Like many people growing up in Shelton, Matt Opatrny got his start in theater with Gary and Francesca Scarpa. Then Opatrny went off to college to study biology at Clemson University in South Carolina.
“I missed theater and tried out for a show in college,” said the 1992 Shelton High graduate. “I got the bug, and the rest is history.”
Two decades later, Opatrny works full-time in theater in Manhattan.
In 1999, he and his wife founded an experimental theater company in New York City, Blessed Unrest, which produces original plays. He is the managing director.
The troupe’s newest play, Doruntine, opens this week at the Interart Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street. It’s a bilingual show, being in English and Albanian, and was co-written by Opatrny in collaboration with an arts organization in Kosovo.
Based on an Albanian legend
Based on an ancient Albanian legend, the play, Opatrny said, is a story about a ghost, family loyalty, forbidden love, and the power of community.
He described Doruntine as “a beautiful piece of theater” and “a powerful story of love and magic.”
The play is also a way to expose people to a culture they don’t know much about — that of Albania and Kosovo, two small, poor nations in central Europe.
Opatrny has traveled to the Balkans region almost a half-dozen times, including three times with Blessed Unrest to put on productions in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.
A cultural bridge
The goal has been to build a cultural bridge to Kosovo, one of the world’s newest nations, whose Albanian language and culture is among the oldest. “They are generous people with a rich culture,” Opatrny said.
The Naugatuck Valley, including Shelton, is home to a large Albanian population. Opatrny has no direct ethnic connection to Kosovo or Albania, but his wife traveled there when she was younger.
“People will come up to us afterward and say, ‘I thought I knew this legend, but you showed me things I didn’t know.’ That’s a very powerful moment,” Opatrny said.
In addition to being a playwright, Opatrny is an actor, director and theater instructor. He has many credits Off-Broadway and in regional theater.
He comes to Shelton a few times a year to visit with his parents, Don and Alice Opatrny. He’s the youngest of their four children, and the only one to pursue theater as a profession.
Performance dates and information
Doruntine runs from April 23 to May 10 at the Interart Theatre, with shows Thursday to Monday. Performances are Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 5 p.m., and Mondays at 7 p.m. (no show on Sunday, May 3).
Tickets are $18 for performances at the Interart Theatre. Following every performance, audience members are invited to stay and mingle with the artists and actors at post-show parties in the theater lobby.
On Saturday, May 2, performances will take place at 3 and 8 p.m. in Westchester County at the Emelin Theatre, 153 Library Lane, Mamaroneck.
For tickets, go to BlessedUnrest.org or Emelin.org, or call 646-238-0829.
Cast and crew
Doruntine was co-written by Matt Opatrny and Lirak Celaj, and co-directed by Jessica Burr and Florent Mehmeti.
The cast includes:
— Kevin Chu (Fresh Tracks at New York Live Arts)
— Eshref Durmishi (foreign film Eduart)
— Nentor Fetiu (Familja Moderne in Kosovo)
— Njomeza Ibraj Fetiu (Our Coffee Shop in Kosovo),
— Tatyana Kot (Salome at The Flea, A Christmas Carol with Blessed Unrest),
— Poppy Liu (Drunk Shakespeare)
— Ilire Vinca Celaj (Sworn Virgin at 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)
— Nathan Richard Wagner (After Midnight with Target Margin, Lying with Blessed Unrest)
The production team includes:
— Anna Alisa Belous and Matt Opatrny (set design)
— Justin Partier (lighting design)
— Anna Alisa Belous and Annelise Nussbacher (costume design)
— Beth Lake (sound design)
— Emily Goforth (production stage manager)
— Rachel Gilmore (production manager)