Pushing the Boundaries of Long Island Theater

Three movie theater ushers endure a long night of boredom and drudgery. Two lovers hide out in a seedy motel and become increasingly paranoid, berserk and itchy. A victim of a botched sex change sings about his failed relationship with a rock star. No, this is not your typical Saturday night theater fare, especially on Long Island, where habitual musicals, children’s shows and acting classes sometimes seem to be the only activities with any sustainability. Yet this season, audiences in Lindenhurst have been treated to Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning The Flick, Tracy Letts’ early psychodrama Bug and now the rocking but decidedly off-the-wall Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 

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Who would dare put on such a volatile piece in a landscape that tends to favor Nunsense, The Wedding Singer and I Hate Hamlet? A theater company that aptly calls itself Theatre Out of Bounds. It’s a new troupe run by 20-somethings Scott Johnston and Joe Rubino, actor friends who saw an opportunity to bring edgier shows to our shores.

The pair approached David Dubin, artistic director of Studio Theatre, where Rubino works as technical director. The timing was perfect. Dubin, who took over Studio just a couple of years ago when previous owner BroadHollow Theatre Company was about to shut it down, had been looking to do more challenging plays but feared alienating his subscriber base.

“Studio started fifty years ago as a place for edgier work. I wanted to restore that, but a lot of our subscribers are older people who want comfort food,” Dubin said. “Believe it or not, some have even been here since we opened. Along with original works, we still have to do Neil Simon comedies and Agatha Christie mysteries. What’s great is that Theatre Out of Bounds takes our dark weekends to do three performances of work I wouldn’t dare put in our subscription series. I’m just hoping it catches on so down the line that’ll be more of what we regularly do.”

This partnership, with Studio Theatre offering free space and paying the bills, allows Johnston and Rubino to concentrate on creating instead of fretting over the bottom line. As such, the company might be able to avoid the recent troubles of Northport’s BareBones Theater, which started out with a similar ethos but had to swing rent and other costs based on a venue holding only 40 seats (Studio has 140). “Northport is a great town to be in,” Johnston said. “But it’s hard working across the street from the John Engeman Theater, which has also been doing straight plays.” Johnston added that Studio’s magnanimity allows Theatre Out of Bounds to do “darker shows that maybe wouldn’t have been produced otherwise.”

Such as Hedwig. “Last August, another company brought in Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom to Studio,” explained Johnston, who played Larson in that semi-autobiographical musical. “David saw it and thought right away the intimate space was perfect for a good small musical that we can make big, like Hedwig.

Meanwhile, plans are already shaping up for next season. Likely productions include Lauren Gunderson’s I and You, about a high-school athlete who volunteers to help a sick classmate with her project. And just in time for Halloween, Rubino’s adaptation of Night of the Living Dead. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ dark comedy The Motherfucker with the Hat is being considered for January. Asked if he was worried the title might put off more comfort-foodie theatergoers, Johnston replied, “David’s really good at giving pre-show speeches to a sixty-and-over crowd. He’s sure to say the title and make a quirky joke, and then the audience will start whispering to each other to show they’re comfortable and they get it.”