November 2010
by Michael Frayn
Directed by Peter Zinn
The Spoon Theater
38 West 38th Street, 5th Floor, New York City

Stage Manager:  Ricardo Rust*
Sound Designer:  Jeanne Travis
Set Designers:  Jack and Rebecca Cunningham
Costume Designer:  Ben Philipp
Lighting Designer:  Justin Sturges
Press Representative:  Morgan Lindsey Tachco
Photographer:  Alisha Spielmann

Starring: Heather E. Cunningham, Matthew Semler, David Ian Lee*,
and Kristen Vaughan

*Appearing courtesy of Actors' Equity Association.

"First produced on Broadway a quarter century ago with a star-studded cast, Michael Frayn's Benefactors opened to rave reviews. Unfortunately, I never got to see that production – more's the pity – but I have just done the next best thing: I saw Retro Production's off-off-Broadway revival of the play at the Spoon Theatre and I found it absolutely mesmerizing. It is truly a gem...  Both Semler and Lee play their roles well... Vaughan is terrific, expressing a range of inner emotions within a tightly controlled exterior that one could only expect from a true professional. And Cunningham is simply phenomenal. She portrays Sheila with a depth and intensity that is absolutely breathtaking...  The lighting designer for most productions is often overlooked and I should like to make sure that such an oversight does not occur here. Justin Sturges has done an outstanding job with this production and has contributed considerably to its success... this is a marvelous production and I'd urge you to see it." - Alan J. Miller,

"Ever since they opened their doors six years ago, Retro Productions, one of the Off-Off Broadway’s best kept secrets, has been wowing those in the know with one stellar production after another. And judging from their current revival of Michael Frayn’s Benefactors Retro just keeps getting better and better. Benefactors truly is one of the best acted, best directed plays that I’ve seen this season. Sadly, it will be closing. It should be an unlimited run, but alas, like many wonderful Off-Off Broadway productions, never to be seen by many, it is a showcase production. But who knows, theatrical miracles have been known to happen. Maybe it will have a 2nd life with the same actors hopefully...  Each of the four actors, finely directed by Peter Zinn, turn in beautifully modulated performances. Kristen Vaughan, as the sensitive, seemingly well-grounded, architect’s wife, struck the just right balance between cheerfully outgoing and a sensitive and deeply concerned wife and friend. It was a revelation to see her subtly reveal an inner darkness as well as a hint of sexual attraction, both of which she secretly shares with Colin, menacingly played, with a dangerous and precisely aimed wit, by David Ian Lee. As the loveless, and lovesick Sheila, Heather E. Cunningham, is called upon to make the biggest character changes, from warm to cold, from strong to weak, from hysterical to giddy, to needy to independent. Always hitting the right note, from vocal to facial expressions, to body language, Cunningham is a joy to watch.  Though the play ostensibly revolves around the doings of David as intelligently played by Matthew Semler, the part as written, keeps Semler mostly aloof, and rightly so, from the other characters. Like the writer Trigorin in Chekov’s The Seagull, his David is poignantly tethered to his own ideas and little else seems to matter. The role of is the most difficult to inhabit as David has to both be there and not be there at the same time. Act I finds him running on and off the stage at every given opportunity busily tending to what Colin nastily refers to as “the building of his tombstone.” By Act II, when David ceases to be the “bemused natural observer” of the conflicts around him and starts to become their victim, Semler’s performance reaches a brilliant pitch. By the end of the play, David’s once magical vision of saving humanity, along with his zest for life, seems to have been sliced in half. Robbed of his dreams, reduced to a state of resignation, the light has gone out of Semler’s his eyes. We are left thinking about our own mortality." - Edward Rubin, nytheatre-wire (also published on Berkshire Fine Arts)

NOMINATED FOR FOUR NEW YORK INNOVATIVE THEATRE AWARDS:  Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role, Heather E. Cunningham, and WINNER Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role - Kristen Vaughan