Cheiten *71, Berkowitz ’70 stage original play at Hamilton Murray Theater

A few years ago, playwright Marvin Cheiten *71 noticed that Princeton’s Hamilton Murray Theater was empty from late August to early September, between the end of the Princeton Summer Theater season and the start of Theater Intime’s fall calendar. Cheiten and director Dan Berkowitz ’70, who had staged works at Hamilton Murray, inquired about the vacancy. “We know the theater, we like the theater,” Cheiten recalls saying. “Could we perhaps use it, and use as many Princeton students as we can?”
 
Zenobia
Hamilton Murray Theater
Aug. 19, 20, 26, and 27 at 8 p.m.; and Aug. 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.
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Theater Intime and the University were amenable, and in the span of seven years, Cheiten and the California-based Berkowitz have become August regulars, staging a half-dozen original works with a rotating cast of local performers and Princeton undergraduates.
 
This year’s production, the historical tragedy Zenobia, opens its six-show run Aug. 19. The play debuted on campus in the summer of 2005, and Cheiten said he has made the script “sharper” with a series of recent changes. It tells the story of Queen Zenobia, the third-century leader of Palmyra (now part of Syria), who used her political and military clout to take on the Roman empire. Carolyn Vasko ’13, a veteran of Lewis Center productions and Triangle Club shows, plays the title role.
 
Zenobia marks a change of pace for Cheiten, whose most recent plays have been comic mysteries built around a teen detective and her father. In the ill-fated queen, he expects audiences to find a sympathetic protagonist. As she loses her power, she becomes a better person. “It’s a tragedy,” Cheiten said, “but yet, I don’t think people will leave frowning.”