Dancing Mad

February 2-18, 2024

This tragicomedy centers on three close friends (Seth, Tiff, and Teddy) who share a house in Monmouth County during the aftermath of COVID. Over the course of ten days, they will alternately drink, bicker, laugh and love as they pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and dance their way through pain on the bumpy road to healing.

At a time when we are still reeling from the aftershocks of COVID, when many still feel stranded and aimless, Dancing Mad reflects how, with the support of those closest to us, we can weather the heartbreak with humor, compassion, and love.

Meet the Cas


Ryan J. Irving (Seth)

Ryan is honored to have the privilege to be a part of the last production at 35 South Street. Center Playhouse is where Ryan made his acting debut in Butterflies are Free in 2019. Since then Ryan has appeared on stage at Center Players as Doc in Crimes of the Heart and Brian in Sartre Was Wrong in a one act showcase. Ryan wants to express his deepest thanks to everyone at Center Players for changing his life, as they have touched many others. Ryan wants to thank Matt, Ben, Ant, Denise, Ankit, and Pratigya for cultivating the most rewarding theatrical production he has been a part of. Ryan is grateful to everyone coming to support this gem of a theater and the local performing arts. Ryan hopes the support continues to follow Center Players wherever they may go. 

Ankit Sharma (Teddy)

Ankit Sharma has been acting onstage for over 10 years and has performed in various productions throughout NJ and NY. Some of his favorite credits include, (Hal Carter) Picnic, (Jack Palmer) The Boys Next Door, both of which were performed at Center Playhouse. Also (Yvan) Art, (Tony Kirby Jr) You Can’t Take It With You, both of which earned him Best Actor Nomination from Broadway World. Other favorites include, (Terry Malloy) On The Waterfront, (Jerry) At Home At The Zoo, (Tom/Phyllis/Leslie) Sylvia.

Ankit’s love for acting has transitioned to film as well. He has been a part of various films ranging from independent features, shorts, web series, music videos, etc. Titles like Midnight Chaser, Infliction, The Hardest Part, Therapy The Series are available to watch on various streaming platforms. Ankit has also tried some writing and directing but his true passion stays with acting and performing.

On a personal note, I am very happy to return back to Center Playhouse for what will be the last show in this physical space. I have had great memories here and have learned a lot throughout the years and I continue to do so thanks to the diligent work of everyone involved. I want to thank everyone involved with this production for making this one of the most rewarding experiences of my acting career. Love to all - enjoy the show!

Pratigya Paudel (Tiff)

Pratigya is an actor, writer, and filmmaker based out of Philadelphia, PA. Recently, she has finished a run of ‘Ink’ with Roundhouse Theatre in Bethesda, MD and her film ‘Juniper’ is collecting awards as it makes its festival run. 

This is her first production with Center Players and she is very excited to be a part of sharing Dancing Mad with the community. It has been a joy to work with everyone involved with this production and she hopes you enjoy the show!

Anthony Marinelli (Director)

Anthony is a writer and director for both stage and screen. His latest film, Why I Had To Kill You While You Slept, premiered at the Chelsea Film Festival in NYC and will make its Jersey premiere at the Garden State Film Festival in March 2024. He was recently selected to be part of SHOOT magazine’s New Directors Showcase, an annual event which introduces new directing talent to the advertising and film communities.

On the NYC stage, he produced and directed Fool for Love and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. His original one-act plays include Acoustic Space (Winner Best Play, 2014 Strawberry One-Act Festival), Another Famous Dead Artist, Max & Domino, and Visitors. His film adaptation of Acoustic Space won Best Short in the 2018 Ridgewood Guild International Film Festival and Best Original Screenplay in the 2016 Richmond International Film Festival. Another short, Walt Whitman Never Paid For It, by Angelo Berkowitz, won the Audience Choice Award at the Richmond International Film Festival in 2014.

At Center Players, Anthony has directed staged readings of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Speed-the-Plow as well as Signature Series Presentations Play It Again Sam, Chapter Two, Butterflies Are Free, Same Time Next Year, Prelude to a Kiss, Crimes of the Heart, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

He would like to extend his love and appreciation for his cast of three — Ryan, Pratigya, and Ankit — for their extreme professionalism, hard work and awe-inspiring talent. It has been an absolute treat working with them in bringing Matt’s brilliant play to life. He would like to thank Ben Alexander for bringing the play to his attention in the first place and his strong presence as a producer, always willing and able to do whatever needs to be done. And, of course, his right hand - Denise Warren without whom he could not imagine doing any of this.

