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Press Articles 2018

A CurtainUp New Jersey Review - The Calling

  By Simon Saltzman

L to R Ames Adamson and Jared Michael Delaney (photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas)

Father Dan, I think the world's lost its way. Good people suffer, while bad people prosper. And God just lets it happen. — Carl

ther Dan (Ames Adamson) has just concluded the funeral service for one of his parishioners. Believing the church and the pews are now empty, he begins to pick up the prayer books. He is startled to find that a man has evidently fallen asleep in a pew. Carl (Jared Michael Delaney) is awakened and explains that the deceased was under his care at the local hospital where he is a nurse in the I.C.U. (Intensive Care Unit.) Light chatter between the men quickly grows a bit testy as Father Dan bluntly asks Carl if he is plans to rob the church as he does not recognize him as a regular parishioner. Locking the door to the church, Carl assures Father Dan that he only wants privacy. It is Carl's intentions and Father Dan's response to them that provide the plot in The Calling by Joel Stone, now having its world premiere engagement.

Part thriller and part psychological inquiry, savvy New Jersey audiences will likely make the connection as the ensuing discourse and developing dilemma unfold between a man of faith with a medical practitioner. The play alludes to the 2005 case of a serial murderer, Charles Cullen, a nurse who was charged and convicted of murdering 29 patients in his care at various N.J. hospitals. At least three books and two TV specials delved into his personality and motivations.

Stone's play is not a replay of that case but it appears to be its inspiration. Stone, who is the literary manager for NJ Rep., was commissioned by NJPAC's Stage Exchange in Association with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and NJ Rep to write a "a cutting edge work." As such, the play cuts to the core of Father Dan's belief in forgiveness, salvation, and redemption as he attempts to relieve the desperation of the apparently unhinged Carl who feels compelled to end the life of those terminally ill and without hope. The play deals with moral and ethical values that are clearly at stake. It directly considers the perspectives of the spiritually grounded Father Dan in contrast to Carl who wants to strike back at a God who can be so cruel.

The crux of the play turns on a twist that would be cruel to reveal.As a thriller should, the plot takes a few unexpected curves in order to confound us. These include both Father Dan and Carl challenging each other in a battle of wills, each facing the truth of their own callings. Not sure whether the digressions into song merely muddle the action or compliment it as the two seem to connect for a while recalling tunes both Christian and rock n' roll. Confessions surface as their pasts appear to be linked. Is Father Dan's life put in peril? Can Carl's soul be saved? Can Father Dan ever reveal what he learns about Carl?

Adamson has commendable grasp of Father Dan as a devout but conventional purveyor of God's words all the while confronting his own battle with health and faith. Playing the sociopath-provocateur, Delaney certainly captures our interest as he shifts his increasingly diabolical tactics so that Father Dan is forced to face his own demons. While credibility is stretched, the actors, under Evan Bergman's direction keep the tension taut throughout an eighty-minute play in which God's messenger is pitted against the Devil's executioner. The interior a small town church has been handsomely evoked by set designer Jessica Parks.

The LINK News

Theater Review: Powerful, suspenseful crisis of faith in The Calling at NJ Rep

By Madeline Schulman


Ames Adamson & Jared Michael Delaney in The Calling. (SuzAnne Barabas photo )

Long Branch — "Ah, look at all the lonely people."

I could not resist opening with a quote from Eleanor Rigby after viewing Joel Stone's powerful play, The Calling, having its world premiere at NJ Rep, 179 Broadway, because The Calling is a two character play about a priest and a troubled visitor.

However, Father Dan (Ames Anderson) and Carl (Jared Michael Delaney) are not Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie. The two are not explicitly lonely, but Carl is burnt out from his years as a nurse, most recently in the Intensive Care Unit.

Jessica's Parks' setting is a wonderfully realistic church, with eight real pews facing the audience so that its point of view is the altar (which is especially effective when Father Dan kneels in prayer).

