Who is Maxine?

Human Race Theatre season opens with Managing Maxine

By Brian P. Sharp

The Human Race Theatre Company kicks off its 2012-2013 season with Janece Shaffer’s “Managing Maxine,” an unlikely love story with an unconventional heroine featuring Broadway actress Jana Robbins as Maxine and television veteran Steve Vinovich as Arthur. She’s bold, yet tender. She’s brash, but sincere. And at the age of 70, Maxine Levine may have just found real love for the first time in her life. When this lively widow finds a retired, reserved judge to her liking, they each discover that when it comes to romance, everything old is new again. But the memories of past loves and current heartbreaks of their children could derail any hope of happiness these late-in-life lovebirds may have.

This production is only “Managing Maxine’s” third after being commissioned by Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre for a 2009 run and another in 2010 at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. It won the 2009 Gene Gabriel Moore Playwright Award and the 2008 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards. The Human Race’s production is directed by Marya Spring Cordes with set design by Tamara L. Honesty, costume design by David M. Covach, lighting design by John Rensel and sound design by Rich Dionne. Kay Carver is the production stage manager. “Managing Maxine” runs Sept. 6-23. Opening night is Friday, Sept. 7.

Jana Robbins is a Tony Award-nominated actress, producer and director, playing lead roles in the Broadway productions of “Good News,” “I Love My Wife,” “Romance/Romance,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “Gypsy” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.” As a producer, her work includes “Little Women – The Musical,” the 2009 production of “Ragtime” and the current production of “War Horse.” Dayton-area audiences will remember her as the title character in The Human Race Theatre’s 2011 production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” on the Victoria Theatre’s Broadway Series. It was during her time in Dayton that she brought the script for “Managing Maxine” to Producing Artistic Director Kevin Moore’s attention. Ms. Robbins has been working in her capacity as a producer to shepherd the script through development with the intention of a New York City run.

I had the chance to speak to Jana Robbins and she said, “I loved this show from the moment I picked up the script.”  She feels falling in love at 70 has an effect on the entire family.  Robbins said, “There is lots of comedy – which is heartfelt.”

Robbins has been exposed to theatre and dance from an early age.  Her mother took dancing lessons from Gene Kelly in Pittsburgh, though never danced professionally.  Robbins has been singing and dancing since she was four years old.  Robbins held lead roles in her high school musicals like “South Pacific” and “My Fair Lady.”  After high school Robbins attended Stephens College in Columbia, Maryland and then went on to New York City where she landed her first job in the chorus of “South Pacific” and has been working ever since.  Her second job was with Jose Ferrer in “Man of La Mancha.”

Now Robbins roles take on a new dimension; acting, directing and even producing.  Robbins has recently been working as an Artistic Director, working with 40 students and producing nine shows in 10 weeks.  Robbins believes acting is a very individual choice. She said, “You must be extremely passionate about it.” She believes networking is key to being successful.  However, more than all that, you must be “easy to work with.”  Robbins says having great people skills is critical.  Robbins encourages anyone getting started to finish their college education and make connections, but most of all follow their passion.

Robbins credits her high school music teacher, Mrs. Kaufman, for supporting her and encouraging her from very early on, and most importantly her mother for always believing in her.

Steve Vinovich has appeared on Broadway in “Loose Ends,” “Lost in Yonkers,” “The Magic Show,” “The Robber Bridegroom,” “The Grand Tour” and “The Secret Rapture,” in addition to scores of productions at regional theatres across the country. His face is well-recognized thanks to his work in hundreds of commercials and television shows, including “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Cheers,” “Home Improvement,” “Cold Case,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Law and Order LA” and “Hannah Montana.”

In addition to Robbins and Vinovich, the cast includes: Human Race Resident Artists Kay Bosse, Tim Lile and Scott Stoney; New York City-based actress Debra Whitfield, a Columbus native; and Michelle Zimmerman, returning to The Human Race stage after a nearly decade-long absence.

Show times for “Managing Maxine” are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday evenings and 7 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday evenings. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. There is no evening performance on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The Pay-What-You-Can performance is Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 8:00 p.m. The “Inside Track” pre-show discussion begins at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, prior to the 8:00 p.m. performance. “Lite Fare at the Loft” with food and drink provided by Citilites begins in The Loft Theatre lobby at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The “While We’re on the Subject” post-show talkback is on Sunday, Sept. 16, immediately following the 2:00 p.m. performance.

Tickets and performance information on Managing Maxine are available online at www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, and at the Schuster Center box office.

Reach DCP freelance writer Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com

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Reach DCP food critic Brian P. Sharp at BrianSharp@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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