He would also like to extend his heartfelt thanks to everyone at Center Players (Bernice, Bob, Sheldon, Roberta, Mark, and anyone else he might have left out!) for always giving him room to play. And, finally, he’d like to thank his family for their patience and understanding while he spent many long hours away from home (even when he was home), especially his wife, Alice-Ann, for her enduring love, support and patience!


Ben Alexander (Producer)

Ben is proud to be making his producing debut here at Center Players with this deeply emotional play. This play from the brilliant mind of Matthew Gustavsen approached Ben two years ago after seeing a play he directed and asked if Ben would read something he wrote. Ben reflects; “That day not only introduced me to a fantastic piece of writing but also to someone who has become a great friend. After doing a staged reading and work shopping it a bit with Matt I knew it was time for this play to have its’ stage debut and could think of no better director for the job then Anthony Marinelli who's work I have admired for a while. Now the question was where to put this play up. I couldn't be more pleased that Center Players is where we landed. This playhouse has done such incredible work in its’ 22 years here in Freehold and it's bittersweet that this will be the last play done in this space but I know that they will find a new home where they will do more amazing productions like this one. I would like to thank Bernice Garfield-Szita, Bob Szita, Mark Lamhut, Sheldon Fallon, Roberta Fallon, the entire Center Players Board for putting their trust in me. Denise Warren who always has the play on her mind when it comes to making scene changes work flawlessly.  I'd also be remiss in not acknowledging the brilliant cast Ryan Irving, Ankit Sharma, & Pratigya Paudel who not only put in the work in bringing these characters to life but made me see that Dancing Mad is not just a play but a way of life. Finally to you the audience for coming to see the show and taking the journey with us. Without you we would all be dancing alone.

Denise Warren-Smith (Stage Manager)

Denise has been involved with theatre all her life, on stage, in the pit band, and behind the scenes. She began making costumes for anime and science fiction conventions, then began making costumes and props for community theatre productions including  MacbethA Midsummer Night’s DreamPeter Pan, and The Three Musketeers. At Center Players she was stage manager for Butterflies Are Free, Same Time Next YearPrelude to a Kiss,  California SuiteCrimes of the Heart, and Last of the Red Hot LoversPrisoner of 2nd Avenue, and appeared onstage in The Bishop’s Wife. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with Anthony Marinelli again, with this wonderful cast…and really everyone associated with Center Players!

Matthew Edward Gustavsen (Playwright)

Matthew  is an avid hiker and a fan of all animals (except the ticks and mosquitoes who torment him when he's hiking or standing in the woods watching other animals), plants (except poison ivy), and fungi. As a writer, he channels his love for the natural world and all the misunderstood souls who occupy it into the characters whose inner lives make his plays worth writing.

In 2013, Matthew brought his one-act play “Superacid” to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A small crowd gathered inside Arlene’s Grocery on Easter Sunday to watch a cast of three raise Matthew’s characters from the silence of the page. In 2019, “Time Juice,” another one-act, sprang to life as part of the Kicking & Swearing One-Act Festival in Rahway, NJ.

Dancing Mad, a semifinalist in Risk Theatre’s fifth annual Modern Tragedy Competition, is the first of Matthew’s full-length plays to make it to the stage. It is the culmination of ten years of growth and collaboration with a small army of beautiful weirdos. It is also Matthew’s most intimate work, written from the heart in the wake of COVID-era trauma.

Matthew would like to thank Bernice for reserving the Metropolitan Café’s entire second floor for a reading of Dancing Mad. He was humbled to have her as an audience of one, and he is honored to have the last dance at Center Playhouse. He would also like to thank Mark and Denise for helping make a local theater kid’s dream come true, and he is eternally grateful to the staggeringly brilliant cast—Ryan, Pratigya, and Ankit. Your characters are very lucky to have gotten to know the three of you.

And then there’s Anthony, whose reputation as an insightful, intensely character-focused director opened the door to this theater. Matthew would like to offer Anthony his sincerest thanks for his commitment to collaborative art and for the passion with which he pursues his own unique vision of excellence. And to Ben, the visionary producer who steered this ship into friendly waters, Matthew raises a glass of the finest of the finest scotch. He would like to thank Ben for his feedback, his encouragement, and his deep knowledge of the Batman mythos.

Finally, Matthew would like to extend his love and gratitude to his girlfriend Vanessa, his family, and all the friends—of the human, feline, and canine varieties—who helped him climb out of the swamp.