Father Dan is picking up debris from Mrs. Callahan's funeral. He finds tissues. He finds a Santa hat. Finally, he finds Carl, sleeping on a bench (hidden from the audience so we are as surprised as Father Dan). First Father Dan thinks Carl is homeless, and then he mistakes him for a would-be thief, but when he finds that Carl attended the funeral to pay last respects to his late patient, the priest invites the nurse to stay and talk for a while.

That is a bad idea, but without that decision, there would be no play.

Soon, the men are arguing about several basic philosophical questions. Why do good people suffer? Does God have a master plan? Do we treat our pets with more humanity than we treat our elderly?

Father Dan seems firm in absolute certainty of his faith. He worries that Carl is tempting eternal damnation by contemplating suicide, and assures Carl that his troubles will be lifted by trust in Christ.

Carl is a "sort of lapsed Catholic," and argues to the point where Father Dan accuses him of playing mind games, and deliberately pushing the priest's buttons.

There are moments of levity, especially a great argument about whether there are as many as five explicitly Christian top 40 hits (Carl is willing to concede White Christmas but not Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer), which leads to a lovely sing-along. But the mood darkens and there are disturbing revelations and actions.

Ames Anderson is wonderful as Father Dan, coping with asthma, bad knees, and an increasingly unsettling visitor. Jared Michael Delaney, as the ambiguous Angel of Mercy, will make you feel many strong emotions.

The Calling raises many questions and leaves us to ponder the answers.

NJ Rep presents darkly confessional world premiere


(Photo: COURTESY OF SuzAnne Barabas)

"Thank God for showing me my true calling," says Carl (Jared Michael Delaney), a possibly suicidal visitor who's made himself temporarily quite comfortable inside the church of longtime Catholic priest Father Dan (Ames Adamson).

It's a moment that takes place in "The Calling," the world-premiere show now playing at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch —and, when taken out of context, that line of dialogue could suggest a heartwarming scenario of a couple of conflicted souls who help each other find their way back to faith, hope, and higher purpose.

But then again, we're dealing here with the ever-edgy NJ Rep, where no personal breakthroughs or epiphanies can ever occur onstage without an awesome backdraft of collateral damage.

Just as the priesthood represents a calling, so too does Carl's chosen path as a nurse to the terminally ill exist as a noble, if deeply exhausting, calling on its own. But there are other forces that call out to the self-proclaimed "lapsed Catholic" who's found sleeping in the nave, following the funeral service of one Mrs. Callahan.

Over the course of a fast-moving single act, the hospital worker who "prefers to fade into the background" takes the spotlight as a man with a history, a somewhat dubiously motivated plan, and a taste for games.

Ames Adamson, left, and Jared Michael Delaney in "The Calling." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)


The script by company literary manager Joel Stone plays out across a more or less real-time interlude of shifting power dynamics, and a tone that veers from the trappings of conventional stage thrillers, to a discussion of old hit records (complete with singalong snippets) that just might tempt some shout-out interaction from the audience.

Rested and ready for action at the outset, Carl — all curiously channeled energy, complete with a "girlfriend" who's almost certainly fictitious — sets the agenda here, and it's one that, given its source, doesn't need to make a whole world of sense.

Ames Adamson, left, and Jared Michael Delaney in "The Calling." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)


It falls upon the aging, ailing Father Dan to get to the nut of what his extended-stay guest is after — a task he takes on with a listen here, a lecture there, and an occasional reminder that this "calling" once meant something real to the "wild kid" once known as Daredevil Dan.

Although their characters can be said to inhabit different planes of reality, the Philly-based co-stars Adamson and Delaney work well together under the direction of Evan Bergman. In the process of exploring a play that doesn't necessarily go where you'd expect — and that isn't all as preachy as the setting would suggest — the three Rep returnees display the versatile stuff that's made them some of the company's finest frequent-flyer collaborators.

