Reviews for Just a Matter of Time

March 18, 2007
Time just slips away in Dutton's musical for kids

Work is a brainy, whimsical fantasy

By Charles Whaley

Special to The Courier-Journal

NEW YORK -- Time (just plain old Time, not Father Time) goes missing in former Louisville resident Sandra Dutton's brainy children's musical, which recently ended a two-week run at New York's Sage Theatre.

It's "Just a Matter of Time" until 11-year-old Meg, whose grandmother accuses her of losing her imagination through the rote learning and all that test-taking at school, recaptures her curiosity after she and a collection of odd animals embark on a journey of discovery.

Dutton, who is best known as a writer of children's books, though she's also a novelist and painter, calls her first venture into musical theater a nonsense fantasy in which she takes an illogical idea and treats it logically.

It was described by Mark Lynch, a director, writer and arts-education consultant, as a feast of language where "Lewis Carroll meets Dr. Seuss meets Salvador Dali meets Rene Magritte." Some Edward Lear, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter and Thornton Burgess might be in there, too, as other writers she admires.

In Dutton's whimsical riff on time, for which she did some heavy reading in physics, Time is nowhere to be found after losing a boxing match with the Lop-Eared Rabbit. (It seems that even if you're not a musician, you can beat Time.)

So none of the animal characters, who are played by actors in street clothes with minimal touches of tails, ears, or whiskers, knows what day or what time it is.
Besides the Lop-Eared Rabbit, they include the Rhymester (a Mole; the timing is off for his syncopated couplets), the Pig Who's Stolen Time, the Sheep Who's Lost Her Mind, the River Rat, a Goose (the Mayor), a Duck, a Possum, the Walrus (a shopkeeper) and a Beaver (Time's Keeper).

Dutton's musical revels in references to time, which can fly and creep, as well as stop. Composer Jack Kohl's music for Dutton's lyrics ranges from blues to ragtime to marches (Time, as we all know, marches on).

The shopkeeper Walrus, who is operatic, lists the wares he wants Meg to buy: Ripe Moments, Forty Winks, Creamed Seconds and Pickled Hours. The Rhymester Mole warbles an "Ode to Salad" after Meg, in "Drowning in the Details," sings that she's "so sick of being tested … so bored of learning dates."

Interviewed at a New York hotel, Dutton recalled the "absolute delight on the face of a little 5-year-old girl named Emily who came to the play four times, first with her grandfather, then with other grownups. I should add that the play appeals to adults, as well as children."

Dutton and her husband, Wayne Sheridan, a marketing professional and poet who produced the Equity Showcase Production in New York, live in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where her musical is slated for a full-scale production at the Boothbay Playhouse this summer.

It was chosen for an annual Kentucky Voices workshop production at Horse Cave's Kentucky Repertory Theatre a few years ago, where the theater's founding artistic and producing director, Warren Hammack, played the Lop-Eared Rabbit.

A Springfield, Mo., native who formerly chaired the English department at the New York Institute of Technology's Central Islip campus, Dutton earned a doctorate in 1988 from the University of Louisville, where she taught creative writing and started "The River City Review."

Dutton has lived in Louisville twice, first in the early 1980s and later from 1999 to 2003, most recently in Crescent Hill.

Her husband was with PaineWebber for six years and did marketing for Actors Theatre of Louisville and the Louisville Ballet. Their love of Louisville brings them back for a visit each year.

Dutton's fifth children's book, "Dear Miss Perfect: A Reader's Guide to Proper Behavior" (she admits it's a spoof of Miss Manners), will be published with her own illustrations in April by Houghton Mifflin. Its characters are all animals, including an elephant who writes to Miss Perfect for advice on what to do with his trunk at dinner parties.

"Trippy kids musical Just a Matter of Time completed a showcase at The Sage Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on Jan. 31. Excellent singing by David Demato, Eric Starker and Anthony Santelmo Jr., among others."    
                Tom Nondorf, Playbill 

New York Times, January 26, 2007

JUST A MATTER OF TIME: THE MUSICAL (Tonight through Sunday; Tuesday and Wednesday) Eleven-year-old Meg is trying to do what a lot of us strive to do: find time. But in this show by Sandra Dutton (book and lyrics) and Jack Kohl (music), Time is an actual character, and as Meg pursues him through a maze, she encounters a lot of interesting creatures. Sage Theater, 711 Seventh Avenue, near 47th Street, Manhattan, (212) 868-4444; $18. Tonight at 8; tomorrow at 2 (sold out) and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.; Tuesday at 7 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 and 8 p.m.

