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Epic Theater benefit draws stars

Political plays support educational programs

Bill Irwin, Mandy Patinkin, Kathleen Chalfant and Jeremy Shamos were among legiters onstage Monday at John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater for an election-eve benefit for Epic Theater Ensemble.

The evening, dubbed “First Vote,” featured 18 short plays by writers from Tony Kushner to Neil LaBute, including a piece by Craig Lucas that poked fun at newly converted conservative David Mamet, and a one-man play written by Richard Nelson that angrily took issue with the recent end to term limits spearheaded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (played by Jon De Vries).

Emcee Gordon Elliott, who hosts programs on the Food Network, garnished Nelson’s rant about plutocracy with a little irony: he made sure to return to the stage to nervously thank Bloomberg for his generous donations to Epic after De Vries exited.

The benefit aimed to raise cash for Epic’s educational programs, as well as honoring first-time voters, mostly teenagers, who had collectively registered more than1,000 people to vote in the election. Aud was a diverse mix of high schoolers and donors.

Attendees were younger and more diverse than traditional legit auds. The energetic crowd hissed De Vries’ villainous perf and cheered at the mention of Obama’s name. Patinkin briefly silenced spectators with a medley of a Taylor Mac song called “Fear Itself,” “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific” and “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.”

Not all the first-time voters were young: Casimiro Torres, one of the ex-con performers in Off Broadway prison drama “The Castle,” is voting for the first time in this election after years in and out of jail.

“I feel proud when I get ConEdison and cable bills,” said Torres. “Tomorrow, I will vote for the first time. I do not take the responsibility lightly.”

Kushner’s piece, “A Prayer for New York,” capped the live performances. “Save us,” begged Chalfant’s elderly Jewish mother while Shamos looked on as her mortified son. “Even the people on Staten Island, where I have never set foot.”

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