Working amid the pews of a no-nonsense set by resident designer Jessica Parks, the team conjures a claustrophobic little cosmos — sealed off like a confessional booth from the sunlight and passing sirens of the nearby outside world — where secrets run deep; where retribution doesn't necessarily wait until the afterlife; and where your role in the Lord's "master plan" might not be the one you tried out for.

Now While it was developed through a partnership with Newark-based NJPAC, this inaugural production of 2018 stands as a homegrown showcase for what NJ Rep can do with modest means and a generous tithing-box of talent.

BWW Review: THE CALLING at NJ Rep is an Outstanding and Poignant New Play

"Do I seem like prodigal son material to you?"
by Carl in The Calling

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) kicks off their 2018 season of new plays with the world premiere of The Calling written by Joel Stone, directed by Evan Bergman and starring Ames Adamson and Jared Michael Delaney. This is one to see. The stellar cast and meticulous direction bring Stone's well-crafted, poignant play to life on the Long Branch stage.

The Calling was originally commissioned by Stage Exchange (Stage X), a partnership formed between NJPAC and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to develop cutting-edge works by notable New Jersey playwrights.

In the show, Father Dan, a Roman Catholic priest for 30 years, has just performed a funeral service for one of his parishioners, Mrs. Callahan. In the empty church, he is surprised to find Carl asleep in one of the church pews. Carl turns out to be an ICU Nurse who cared for Mrs. Callahan just before her death. As Father Dan and Carl discuss their respective professions, their communication becomes spirited and contentious. Carl is depressed and cynical about life as he deals with death everyday in his work while Father Dan ardently believes that people's fate lies in God's will. As the two men communicate, alarming truths are revealed and conflicting attitudes about faith, responsibility, and salvation define their brief encounter.

Ames Adamson as Father Dan and Jared Michael Delaney as Carl are superb in their roles. They master the play's intense, captivating dialogue along with the occasional humor. The actors bring such a sense of authenticity to their characters, audiences will feel they are part of the scene unfolding in the church.

The Creative Team has done a great job of bringing The Calling to the stage. They include scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty; sound design by Merek Royce Press; properties design by Maris Procopio; Kristin Pfeifer is the Production Stage Manager; Adam von Pier is the Assistant Stage Manager/Company Manager; Brian P. Snyder is the Technical Director.

NJ Rep's Executive Producer, Gabor Barabas and Artistic Director, Suzanne Barabas are once again presenting metro area audiences with an outstanding new play. It is their 21st season and The Calling is the 124th show presented by the company. This production will inspire interesting conversations about the human condition. See it while you can.

'The Calling' is a Remarkable New Play

  Let's Go To The Theater

Ames Adamson and Jared Michael Delaney in a scene from "The Calling," a world premiere by Joel Stone playing at NJ Rep. Photo credit: SuzAnne Barabas


The New Jersey Repertory Company is starting the new year off right with the world premiere of a remarkable new play. The Calling by Joel Stone was commissioned by NJPAC's Stage Exchange in Association with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the NJRep. It was first introduced at an impressive initial reading at the NJPAC in April, 2017. Even then, there was a sense that the play had unique qualities about it that would deliver on a live stage. Now with it being performed on an well-designed set with two very strong actors, the promise from that reading has been realized. This play delivers a most unexpected series of events keeping its audience guessing until the very last minute of the show. Additionally, the marvelous development of the characters gives theater goers something to ponder as they leave the show.

Evan Bergman provides superb direction to this thriller. The story of The Calling is set in a Catholic church following the funeral of Mrs. Callahan. Father Dan is straightening up after the service when he finds Carl sleeping on one of the pews. They begin to talk and as they do, Carl reveals that he is an ICU nurse who works the night shift at a nearby hospital. Mrs. Callahan was one of his patients and Father Dan is impressed that Carl took time out of his busy life to come to the service. Just why he came to the service becomes the springboard of all the eventual revelations and actions.

Playwright Stone carefully constructs the conversations so that each level of revelation comes out slowly and carefully. This approach allows the layers of the plot to unfold in such a way that the audience on opening day gasped at certain points. That's how startled they were at several points.

