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Jessica Stone as Director: Remounting Vanya and More

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In March 2002, I sat in the Helen Hayes Theatre, watching what would become the most controversial play of the season, the short-lived The Smell of the Kill. I don't really remember what I thought of the show in any detail, but I remember one main thing. Sitting there, I thought: "Wow, Jessica Stone is going to get really great reviews." She was so good.

Of course, the only reason I remember thinking that at the time is because it did not happen. She did not get bad reviews, but they also were not exactly "A Star is Born!" She didn't get, for example, a Leslie Kritzer The Great American Trailer Park Musical NY Times review. (I consider that a genre of review that people know. Granted, the situations are not the same because Stone was not at this time a newcomer to the NY stage, but, the idea is there.) The major reviews mostly focused on the play itself. However, I kept in mind Jessica Stone's performance, and have been watching her work ever since. (I had definitely seen her in shows before The Smell of the Kill; I just don't recall them in any detail.) She has great comedic timing. And she can do musicals as well as plays -- as a matter of fact, I would have done a piece on her when she was in Anything Goes if the Roundabout press agent liked me enough to return my call.

In recent years, Stone has also started directing. I have to confess that I have yet to see anything she has directed, but I am very happy to support her upcoming efforts with this column. As I write this, Stone is prepping to open a production of Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. This summer she is heading to Williamstown to direct a production of June Moon (a show she appeared in off-Broadway in the late 1990s) starring her husband, two-time Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald, David Turner (from my favorite flop musical, In My Life) and others. Next year, she goes to Two River Theater in New Jersey to tackle Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular.

With Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Stone is being tasked with recreating Nicholas Martin's Tony-nominated direction. She assistant directed for Martin on Broadway's Match in 2004 and was a longtime close friend of the recently departed director. He actually gave her her first big directing job - the 2010 production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for Williamstown Theater Festival, where he was Artistic Director.

"This has been a trippy time," Stone said. "I stepped in to help Nicky because his health was failing. He was like a second father to me and a friend. Nicky and I have similar outlook and perspective and I was very influenced by him."

Martin passed away ten days into the rehearsal process. "That was tough because I felt like an impostor," she stated. "This was the thing that he loved the most -- working with actors, being in the rehearsal room. That was him whispering in my ear. I want to honor the [original] production, but not have [the actors] feel like they are in a put in rehearsal... It is a hybrid of new fresh ideas, and the original."

While Stone assistant/associate directed for Martin, Joe Mantello, David Warren, and Chris Ashley, and has now directed multiple productions herself, she never sat thinking: "What I really want to do is direct."

"To be perfectly honest," she explained, "I don't know if I've made the decision: 'I want to be a director now.' There is sort of a door closing with that. I have always been an actor who had a lot of opinions, opinions that had nothing to do with my role. I love thinking about the larger themes. I love collaboration with designers. I love participating in the dynamics between characters. There is a lot that is really hard that I never realized. It's problem solving all day."

For those people, like me, who hope to see her in a comedy in NYC in the near future, she's not ruling that out. "The reality is I'm not famous," Stone, who took time off to spend with her kids (now age 5 and 6), stated. "I'm a 40-something year-old woman with a career that I'm proud of, but it's not like my phone is ringing off the hook. It's not like this career that is constantly nipping at my heels and I have been beating it off with a stick. So I am not done telling stories. I love acting in comedies. Ideally it would be nice to do both."

Future goals aside, right now she is just focusing on getting Vanya and Sonia open and finding a Nancy Opel replacement for June Moon. (Opel is doing Broadway's Cinderella instead.)

If you're in the San Diego area, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (my favorite play of last season) runs through June 22. And I sincerely love the Williamstown Theatre Festival, so please get out there at least once; Stone's staging of June Moon plays July 2 - 13.