Newsday, Long Island, New York
Features ON THE ISLE
The science of time stars in a musical
Newsday Staff Writer,0,7057426.story

January 21, 2007
Time has been beaten in a boxing match by the Lop-Eared Rabbit, and 11-year-old Meg must find him. Along the way, she meets the Rhymester, the Pig Who Stole Time, the Sheep Who Lost Her Mind, the Walrus, the River Rat and other creatures who teach her how to make the most of her own time - and her curiosity.

Sandra Dutton says she has been working on this whimsical tale since the 1980s, when she chaired the English department at New York Institute of Technology's Central Islip campus. "It was this crazy riff I had going," she says. Instead of presenting staid papers at academic meetings, she says, she transformed her research into the science of time into a "nonsense play" with poetry and beasts. "I got tenure," she adds.

Now, she's turned "Just a Matter of Time" into a musical, playing at the Sage Theatre near Times Square through Jan. 31 in an Equity Showcase Production. Though open to the public, it's aimed at attracting backers for a larger production, perhaps on Broadway.

Dutton's husband, Wayne Sheridan, a marketing professional and poet, is the producer, a new endeavor for him. Jack Kohl, a writer and pianist who lives in Northport and is the son of a colleague of Dutton's from NYIT, wrote the music. Two of the actors live on Long Island - David Demato of West Islip and Jean McCormick of Bethpage - but that's coincidental.

Not coincidentally, Dutton's favorite authors include Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain. Her play - which includes an educational theme about using imagination instead of just studying for tests - is full of wordplays.

Dutton's own story is also about using time: In 1999, she left NYIT to have more of it to write. Her fifth children's book, "Dear Miss Perfect: A Beast's Guide to Proper Behavior" - a spoof of Miss Manners, she says - is to be published by Houghton Mifflin in April, with her own illustrations. Since she and Sheridan moved to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in 2003, she's also painting more, she says, and has exhibited in several galleries (see

Sheridan, too, is exploring his creative side, he says, since semiretiring from a marketing career, during which he lived in Garden City and other locations. He's a published poet and recently headed the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. The couple, who married in 2000, divide their time about equally between Boothbay Harbor and Ridge, where Sheridan's mother lives, though this month they sublet a Manhattan apartment to be near the theater.

"It's a family show," Sheridan says, "but it's so sophisticated that adults love it, too. When we workshopped it in Kentucky, in Maine and in New York, 90 percent of the audience was adults, and they loved it."

The New York workshop was at The Theatre-Studio, which wanted to produce a fuller version, Sheridan says, but he and Dutton opted to go their own way, with help from director-choreographer Susan Streater. Actors Equity's showcase rules limit ticket prices and performances, and the budget can't exceed $20,000. The actors aren't paid, Dutton says, but nearly 300 applied for 10 roles.

"Just a Matter of Time," Sage Theatre, 711 Seventh Ave., Manhattan, through Jan. 31, $18, students $10, justamatteroftime, or 212-868-4444.
"Trippy kids musical Just a Matter of Time completed a showcase at The Sage Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on Jan. 31. Excellent singing by David Demato, Eric Starker and Anthony Santelmo Jr., among others."    
                Tom Nondorf, Playbill 

We of the north country often do drive south, and that's just what I did to see a performance of Sandra Dutton's "Just a Matter of Time," a children's musical, at the Boothbay Playhouse.  It is Dutton's first musical.  It was brilliant and witty and laugh-out-loud funny. . . ."Just a Matter of Time" had a two-week Equity Showcase run at the Sage Theatre in New York City in January.  The musical is entertaining for sure, but it's also thoughtful with a clear message about the need to give children the opportuity to problem-solve, not just memorize and parrot rote answers.  And let me tell you, the performers--local kids aged 9 to heading-off-to-college pretty much sums up the lot--were the most talented bunch of kids (local or otherwise) I've been witness to in quite a while.  And I mean talented--dancers, singings, actors.  Weren't they fortunate to have collided with Dutton's amazing material!
                                            Annaliese Jakimide
                                                   Maine-in-Print, Fall 2007

Sandra Dutton was interviewed by Portland Press Herald reporter Bob Keyes on January 5, 2007.

Following is the full text of the interview.

Let¹s start by talking about the musical. How did you come to
write it? What was your inspiration and motivation?

I didn’t set out to write a musical—it just evolved. I guess I first started out trying to write a nonsense fantasy, which is very different from a straight fantasy.  It’s dependent on twists of logic and wordplay.  I wasn’t sure what it would be about but after reading an article on the effects of gravity on time, I got hooked and skimmed or read many, many books on time.  In nonsense, you take an illogical idea and treat it logically.  So that’s what I did.  I took the idea of “time being beaten” and played with what would happen next. As I read, bits of dialogue would occur:  “I can do anything with time once I’ve got it—I can take time that’s flown and make it march. Or time that drags and make it soar.”  And strange little characters would appear—the Mole, the Rat, the Possum—actually there were far more than what’s in the play—I have hundreds of little “riffs” filed away. But certain animals began to take major roles.  I just narrowed them down. The work was in novel form first; then my husband read it and said, “This should be a play.”  It was nearly all dialogue.  So it became a play and was given a formal reading at the now Kentucky Repertory Theatre (formerly Horsecave Theatre).  And then Terence Deadman, from Brighton, England, whom I met over in Bristol at a musicale, read it, and said, “This should be a musical!”  And I thought, why not? 