It would not be right to reveal critical turning points in this story. So suffice it to say, just when you think you have it figured out, something else is revealed leading to more information about the characters which in turn feeds the plot. The background and actions of the characters are what makes this play such a thriller to sit through. Both Father Dan and Carl have many sides to them including some good and some very sinister.

"The Calling" demands a lot from the two actors. Both Ames Adamson as Father Dan and Jared Michael Delaney as Carl definitely deliver what is needed to bring these characters to life. As a priest, Mr. Adamson both looks and acts the part. He allows the very human side of the priest to come through which intensifies the action taking place. At first, Mr. Delaney shows the uncertainty bothering Carl with a light flair. This allows a more intense approach as the deeper, more complex part of the character emerges. Not an easy thing to do, but it is well done.

As you watch, you realize these are not people who Mr. Stone decided to create out of nothing. No, they could easily be people right in one's own community. The play demonstrates how people hide behind facades that relate to the work they do and how the community regards them. And that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable when the truth of what has happened comes out.

This play definitely lives up to the billing that NJ Rep is using: heart-pounding, mind-bending psychological thriller. Your own feelings about what each character does will determine how heart-pounding it is. But it is definitely mind-bending as the psychology of the characters becomes more exposed.

World premiere of 'The Calling,' a psychological thriller with comic undertones'

Jared Michael Delaney as Carl and Ames Adamson as Fr. Dan in Joel Stone's "The Calling," which has its world premiere Jan. 4 at NJ Repertory Company. (SuzAnne Barabas )

By Natalie Pompilio

As literary manager for New Jersey Repertory Company, Joel Stone wants the plays he chooses for the troupe's season to have certain qualities.

"I read hundreds of plays every year," Stone said. "I look to be excited. I look to be stimulated. I look for something thought-provoking. I look for something that won't put me to sleep."

Stone kept those qualities in mind while crafting his own play, "The Calling," which will have its world premiere at NJ Rep Thursday and run through Feb. 4. The piece was one of three commissioned this year by Stage Exchange (Stage X), a partnership between the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance that aims to promote local playwrights inspired by local subjects.

Stone's describes his play as "a psychological thriller with comic overtones," a battle of wits between two characters. The show is set in a church after a funeral when a priest, Father Dan, finds a stranger sleeping in a pew. During the interaction that follows, the men find they have a few things in common: Both felt "called" to their professions, one to the priesthood and the other, Carl, to the medical profession. Both are also questioning their choices.

"The priest is priestly, but also a bit street smart. He has a past," Stone said. "The stranger is quirky, mysterious and also mischievous."

This new play explores the complexities of a lifelong friendship The play runs 90 minutes without an intermission. That, combined with the intimacy of N.J. Rep's 80-person main stage, contributes to the tension.

"I love the claustrophobia-feel of it," Stone said. "Father Dan can't escape. The audience can't escape."

This is Stone's first full-length play in decades. In 1998, his play "Horrors of Doctor Moreau," was N.J. Rep's first script-in-hand reading. Stone then began focusing on shorter works. and producing short works show.

"I don't want to ramble on," he said. "Many plays, they should have been about 10 minutes long."

Stone teaches playwriting, most recently at Monmouth College. Many of his students come to class having not seen a play or, if they have, it was a Disney production on Broadway, he said.

But instead of feeling discouraged by that, Stone, who knows the future of the theater is in the hands of young people, is inspired. He's seen students transform in the course of one semester, he said.

"By the time 14 weeks are done, they are incredibly gifted critics of plays and they're pretty good playwrights," Stone said. "Now they love going to the theater."

Theater: NJ Rep, Two River offer world premieres


(Photo: COURTESY OF SuzAnne Barabas)

The first weeks of the new year might represent something of a post-holiday chilling out period for most purveyors of live stage entertainments on and around the Shore — but theatergoers can take "cold comfort" in the fact that both of Monmouth County's professional companies offer ample reason to emerge from the burrow in the days to come.

