 20 characters, which include an elderly woman who thinks it’s a cigarette she is smoking, a disrobing messenger, relentless detective, and a clueless little boy, among others.
“The Bartholomew Fair was a real fair that took place outside of London, and it was a place where the seedy underbelly of society could mix with the upper crusts of society because they all went there to see things,” said Mitchell.
In his version, having one performer act as both halves of an engaged couple and two actors playing one character at separate times just adds to the chaos and fun, he said.
“There’s a lot going on,” said Mitchell. “There’s a lot of people. There’s a lot of interaction.”


“The Bartholomew Fair was a real fair that took place outside of London, and it was a place where the seedy underbelly of society could mix with the upper crusts.” – Billy Mitchell

That interaction, he said, was created to be not only between the actors but also largely between the performers and the audience.
“I’d rather be absorbed in the experience and have fun, like be challenged mentally and visually and all of those things,” he said.
To add yet another layer, the director also rewrote the play as a poem.
“Because I am a masochist,” said Mitchell, “I was like, ‘Verse. I should do it in verse. I should do it in rhyming couplets, and I should set it in 1985 in New Jersey, and all the sudden, it started to sound like a fun idea.’ “

Embracing Jersey

Though he grew up in Maine, Mitchell has embraced New Jersey as a Jersey City resident for the past eight years and says he is a big fan of the ‘80s.
“I feel like as a culture, we are really fond of things that happened 20 years ago,” said Mitchell. For example, he said, in the ‘70s, people were enthralled with Happy Days. So, in this 2000s production, references are made to the Rubik’s Cube, Chia Pets, and for all those who can remember it, Action Park.
But, it’s not all about the ‘80s, said Mitchell.
“It basically gave me a world to write in,” he said. “The show is not in any way dependent on it being set in the ‘80s. It could be any time, really.”
Maybe a more key element was finding the right people for the parts.
“Casting was one of the challenges, because we had almost no women show up who could do comedy,” said Mitchell. “I was appalled and started to think this is why Monty Python is all men.”
Then, in walked future cast members Leticia Diaz and Courtney Kochuba, he said.
Once she got over playing so many characters in a single production and getting completely in touch with her funny side, Kochuba said that she had fun incorporating the natural setting, which, in a Hoboken park, could very well mean helicopter noise and police sirens.
“The best part is when you are able to work it in,” she said.
Christine Dalzell, who manages props and costume changes backstage, said that those kinds of surprises are just part of the fun.
“It is never exactly the same show, which is always true of theater in general but very true of this show,” she said.
Philip Corso, a theater student at Montclair State University, said that a challenge for him is carrying the storyline while portraying several outlandish characters.
“It’s really hard to have to make it funny and crazy and wacky for the audience members, keeping in mind that you are actually supposed to be presenting a story that, in these characters’ world, is actually happening.”
Another performer in the production, Mark Dunn, who is in the financial world by day, said that his regular job has had its own drama in the recent crash, but he prefers the stage.
“I think it has always been an escape from reality, especially a show like this,” he said.
Amanda Staab can be reached at


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