I understand this is your first attempt at writing a play or
musical. How difficult is the transition from writing children¹s books to writing a whimsical musical?

Actually I have a draft of one of my novels as a musical, Capp Street Carnival.  I worked on it one summmer after one of my playwright friends convinced me it should be a musical. I didn’t send it out anywhere and it still needs work, but I did lots of research at the time into how musicals work. Mostly the songs develop and enhance character. So that’s what I did with Time.  I created poems that elaborated on and enhanced each character.  And of course I intended the tunes to vary in tempo and genre because that, also, is typical of musicals. A friend in New York, Jack Kohl, set the poems to music.  We actually had all the tunes written within a day and a half.  But of course he had the job of musical notation, which took much longer.    

What is it like to sit in the theater and watch your writing
come to life?
It’s heavenly watching a good actor interpret something you’ve written, even giving it an added dimension.  I remember during auditions when Anthony Santelmo Jr read for “The Walrus.”  I had wanted someone who was avuncular but threatening. He was all that and more, selling time at the Time Store, “we have buttered minutes you can spread with a knife”—with a believability that was just startling.  Our assistant director, Stephen Hope, who knew Anthony, said, “Oh yes, he’s a brilliant actor. He knew instinctively his job was to sell.”  What’s more, Anthony’s a cabaret singer who also does opera, so the music director, Alan Plado, has worked some operatic bits into his song.

I should say also that it’s been a thrill to work with Susan Streater.  She’s so creative.  Like Alan, she’s always thinking of ways to show off an actor’s strength.  For instance, we have a petite actress, Mindy Dougherty, who’s a wonderful dancer.  At one point she plays a Possum who’s trying to catch time that “flies” with a butterfly net and Susan’s having her wear toe shoes.  It’s going to be wonderful. 

Where do these characters come from? You have a pig, a possum,
and policeman, among others. Who are these wonderful creatures?
I’ve always liked animal characters.  My forthcoming picture book from Houghton Mifflin, Dear Miss Perfect:  A Beast’s Guide to Proper Behavior, which I’ve illustrated as well as written,is all animal characters.  You can exaggerate human traits with animals—I suppose that’s one reason I like them, but I don’t try to analyze this, I just use them.  In the musical we’re not putting the actors in animal suits but in street clothes with hints of the animal—tails, ears, whiskers—and of course the actors speak and move like the animals they portray.

Tell me about your time in New York. How long have you been
there, and what have you found most invigorating?
I lived on Long Island for 15 years but had never lived in New York City.  It’s great fun, being here in Greenwich Village, overhearing the conversations at the local coffee shop.  People are making movies, appearing in symphonies. 

Where is your apartment? What is your typical day like preparing
for this show  if there is such a thing?
My husband’s the producer so we have lots of work to do.  Our apartment is on West 12th, with a view of the street on one side and a little courtyard on the other.  We’re right in the heart of Greenwich Village. Usually we walk down to the coffee shop around 8 or 9 for breakfast and to do email—we have lots of PR work to do. We’re hoping to attract producers and several have already asked to come. Then we go back to the apartment around noon to print, do mailings, things we can’t do at the coffee shop. I designed stationery, post cards, posters.  We have 5000 post cards being printed, but the rest of the printing we can do ourselves.  We usually skip lunch or just have some fruit or something, then take the subway to the theatre around 2:00.  We’re only about four stops away, and when we come up to Times Square, it’s always absolutely insane—you know, people everywhere, tourists walking around staring up at all the marquees.  We’re in a small theatre on 7th between 47th and 48th, up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Rehearsal doesn’t start until 4 or 5 but we like to be there early to take care of things.  We buy water and snacks for the actors, make sure the keyboard is in the practice room.

We rehearse from four or five until ten and then walk back out onto the street, where the theatres are letting out and you have to sort of fight your way down the street.  But it’s exciting.  We go back to Greenwich Village and have dinner.

How does one go about getting a play produced? It¹s not as if
you are an established playwright with credentials in the theater
community. You are newcomer, I presume, to playwriting. How did you do it?

