"I like Geneva very much because it has important things to say and it's very timely," said Weehawken resident Cynthia Granville, director. "It concerns two men in prisons and it could be [set in] any time or any country."
Geneva will be presented at the 32nd Street Playhouse at Union City's Park Performing Arts Center, 32nd Street off of Kennedy Boulevard, on Friday, Aug. 26, and Saturday, Aug. 27 at 8 p.m.
The play centers around two political prisoners: one who has been there for some time and is desensitized, and one who just arrived and is finding it difficult to adjust to the confinement.
As a result of their differing views and being forced together like caged animals, the men are constantly at each other's throats and a mutual mistrust keeps one guessing about the other.
"They have been dehumanized and forced [to deal with their circumstances] in the confines of this prison cell, and to deal with one another," said Granville.
The captives have not only lost their freedom but their sense of identity. After days of being subjected to implied physical and mental torment, the prisoners are mad with agony and haunted by their memories of the past.
But they eventually become curious of each other and slowly begin to bond over their mutual stories of family and the reasons why they ended up in the cell.
The title of the piece also plays a key role in one of the men's stories, but it must be seen within the context of the play to fully understand its meaning.
Directing the art
Like many other aficionados of the theater that have settled on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, Granville came upon Union City's Hudson Exploited Theatre Company and took part in their script-reading seminars last year.
"I've been wanting to do more work in New Jersey for a long time," said Granville, who has lived in Weehawken since the early 1990s. "I've done very little theater here until recently."
After she learned about the director's labs that take place twice a year, where talented local actors and playwrights get the chance to produce original works for the stage, she felt this was her opportunity to jump in.
"They were right there in my backyard and I made up mind to get involved," said Granville.
Granville was originally form Brooklyn, NY but was raised in Chattanooga, Tenn. Since the age of 6, Granville developed a love for the theater and attended a variety of clubs and theater camps. It was during her freshman year of high school that had sealed the deal on her career.
"When I was in ninth grade I saw the film Fearless Vampire Killers by Roman Polanski and I knew I wanted to do both [act and direct]; preferably not at the same time," said Granville. "Originally, I wanted to be a doctor but then I realized that blood made me sick."
Not long after her inspiring moment came from Polanski, Granville jumped into her first directorial debut at school and directed a production of Julius Caesar, acts four, five and six. After finishing her degree at the University of Tennessee, Granville returned to New York to aggressively pursue the stage as an actor and a director.
Granville also became involved with a variety of theater groups, including Jersey City's theater group the Waterfront Ensemble, which also had a focus on original works. This was also where she met fellow actor Bruce Barton.
Barton is a veteran actor based in Jersey City and has had the opportunity to work with Granville in the Waterfront Ensemble Company.
"For years I have wanted to direct him in something," said Granville.
"It's been great that we all talk to the same language and there is already a certain level of familiarity and trust," said Barton.
Granville offered Barton the part of the older prisoner once she was cleared to do Geneva.
"The [the issues of the play] are universal, very well grounded and realistic," said Barton. "It touches upon issues of right now, the dehumanization of being in prison, the inevitability of conflict with people [forced] together, and just trying to hang on to your humanity."
A working actor for about 25 years, Barton took to the stage in high school. "It was mainly a way to get into a peer group," said Barton. "I tried to be a jock but that didn't work, and after my first audition [forced into by a friend] I found I really liked being up [on stage]."
Although after high school Barton pursued a degree in psychology, his love affair with theater was rekindled while he worked at a theater box office in Rochester. Afterwards, he attended Rutgers University and received his MFA in acting.
"I have had a lot of little breaks around the country, especially in regional theater," said Barton. "I love working on original [productions]."
Callahan, who was cast as the other prisoner, also happens to be Granville's husband.
"In contrast to Barton, my character is not as at peace with his situation, more hot-blooded and less accepting about what is going on," said Callahan. "It's political and it's been ages since I did something like that."
Originally from Queens, N.Y., Callahan also began acting in high school, and from that point knew he wanted to pursue it professionally.
"I thought this might be a fun to try and make a living at," said Callahan, who graduated with a degree in theater from New York University.
Lessons for the public
Towards the end of the play, the two characters find a way to co-exist in the tiny cell, and they re-humanize each other as they struggle to recapture their identities and cling to hope.
"I think the audience [after seeing the play] will relate it to the news they watch that night and see that these are actual people too, and that in our hatred and fear, we forget that sometimes," said Callahan.
Admission to the play is free, but you should get tickets in advance. For more information or to get tickets, call (877) 571-3797 or visit www.hextc.com.