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Fred De Feis celebrates Arena Players' 60th season

Theater producer Fred De Feis talks to actors

Theater producer Fred De Feis talks to actors as they get ready in their dressing room before they perform "How the Other Half Lives." Barbara Kirshner, who plays Fiona, readies herself in the mirror. (Jan. 7, 2007) Photo Credit: Newsday/Michael E. Ach

Frederic De Feis has directed more plays than most of us will see in a lifetime.

His Arena Players Repertory Theater observes its 60th season this year. Harry Truman was president when De Feis launched his own company as head of the drama department at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University. "I asked for a raise," he recalls. "When I didn't get it, I moved to New York."

After stints in a Brooklyn YMCA and on the fifth floor of the control tower of Idlewild Airport (now JFK), he moved to Long Island, establishing a permanent home at the space he now owns - in an East Farmingdale commercial strip across Route 109 from Republic Airport. Is there a theme here? At Idlewild, he called his company Theatre in the Skies.

"We'd get people from all over the world dropping by whenever their flights were delayed," De Feis recalls, among them Rock Hudson and Vincent Price. Later, he cofounded the Nassau Repertory Theatre, forerunner to Long Island Stage, a now-defunct Actor's Equity company.

After moving to his current location in 1970, De Feis continued to attract celebrities, though they were unknowns at the time.

GIVE ME A BREAK

Among those who landed their first professional gigs at Arena are Brian Dennehy, Edie Falco and Alan Menken. Falco, a Northport native and multiple Emmy winner, appeared in Arena's "Crime on Goat Island." Dennehy, a two-time Tony winner, played in "Dial 'M' for Murder."

"All of us in those days needed a place to practice our craft," says Dennehy, who practiced his on Arena's black-box stage in the '70s. "I did 'Macbeth' at Arena and mysteries and all sorts of roles. It gave me the opportunity I needed."

Among the scores of world premieres that De Feis, 84, has directed is "Dear Worthy Editor," the first musical by Menken, who went on to write the music for "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Beauty and the Beast."

WHAT NEXT?

"The Passion of Dracula" opens Friday night. On Arena's second stage - where De Feis selects plays for "discriminating audiences" - he was disappointed in having to cancel what would have been the L.I. premiere of "God of Carnage." (Rights were pulled after a movie deal was signed.) So now, it's ghost tales: "I'll Be Home Before Midnight." While he no longer does musicals - the rights are too costly - De Feis favors classical plays. Besides Arena's summertime Shakespeare, he directed Eugene O'Neill's "A Long Day's Journey into Night" and August Strindberg's "Dance of Death" last season. "I'd never done them before," he says. On his to-do list: Maxim Gorky's "The Lower Depths." Chances are you won't see that on another Long Island stage.

WHAT: "The Passion of Dracula" and "I'll Be Home Before Midnight"

WHEN | WHERE: Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sundays at 3 p.m., "Midnight" through Nov. 21, "Dracula" through Nov. 28 at Arena Players, 296 Rte. 109 East Farmingdale

INFO: $20 to $25, $2 senior and student discounts Fridays and Sundays; arenaplayers.org,516-293-0674

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