Cape Crusader

Roy Steinberg, an established Hollywood director and producer of soap operas, leaves LA for the stage in Cape May.

Roy Steinberg’s many acting connections are enriching his work at Cape May Stage.
Aleksey Photography.

Directing and producing the soap opera Days of Our Lives kept Roy Steinberg pretty happy with the days of his life in Hollywood. Then a friend sent him an email with an ad for “artistic director.”

“‘This just sounds like you,’ he wrote, but I just e-mailed a resume and forgot about it,” says Steinberg. “I am now so glad he sent that to me.”

Steinberg, 60, is entering his third season as artistic director of Cape May Stage, one of America’s few small-town equity theaters. A Yale Drama School graduate, Steinberg produced and directed theater in New York and Los Angeles and directed the New York-based soap Guiding Light in the 1990s, before moving west for Days of Our Lives.

While his professional resume was impressive, the native New Yorker’s Jersey Shore experience was lacking.

“I have to admit, I went to the Hamptons to the beach when I was young, and when I came to the interview, it was the first time I had ever been to Cape May,” he says. “Now I see what I was missing.”
As an equity theater, Cape May Stage, founded in 1988, only employs members of the actors’ union—considered a sign of quality and professionalism. Following in his theater’s long-standing tradition, Steinberg aims for the best available talent, whether for multiple-week runs or the occasional one-off.

This season, for instance, a month-long production of Steel Magnolias (August 3-September 10) will star Emmy winner Kim Zimmer—one of his Guiding Light stars—and Tony winner Karen Ziemba. As part of a Monday night series, he is calling on an old Yale acquaintance, Jill Eikenberry, and her husband, Michael Tucker, who were stars on TV’s L.A. Law, to do the Pulitzer-nominated A.R. Gurney drama Love Letters. Four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh will perform her stage show on one Monday evening; cabaret singer Liz Callaway will be featured on another.

Steinberg’s colleagues appreciate his aspirations. “Cape May is full of very intelligent, receptive and courageous people,” says actress Lynn Cohen (Magda on TV’s Sex and the City), who appeared last season in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days at Cape May Stage. “Happy Days is not an easy play, but Roy doesn’t take the easy road,” says Cohen. “I think he has built an audience there that already knows something really good will happen in that space.”

What sold Steinberg on Cape May Stage was the $1.4 million renovation of its home in the old Cape Island Presbyterian Church, completed in 2008. “This is a jewel box with everything first-class, even the bathrooms, which are filled with marble—better than Broadway,” says Steinberg.

Another of Steinberg’s goals is for his theatrical lineup to reflect Cape May itself. To that end, the fare tends to be lighter in the summer. Things get a bit more serious in the fall. This year, that means an October 26-November 19 run for Red, based on the life of artist Mark Rothko, and a Christmas-time stage adaptation based on It’s a Wonderful Life.

Steinberg likens the potential of Cape May Stage to the Williamstown Theater in western Massachusetts, which he describes as “one of the world’s great summer theaters.” In that light, he says, “It’s fun to think we can accomplish that here at the Jersey Shore.”

Most shows in the 110-seat theater (capemaystage.com) are $15 for students and $35 for adults. Some of the Monday-night specials may be a little more expensive, Steinberg says.

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