It begins this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company, with Joel Stone's two-hander play "The Calling." Visit for tickets and schedule details — and check out our feature on the world premiere drama, at

Meanwhile at Two River Theater in Red Bank, the 2017-2018 mainstage season resumes this Saturday and Sunday, with the first previews of another world premiere exclusive — a "superhero play" with the intriguing title "El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom." Emerging from the ranks of Two River's annual Crossing Borders festival of new Latino plays — and developed with a grant from Kevin Spacey — it's a tale of two Puerto Rican brothers: one a successful advertising exec, the other a unemployed comic book artist turned self-styled costumed crimefighter.

Jose Zayas directs the Matthew Barbot play that opens officially on Jan. 12 and runs through Feb. 4. Call 732-345-1400 or visit for tickets — and watch for more on "El Coquí" in the Asbury Park Press or

BWW Interview: Playwright Joel Stone and THE CALLING at NJ Rep

New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) opens its 2018 season of new plays with the world premiere of The Calling directed by Evan Bergman and starring Ames Adamson and Jared Michael Delaney. Joel Stone's thought-provoking and delightfully quick-witted thriller was commissioned by Stage Exchange (Stage X), a partnership formed between NJPAC and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance to develop cutting-edge works by notable New Jersey playwrights.

In The Calling, Father Dan is preparing to lock up after Mrs. Callahan's funeral. Having dispatched his parishioner's soul to its eternal reward and her mourners to their next stops, his work is done for the day. Or so he assumes, unaware that an epic and life-changing test of his faith and convictions lies ahead and, in fact, lies asleep at that moment in one of the pews. Carl is an ICU nurse who cared for the deceased during her final days. He's burned out and desperately searching for something: answers, relief, absolution? Maybe even revenge on a God that would choose to be so cruel. The front-row seat on suffering that comes with Carl's job has put him at odds with Father Dan's more transcendent views on the subject. Each deeply devoted to his calling, a comfortable man of the cloth and a troubled man of medicine take on life's biggest questions in a heart-pounding, mind-bending battle of wits that arrives at a shocking conclusion. had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Stone about his career and The Calling.

Joel Stone is the Literary Manager for New Jersey Repertory Company. He was formerly the artistic director of Off-Off Broadway's The Theatre Asylum. On May 17, 1998, his play Horrors of Doctor Moreau (published by Samuel French, Inc.) became the first script-in-hand reading to debut at New Jersey Repertory Company. The following year, his short play The Age of Miracles premiered at NJ Rep and went on to be a finalist at the Samuel French Short Play Festival. Also in 1999, NJ Rep presented "Written in Stone", an evening of Joel's short plays, including The Speck of Dust in Bugsy's Eye (featuring the late Kim Hunter). In 2001, he co-produced "One Night With You", a collection of six short plays about Elvis, created exclusively by NJ Rep playwrights. From 2000-2002, he was the Theatre Education Coordinator for the New York City Board/Department of Education. He has written and directed for all four NJ Rep Theatre Brut Festivals, including Prairie Dogs (2004), Abilene (2004), Trouble on the PATH (2005), Seven4Seven (2006), and The Purgatory of Charlie Hustle (2008). In 2012, Joel directed the acclaimed MainStage production of Gino DiIorio's Release Point. In 2014, Joel was the Director/Mentor of the award-winning NJ Rep Young Playwrights Project, "Shelter From The Storm", in which local high school students wrote short plays about Hurricane Sandy. For the past three years, he has been an adjunct professor of playwriting at Monmouth University and recently taught the initial playwriting class for New Jersey Repertory Company's West End Arts Center. Currently, he is the literary manager for NJ Rep. The Calling is his first full-length play in decades.

