BY STEVE KRAUSE | June 6, 2018
The 24-year-old Salem playwright will have his “Letters of War” featured during commercial breaks during the live “red carpet” streaming of the Tony Awards Sunday.
The play tells the story of Mae, an aging grandmother battling the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease in rural Mississippi. It is reflective of Bertone’s real-life experiences, as he watched his grandmother battle the disease while his grandfather dealt with lung cancer.
“I was so far away (he was studying at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh at the time) that I felt that at any moment, my ‘goodbyes’ to my grandparents could be my last,” he said.
During commercial breaks for the streamed portion of the Tony Awards, scenes from Bertone’s play will be shown. Bertone, a Salem native and graduate of Salem High, said Carnegie Mellon, among whose graduates is Stephen Schwartz, who composed the blockbuster shows “Godspell (while still at the school),” “Pippin” and “Wicked,” is the school doing the streaming.”
If Bertone’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s done a lot of work in this area. He got his start on the North Shore, designing sets for both the Marblehead Little Theater and the North Shore Music Theater for productions of “Grease,” and “Shrek,” beginning when he was 19.
“I love having a home base here,” said Bertone, who will be directing three musicals this summer for the Sacramento (Calif.) Music Circus.
“The theater community on the North Shore is very supportive,” he said. “‘I’ve directed several shows there.”
One of them involved Lynn native Leah Miles. Two years ago, he produced and directed Miles’ play “Entangled” for the old Salem Theater Company.
“The North Shore community supports and uplifts me and my work,” Bertone said. “I really love coming back and working here.”
The actual network airing the Tonys is CBS, but, unlike the Academy Awards in Hollywood, the network will not broadcast the pre-show “red carpet,” so a media team from Carnegie Mellon will stream it online.
The university is a “higher-education” sponsor for the event, and presents an award for excellence in theater education to honor those who promote arts in the school, Bertone said. This year the award will go to Melody Herzfeld, a drama teacher at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a shooting on Valentine’s Day killed 17 people.
Bertone’s play won three BroadwayWorld Awards, including Best Drama. In “Letters From War,” the grandmother with Alzheimer’s has to be moved to a nursing home while her granddaughter races against time, after finding a mysterious box of letters, to uncover the truth of her family’s past before her grandmother’s memories fade forever.
The play has been presented at Carnegie Mellon University, Salem Theatre Co., Marblehead Little Theatre, and North Shore Music Theatre.