Around the Island

Reading of play at library shows comedy holding a mirror to a family drama

Holidays mean time spent with family. For some, the prospect may conjure jaunty conversations by a glowing fireside in cozy pajamas. For others, perhaps a bumpy ride, with lots of hazardous track along the toy train route.

Whatever your personal experience, deciphering how people react when thrust together in the family crucible is essential and lifelong. The reading of Jeff Baron’s play, “Brothers-in-Law” on Friday, Dec. 17 at the Shelter Island Library promises a deeply rewarding dive into this process. 

What brings Baron’s brothers-in-law, who may as well hail from separate planets, into the close proximity of their father-in-law’s man cave, is not a celebration, but a funeral — their wives’ mother has died. Despite being married to sisters for 12 years and attending countless family events together, the two men have never really engaged directly with one another before.

Enter and watch the sparks fly.

“I would call ‘Brothers-in-Law’ a populist American comedy. I’m hoping you will see yourself or someone you know in this play,” Mr. Baron said. “I’m very interested in the special place in-laws have in a family. They are a part of things, but one step removed. Sometimes they see the family more clearly than the blood relatives.”

For the upcoming Friday Night Dialogues program, which begins at 7 p.m, the author will read the role of one brother-in-law with Islander John Kaasik playing opposite.

“I’ve been a big fan of the musicals John directed at the Shelter Island School, and I also saw him act in a production of his and his brother’s play ‘The Servant’s Last Serve’ at the Presbyterian Church,” Mr. Baron said.

With theaters mostly dark during the pandemic, the author had the idea to dust off ‘Brothers-in-Law’ and invited Mr. Kaasik to participate in a staging on his back porch. “Our audience of two was enthusiastic, and it made me want to see it with a slightly larger audience,” he said. Once in-person programming resumed at the Shelter Island Library, the Friday Night Dialogues series seemed a perfect next step. “I love our library!” Mr. Baron added.

Splitting time between Manhattan and Shelter Island, he is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter whose dynamic work holds wide appeal. His best known play, “Visiting Mr. Green,” starring Eli Wallach, ran for a year at New York’s Union Square Theater, and won Best Play awards in Greece, Mexico, Israel, Uruguay, Turkey and Germany, as well as Best Play nominations in Buenos Aires, Paris and New York. Mr. Baron’s acclaimed middle-grade novels, “I Represent Sean Rosen” and “Sean Rosen is Not for Sale,” published by Harper Collins, led the author to a decade of collaboration with educators at a Westchester middle school in which he mentors students through media-making projects.

“Searching with them to find solutions for their dramatic work helps my own creative process,” Mr. Baron said.

In a similar vein of “give and take,” attendees at the library’s presentation of the play will have an opportunity to participate in a brief discussion afterward with Mr. Baron and Mr. Kaasik. The hope is that everyone comes away restored by the return of a little theater magic and equipped with new insights, handy for family gatherings on the holiday horizon and beyond.

Seating is limited to 24, so please register in advance by visiting the events calendar on the library website at silibrary.org. For further information or assistance, contact Jocelyn Ozolins via email at [email protected] or by phone at 631-749-0042. Please note that the play involves adult language and masks are required. All library programs are free to the public; however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Next Up: Jan. 14, 7 p.m.  “Hard Work: My Life as a Clammer on the Great South Bay” with Steve Kuhn.