Tell us a little about your early interest in literature.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950's, it seemed that the world revolved around sports. Football, baseball, basketball-it didn't matter-nonstop sports blared from our TV on the weekends. I was a bit of a loner and took solace in drawing and reading. I enjoyed hanging out at the neighborhood library and loved the smell of books. I was fascinated by non-fiction books about movies and UFO's and really liked being transported to new worlds via the works of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allen Poe. In my early teens, I wrote plays, short stories, and 'screenplays' for 8mm movies that I made with my friends. Do you have any go-to authors or playwrights that you like to read? The older I get, the more I appreciate the nuances of playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Their command of language and ideas can be breathtaking. But, to be truly honest, I most enjoy reading new translations of Greek tragedies, especially the plays of Sophocles. And re-visiting the works of Shakespeare isn't so shabby either. Call me old fashioned!

We'd love to know a little about your education.

I went through the New York City school system, like so many others. (Decades later, I became the Theatre Education coordinator for the New York City Board/Department of Education, evaluating arts education programs throughout the five boroughs.) It was at Meyer Levin Junior High School that I first met and befriended the future artistic director of New Jersey Repertory Company--Suzanne Barabas! We've been friends ever since. I went to Brooklyn College and got involved with its excellent theater department. I acted, directed, wrote plays. In 1970, one of the plays I directed, Arrabal's Picnic on the Battlefield, represented our school at the Yale Drama Festival. For the first time in my school career, I really felt like I belonged.

How does teaching complement your work as a playwright?

My role as an adjunct professor at Monmouth University has been very fulfilling these past four years. Each semester, a new set of students show up-a bit scared and very unsure of themselves. They've rarely seen much live theater and most have never considered writing a play. But by the time the 14-week semester is over, they are accomplished playwrights and critics. For me as a playwright, it's fascinating to view the development process through their eyes. It gives me a fresh perspective. And, during the writing of The Calling, I suspect that the adjunct professor in me was subtly guiding my efforts.

What inspired The Calling?

The Calling was a commissioned work from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in partnership with New Jersey Repertory Company and the New Jersey Theater Alliance. One of the entry requirements was that the play be based or inspired by a New Jersey subject. I started researching and discovered a news item about a troubled male nurse. It inspired me to write a totally fictionalized version. During the writing process, I discovered several similar news stories that took place in the U.S. and Canada. Many drafts later, I can safely say that The Calling spins its own unique tale.

What would you like audiences to know about the show?

I'd like audiences to know that The Calling is a two-character play that takes place in a small church in an old part of town. A priest discovers a stranger sleeping among the pews, long after a funeral service he presided over. Why is the man there? What does he want? What happened in the past that links them? Probably, the less said, the better. The play is a battle of wits and wills between a man of faith and a man of medicine. It is both surprisingly funny and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, with some unexpected twists and turns. We've got an exceptionally talented cast and crew and it's been exciting to watch the play develop and come to life during rehearsals.

What do you want our readers to know about NJ Rep and it's mission?

In its 20-year history, New Jersey Repertory Company's mission has been to exclusively produce new plays and, in the process, nurture emerging playwrights. It has presented countless world premieres and is a core member of the National New Play Network, a nationwide organization consisting of theaters committed to presenting new works. I have been NJ Rep's literary manager for the past three years, receiving and reviewing hundreds of play submissions. I help to choose plays for our script-in-hand reading series, some of which eventually get chosen for main-stage productions. With its new West End Arts Center, NJ Rep has broadened its scope and is serving the community with classes, art exhibits, and various special events.

Anything else, absolutely anything you want our readers to know.

I directed the first script-in-hand reading at NJ Rep on May 17, 1998-a reworked, revised version of my play Horrors of Doctor Moreau. The Calling is my first full-length play in 44 years. In all that time, I'd been relatively content to write and direct short plays. Gabe and Suzanne Barabas had been trying to get me to write a new full-length play for decades. With The Calling, I've finally achieved that milestone. And now that the genie is out of the bottle, I'm planning on writing several more.

"The Calling" An Interview With Playwright Joel Stone

NJ Stage

New Jersey Repertory Company presents the World Premiere of The Calling by Joel Stone from January 4th through February 4th in Long Branch. This play was commissioned by NJPAC's Stage Exchange in Association with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and NJRep.

