If you go
WHAT: “Perfectly Normel People” at the New York International Fringe Festival
WHEN: 5 p.m. Aug. 9; 3:30 p.m. Aug. 11; 2:30 p.m. Aug. 14; 7 p.m. Aug. 17; noon Aug. 18
WHERE: The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., New York City
MORE INFO AND TICKETS: http://www.fringenyc.org/
Some would say it’s an odd coupling: the extroverted and entrepreneurial marketing guy and the quiet bereavement therapist.
Who would have expected them to click? And who could have imagined they would, of all things, write successful plays together?
But that’s what Judy and Thomas Health have done. It has even surprised them.
Their play “Perfectly Normel People,” which had its premier during the 2012 Piccolo Spoleto Festival at the Footlight Theatre, has been accepted by the New York International Fringe Theatre Festival and will run Aug. 9-18 Off-Broadway at the 248-seat Players Theatre in the West Village, Thomas’ old stomping ground. (He’s a New York University grad.)
“We’re going back to my old neighborhood for this play,” he says. “It’s a great feeling.”
The play recounts the experiences of NYU freshman Hadley Smith (played by College of Charleston student Bronson Taylor), a kid from Kansas who moves in with a dysfunctional Italian-American family in Queens. The Normellini family is loud but lovable, and provides plenty of opportunities for laughs.
A $10,000 Kickstarter campaign is underway to help the Heaths cover expenses. Fifteen actors and crew members are traveling to New York from Charleston. The Heaths will stay in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and blog about their adventure.
In a way, it began with terrible tragedy: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Judy was a respected therapist who specialized in trauma and bereavement. After 9/11, she was hired by the New York City Fire Department to counsel firefighters and their families. She also worked with the relatives of Cantor Fitzgerald employees, many of whom perished in the attack.
“When that happened, it took over my life,” she says. “I was even helping other therapists.”
When the intensity of the tragedy began to subside, she and Thomas began to discuss moving away. She shut down her practice for a year, wrote a children’s book called “I Miss Matthew” for kids who’ve lost a sibling (it was issued in 2008), then packed her bags.
The couple came to Charleston in 2005. They loved the city; it had a vibrant cultural life. Besides, Judy had family not far away, in Hilton Head.
On June 8, 2007, another tragedy struck: the Sofa Super Store fire. Nine Charleston firefighters died.
Before long, the St. Andrews’ fire chief reached out to Judy. He had heard about her experience in New York City. Thus began another round of intense therapy, and more exposure to the raw pain, anger and grief that accompanies unspeakable horror.
That experience led to another book, “No Time for Tears: Surviving Grief in America,” which was issued in 2010.
She says she loves her work and measures her days carefully, allotting about half her time to bereavement therapy and half to other, less emotionally fraught forms of counseling.
Still, there comes a time when one wishes for lighthearted pursuits.
She decided she would write a comedy.
“I’ll help you,” Thomas offered, which worried Judy at first. Would they resort to yelling at one another, lunging at each other’s throats?
They decided they could compromise and maintain open minds. They would work to their strengths. She would provide the grace and style; he would provide the Irish wit and sarcasm.
It turned out they were a partnership meant to be. They were having loads of fun.
Both had longstanding interests in theater. In fact, they met in 1993 when both were in the cast of “Murder on the Rerun,” a regional production in New York. They decided to be friends.
And for 13 months, that’s what they were.
“Then one day I kissed her,” Thomas says.
Soon they were family, with three children from previous marriages and lives that quickly entwined.
Their first comedy collaboration resulted in a play called “The Sunset Years,” which was produced by Village Repertory Company and enjoyed a successful run.
Keely Enright, founding artistic director the company (now operating as Woolfe Street Playhouse downtown), says she admired the “strength of vision and amazing attitude” exhibited by the Heaths, who she has known for many years.
“As someone who works 24/7 with my husband (managing director Dave Reinwald), that can be dicey,” Enright says. “They have such mutual respect for each other.”
Thomas has appeared in several Village Rep productions and has had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his wit and comedic timing, Enright says. But it came as a mild surprise to discover how funny Judy could be.
“The Sunset Years” featured core characters who were retirement age, and that appealed to a large segment of Charleston theater-goers who flocked to the playhouse, she says. “It was a delightful show for our market.”
“Perfectly Normel People” is told from the perspective of younger people, she says. It’s Neil Simon-esque, reminiscent in some ways of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which starred a young, dynamic Matthew Broderick.
The cast of “Normel” is terrific, Enright says. Taylor is joined on stage by Lara Allred (Angela), Tripp Hamilton (Frankie), Patrick Arnheim (Stranger, Johnny), Scott Cason (Dad), Jacqualine M. Helmer (Mom, Clerk, Margaret), Katie Holland (Bernadette), Vicki Kelly (Connie), Sean X. Marino (Adult Hadley, Narrator) and Ross Magoulas (Pops) — all Charleston-based actors.
“It’s a nice opportunity for younger stars to showcase their talents,” says Enright.
Rehearsals for “Normel” are underway at the Life Guidance Center in West Ashley, a counseling clinic started by the Heaths that sits at the center of their professional lives. She is one of several specialized counselors offering services there. He is a part-time business and career coach.
Thomas also works as an event specialist with Duvall Catering & Event Design.
Soon they will hit the road in a caravan, traveling up the coast to New York City, blogging and tweeting as they go.
“We have three goals,” Thomas says. “To get an extended Off-Broadway run, to get published and to get representation.”
Who knows? It could happen.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.
Judy and Thomas Heath (background) wrote “Perfectly Normel People” and are getting ready to take it to the New York International Fringe Festival. Jacqualine Helmer (left) and Katie Holland appear in the show.×
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