Eagle Theatre productions attract stage fans to Hammonton

Tim Rinehart, left,Tom McCarthy and Anthony Irizarry star in the Eagle Theatre's production of 'Glengarry Glen Ross.'

Being located in the western reaches of Atlantic County isn't a burden for the operators of the Eagle Theatre.

Indeed the Eagle, a 208-seat venue located in a 100-year-old brick building on Vine Street in Hammonton, is gaining a growing following because of its location.

It also helps that the theater, now in its third season, mounts productions that are high-quality and interesting enough to make attending a show worth the drive.

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"We have been able to link into a great audience base - not only from Atlantic County, but also from the Philadelphia area," said Ted Wioncek III, co-artistic director at the theater and director of its most recent production.

That play is David Mamet's fast-paced and no-holds-barred "Glengarry Glen Ross," typical of the challenging offerings the Eagle operators have been bringing to the local stage.

Other productions planned for the year include the Tony Bennett salute "I Left My Heart," the musical "Into the Woods" and "The Civil War," an ambitious revue featuring the writings and music that came out of the War Between the States.

"Our audience is not afraid to get their hands dirty," Wioncek said. "We are very fortunate they accept and trust our choices. We are not boxed in with one theatrical style, and that has really set us free."

While the theater is small, the operators aren't afraid to dream big, or to set challenges for themselves.

One rule of small theater productions is to produce plays with small casts and a single set.

The Eagle routinely disregards the cast-size rule. Its production of "Footloose" filled the stage with a cast of 24 and "The Civil War" will feature 14 actors and musicians.

"Glengarry Glen Ross" calls for two fairly elaborate sets - a Chinese restaurant and a real estate office.

"It took work to have both those settings appear onstage," Wioncek said. "Now that we have made that dream come true, it's stunning."

The production also poses challenges for the actors, the director said, who must familiarize themselves with Mamet's style of writing.

"Mamet's dialog is the challenge as far as an actor is concerned - it's incredibly taxing for the actors to keep the performance organic and raw," Wioncek said. "There's a specific rhythm to it. It's similar to Shakespeare. It's difficult, but when you lock into it, it is poetry in its own right."

The production at the Equity theater stars Tom McCarthy, who once had a recurring role on "The West Wing" and has won a Barrymore Award in Philadelphia.

The Eagle's location is again a bonus when it comes to casting, Wioncek said, with the theater able to tap into talent from Philadelphia, Delaware and even New York.

"Glengarry" represents a milestone, as it marks the first time the theater has provided housing for an actor during the four-week production. Plans are to have at least seven of the cast from "The Civil War" live in Hammonton during that show's run.

And while it might not feature the glittering casinos of Atlantic City or the Victorian charms of Cape May, there have been no complaints so far about accommodations in Hammonton, the director said.

"It takes only about five minutes to recognize that Hammonton is a unique town. The actors seem to be delighted to stay in this up-and-coming area," he said.

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