Stone, who was formerly the artistic director of Off-Off Broadway's The Theatre Asylum, has written many short plays in the past 40 years, including several which have been presented at NJ Rep over the years. For the past four years, he has been an adjunct professor of playwriting at Monmouth University and also taught the initial playwriting classes for New Jersey Repertory Company's West End Arts Center. Currently, he is the literary manager for NJ Rep.

New Jersey Stage spoke with Stone about his new play and about his long-standing relationship with NJ Rep which dates back almost to the beginning of the company.

The Calling is billed as a heart-pounding, mind-bending psychological thriller, peppered with comic relief. What can you tell us about the play without giving away too much?

Well, that's the problem. With thrillers, the less you know the better. It's hard to describe, but I'd say it's pretty much a comic psychological thriller about a priest who finds a man sleeping amongst his Church pews after a funeral service. It turns out that this man is in need of spiritual guidance and things turn into a dangerous battle of wits between the priest and the man who is an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse.

Was it difficult to find places for comic relief? Or did they sort of reveal themselves on their own?

The humor arose quite naturally from the interplay between my two characters. So many thrillers are just grim and without a little bit of comic relief they can be hard going. The comic relief is also a way of providing the audience with temporary release from the suspense.

I actually found it quite easy to do and pleasant. I was so happy that I found those moments or maybe they found me! Either way, it was wonderful.

This play is part of the NJPAC Stage Exchange series. What is it like to have a setup like this with a staged reading at NJPAC and a guaranteed production at a theatre later on?

It's fantastic! First of all, you have to be at the top of your game. Second, they require that the play be about a New Jersey subject. That was one of the only qualifications. It's fantastic that you know, at some point, you come into a production.

The initial reading was wonderful. We had a different cast, but the same director - Evan Bergman. We learned so much from that reading. Currently, it's been a constant process of re-evaluating, rewriting, adapting to new actors, adapting to the set, and adapting to the reality of actually getting it on its feet.

When we applied they asked for three story ideas. I submitted three and the one I least expected them to choose was the one they chose! It's funny, I recently reread what I had proposed and although the subject matter is the same, my approach was totally different.

Did the audience at NJPAC know that it was meant to be a little funny at points?

I don't know, probably not. The subject matter is not funny, but I needed comic relief because the subject matter can be very difficult. When I look back at great thrillers, one of my favorites was Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott - a play that also distracted you from what was going on with humor and warmth. Those are wonderful ways of keeping audiences distracted.

This was your first full-length play in quite a while.

Yes, this was my first full-length play in about 44 years.

Did you find it difficult to move back to a full-length after writing so many short plays?

I thought I would, but I didn't. For years, Gabor and SuzAnne Barabas (of NJ Rep) have been waiting for me to write a full-length play. Whenever anyone asked me, "Why aren't you writing full length plays?" I would always answer, "I just don't have that much to say!" For me, a 10-minute play is fine; I have it all in there.

I love the short play format, but The Calling, in a funny way, almost wrote itself. I did three months of research, three months on the first act, and I believe the second act took me two weeks to finish. It just flowed; it was a pleasure.

How did you first get involved with NJ Rep? You've been with them since the 90s.

Well, I've known SuzAnne since junior high school. I've known her longer than Gabe has! I love them. They're dear friends. Twenty years ago, I directed their first script-in-hand reading, which was Horrors of Doctor Moreau - one of my plays that I had rewritten. I've been their literary manager since late 2014.

What do you do in that role?

I'm a reader. I evaluate whether or not a script would be appropriate for a script-in-hand reading for our subscription audience. Sometimes the plays wind up being produced.

You've been with them long enough to see the West End Arts Center open. What do you think about that facility and its potential?

I think the potential is unlimited. It's a wonderful space. We had the Theatre Brut festival there and it was fantastic. It could become a very vital part of the community.