Suzanne Niedland directing ‘Almost, Maine’ for Under-the-Bridge Players

By Carol Saunders

Suzanne Niedland, award winning filmmaker and actor with more than 25 years of diversified experience in the entertainment industry, will direct the final Under-the-Bridge Players production, “Almost, Maine” at the Burt Reynolds Museum and Institute for Film and Theatre.

At a technical rehearsal April 21 at the Museum, where the quirky romantic comedy will be presented this week, Niedland says she became enthusiastic about bringing the show to Jupiter after seeing it for the first time last summer.

“The play is fun and entertaining,” Niedland stated, “and I am thrilled at the opportunity to direct this production at BRIFT, at the encouragement and invitation of Mr. Reynolds.”

Niedland is currently chairman of the board and a founder of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre (BRIFT) and also on the Executive Board for the National Committee for the prestigious Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C.

The Under the Bridge Players will present John Cariani’s widely praised play, which is a hysterically funny look at life and love in a small, mythical town in far northern Maine, beginning Wednesday, April 28 at 8 p.m. for five performances through Sunday, May 2, with a final matinee at 2 p.m.

“It’s a feel good play. It’s the kind of show we need more of. A perfect play to show-off a large cast, have some real laughs and smile all the way home,” says Burt Reynolds.

“Almost, Maine,” was originally performed off-Broadway in the winter of 2005/2006 at the Daryl Roth Theatre and has been produced hundreds of times in theaters all over the United States and as far away as Korea, Australia and Canada.

Set in two acts with a prologue and epilogue, the story takes place in various locales on a cold, clear moonless Friday evening in the middle of winter in the mythical town of the same name, Almost, Maine.

Quite without warning, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and hilarious ways. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky, knees are bruised and healed. Hearts are broken, love is lost, found and often confounding. Hearts are mended almost.

The “Los Angeles Times” described “Almost, Maine” as “a sweet- natured valentine to fools and idioms,” while Florida Weekly hailed the play as “a gem.”

Niedland, a 1990 graduate of BRITT and current student in Reynolds’ Master Acting Class and is making her stage directorial debut with the full support and encouragement of her mentor, Reynolds. She cast the production with students in the current Burt Reynolds Master Acting Class she is part of.

“I have a wonderful and talented cast of 12 actors who have been a dream for any director to work with. They have given me their trust and we have had fun developing their characters and putting the production together,” says Niedland.

Reynolds commented, “Suzanne Niedland is the perfect one from our class to move up and direct her first play. She’s always been someone I felt had a great attention to detail and a real sharp sense of what works on stage and what doesn’t. She will not sleep until this play opens and it will be the best experience working in the theatre so far in her young life.”

Niedland, and husband philanthropist Larry De George, are Jupiter residents. She received a masters degree in documentary filmmaking from University of Florida in 2004, is an actor and independent producer based out of Jupiter with her own independent company, BusEye Films and serves on the boards of the Palm Beach Film and Television Commission, Advisory Council for the Documentary Institute at University of Florida and the Advisory Council for the Palm Beach Film Institute.

“I have a wonderful cast to work with and the show is a lot of fun – we are all having a great time,” Niedland said at the technical rehearsal. “And FYI, my production company, BusEye Films, LLC is sponsoring the production so that all monies coming in from ticket sales will go directly to BRIFT, a not-for-profit organization.”

Also, “I wanted to let everyone know that the necklace I’ve been wearing to each rehearsal and will wear through the run of ‘Almost, Maine’ was a very special and meaningful gift from Mr. Reynolds. It is a medallion of Saint Genesius, Patron Saint of the Arts. Burt says he has been wearing his (he never takes it off) for 50 years! Pretty neat!,” Neidland said.

Cast members include David Ausem, Vincent Chimato, J. Mark Emerson, Klif Gehring, Earleen Carey-Marlow, Peter Marzilli, Ivie Gabrielle Slocumb, Marianne Carlisle Salem, Rhonda Stearns, Robert Tassey, Joanna Theobalds and C. Todd Vittum.