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Hollinger’s 'Red Herring' reels in the laughs at Villanova Theatre

Villanova stages award-winning comedy by resident playwright and professor Michael Hollinger

Red Herring postcard

VILLANOVA, PA – Villanova Theatre proudly presents Red Herring, written by Michael Hollinger, directed by Harriet Power, and on stage October 1-13, 2013.  Three love stories, a murder mystery, and a nuclear espionage plot converge in this noir comedy about marriage and other explosive devices.

It's 1952: America's on the verge of the H-bomb, Dwight Eisenhower's on the campaign trail, and I Love Lucy's on Monday nights. Meanwhile, Senator Joe McCarthy's daughter just got engaged to a Soviet spy, and Boston detective Maggie Pelletier has to find out who dumped the dead guy in the Harbor — or else lose out on a honeymoon in Havana.  Part hard-boiled mystery, part screwball romantic comedy, Red Herring has charmed audiences around the world with its stylish, clever, and surprising humor.

According to veteran director Harriet Power, "I've long admired Red Herring - I was one of its original readers, saw its 2000 world premiere, and have had it on my 'must-direct list' for years.  Michael's singular blend of hilarity and heartfelt humanity distinguishes all his plays, and is in particularly fine form here.  Among its belly laughs, film-noir fun, and plot twists are vivid depictions of love at three life stages — early 20's, mid-30's, late 40's — reminding us that romance is messy; innocence, short-lived; subterfuge, inevitable....and ardor unquenchable."

Red Herring received its world premiere at Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia in 2000 and has since been produced dozens of times across the U.S. and in Europe, including at Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Chicago’s Northlight Theatre, Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, and Compagnie la Grenouillère in Paris, France (for which Hollinger also served as a translation consultant).  Hollinger is an Associate Professor at Villanova, where he earned his M.A. in Theatre, and currently teaches playwriting, solo performance, and songwriting, in addition to serving as the Associate Artistic Director for Villanova Theatre.  

According to Hollinger, The breadth of Villanova’s M.A. in Theatre program proved to be a great training ground for me as an aspiring playwright, since, in addition to playwriting, I studied the related disciplines of dramaturgy, acting, directing, scenography, and dramatic literature.  One of the great pleasures of teaching in this graduate program is educating young artists who, in addition to really refining their skills in one or two areas, are also en route to becoming great theatrical generalists.  In no other field I’m aware of is such a holistic view of such value.”

Hollinger has premiered seven plays in Philadelphia, including three Barrymore Award winners for Outstanding New Play: Opus (one of American Theatre’s Top 10 most produced plays in 2009), Ghost-Writer and Red Herring.  His awards include a Steinberg New Play Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Mid-Atlantic Emmy, an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, and the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist.  

Power has worked with playwrights throughout her career, as a resident director of Bay Area Playwrights Festival, West Coast Playwrights, the Iowa Playwrights Festival, Playpenn and New Dramatists, as well as during her tenure as Artistic Director of Venture Theatre, Act II Playhouse, and at the International Women Playwrights Festival in Galway, Ireland.  

According to Hollinger, "It's very meaningful for me to be able to collaborate again with my friend and colleague Harriet Power on this production, after working together on my play Incorruptible at Villanova Theatre in 2005, and on professional projects at PlayPenn and New Dramatists thereafter. Red Herring is a very intricate play on all sorts of levels, requiring painstaking preparation to assemble, and no director I know prepares as painstakingly as Harriet, so I know this production is in very good hands." 

Hollinger’s Red Herring is many things to many people a winking homage to the noir genre; a tongue-in-cheek look at 1950s America; a send-up of hard-boiled, gumshoe mysteries; a riff on classic comedies of mistaken identity.    At its heart, however, the play is a fable about fidelity, the misfires of attraction, the complexity of love and marriage.  (Fun fact: Hollinger actually met his wife of twenty-two years, actress/teacher/director Megan Bellwoar, while earning his Master’s in Theatre at Villanova.)

Villanova brings this heart-warming comedy to life with the help of an award-winning team of designers:  James F. Pyne (Scenic Design), Marla Jurglanis (Costume Design), Jerold Forsyth (Lighting Design), Samantha Bellomo (Fight Choreographer), Neill Hartley (Dialect Coach), and Liz Marafino (Dramaturg).  

Power directs a cast of six in this tour-de-force ensemble piece, featuring multiple quick-changing roles.   The cast includes second-year graduate students Victoria Rose Bonito (Maggie) and Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall (Frank / Priest / Major Hartwell), first-year graduate students Sophia Barrett (Lynn/Clerk) and Julia George-Carlson (Mrs. Kravitz / Mrs. McCarthy / Mrs. Van Nostrand), Villanova dramaturgy instructor Ray Saraceni (Andrei / Petey / Dr. Kasden / Herbert), and undergraduate student Brendan Farrell (James / Woody / Harry / Bartender).

Red Herring takes the stage at Villanova Theatre from October 1- 13, 2013.  Villanova Theatre is located on the Villanova University campus in Vasey Hall (at Lancaster & Ithan Aves.). Performances will be held Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets run $21-$25, with discounts available for seniors, students, M.A. in Theatre alumni, and groups. Tickets may be purchased at the Villanova Theatre Box Office (M-S, 12 -5 p.m.) in person, by phone: (610) 519-7474, or online at

About Villanova Theatre: Villanova Theatre is a community of artist-scholars committed to transforming hearts and minds through the visionary production of classical, modern, and contemporary dramatic literature. Our work is fueled by the imaginative striving common to Villanova’ s accomplished faculty, versatile staff, and energetic graduate students. Together, we are devoted to creating a vibrant theatre enriched by and overflowing with the ideas explored in our classrooms. In all of our endeavors, we aim to share the dynamic experience of collaborative learning with our audiences in order to engage the intellect and stir the soul.  As a facet of Villanova University, Villanova Theatre serves the campus community as well as thousands of theatre-goers from the Main Line and the Greater Philadelphia area.  

The Villanova University Theatre Department came into being in 1958 under the leadership of Dr. Dick Duprey.  Today, Villanova’s Department of Theatre offers both a Master of Arts degree and a Graduate Certificate in Practical Theatre.  Students enrolled in the theatre program undergo a course of study that combines both scholarly and practical approaches to theatre.  Guided by award-winning faculty and staff who are actively involved in the region’s professional theatre industry, students gain knowledge and experience through hands-on production work and in-depth academic study in the areas of dramaturgy, script analysis, dramatic literature, playwriting, acting, and directing.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.