You’re right, I’m not an established playwright. But it’s not as if I’m totally new to the theatre, either.  My husband and I are avid theatre goers and when we lived in Louisvlle we attended every production at Actors Theatre, which meant we saw dozens of plays every year.  Also, when I was in college, I wrote, directed, and appeared in skits—our sorority put them on for rush, and I actually found this more interesting than many of my classes.  I wrote a parody of “Music Man” but I also developed my own characters, little monologues—one of a woman who’d won a grand prize in a lottery--sort of Lily Tomlineque, and I would do those for rush, too.  Something else, every time I give a reading, people ask if I’ve been an actress—I take voices when I read.  So that’s what I mean that theatre isn’t entirely new to me.  It’s always been in the background.

But getting a play produced—you can send it out to as many places as possible and hope someone wants to do it.  At first I did that, but no one offered to produce until Theatre-Studio, Inc., in Manhattan, called me in July.  I was so excited when I heard from them. We did three scenes and Susan Streater directed.  We had wonderful performances, standing room only.  TSI wanted to do full production but they wanted it on weekends for three months, which would have been difficult to maintain, since the actors—who are not being paid—would be taking off for paying jobs when they had the opportunity.  And we would have had to continually recast.  Susan wanted to do an Equity Showcase—which means you follow union rules and put the play on within a narrower time frame.  So we went out on our own, my husband producing.  Susan, my husband, and I—shopped for a theatre, and we decided on the Sage. It’s a 99 seat theatre (Equity requires that size for a Showcase) and Susan and I had seen a show there earlier this year. 

How long have you lived in Maine, and what motivated you and
your husband to move here?
I have sea captain ancestors who settled in Bath and Philadelphia. I also had several teachers from grade school and high school who lived in Boothbay Harbor.  My art teacher, J.P. Olmes; my 7th grade teacher, Robert Webster, who owned MerryMeeting Camp for Girls.  My husband and I both wanted to be closer to our children, who are in New York, (This is 7 hours closer than Louisville!). 

Related to that, tell me about what you like about living in
Boothbay Harbor.
It’s a wonderful town for the arts. I’ve started painting again, after not painting for many years.  There’s wonderful support for the arts—the Boothbay Art Foundation, the Lincoln County Arts Festival, the Maine Art Gallery, to name just a few places where an artist can show.  Plus it’s a great place to be a writer.  The Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library is one of my favorite places.  Mary Pinkney, Pat Brunell, and Diane Dorbin are all wonderful, helping me with research and whatever I need.  Plus the townspeople are so very friendly. 

You are passionate about the written word. You have written
several books for children, and you teach writing. Why are you so in love with language?

My parents had different speech patterns and I was always aware of this.  My father, with San Francisco roots, and an amazing vocabulary, was witty and formal.  My mother, born in Nebraska and raised in Springfield, Missouri, was full of colorful Ozark expressions.  Whenever she saw a boy she thought my sisters or I should be interested in, she’d say, “I’d set my cap for him.”  It became a family joke.  But that’s just the sort of expression she’d use.  And I remember visiting my grandparents down in Springfield--just the lilt of their speech was so interesting.  Their Ozark twang.  Anything they liked they called a “dandy.”  “Say Pa, isn’t that a dandy?” my grandmother would say.  It’s still common down there, that expression. Luckily I discovered the work of Vance Randolph, an itinerant writer who transcribed the folklore of the Ozark region. I love reading his work because I can hear the lilt of my grandparents’ speech. 

This leads to the fact that I have two voices, one based on my mother’s speech, which I sometimes call my “country” voice; the other based on my father’s, which I call my “nonsense” or formal English voice.  Just a Matter of Time is my nonsense voice. Capp Street Carnival, my most recent novel, is my country voice. 

What projects are you working on now?
Right now I’m doing nothing but this play. But I have projects waiting for me—a novel my editor at Houghton Mifflin is waiting for me to revise.  It’s also about time, but in my country voice, with a realistic plot, and concerns the geological history of Cincinnati, where I grew up.  It’s about a Pentecostal child who becomes fascinated with earth science. It’s funny but serious.  No animal characters.

I’m also working on an Ozark nonsense fantasy starring a character named Addie Opus.  She’s in search of Night.  So it’s kind of parallel to Just a Matter of Time, where Meg goes in search of Time. I have some animals in this one, but they’re mixed in with humans and figures from folklore.  It’s in novel form now but I think it could be a play.

I understand you also paint. What itch does painting scratch
that writing does not?

I love painting.  Physically it’s exciting. The colors, the gooshiness of the paint.  And in a perfect week, I’ll paint one day and write the next. Though I seldom have a perfect week.  Right now I’m not painting at all—but that’s okay.  I’m loving working on this play.

How will you judge success for Just A Matter of Time?
I feel successful right now, just having the opportunity to do this musical in New York. But of course I always hope everyone will know my characters—I love my characters—The Sheep Who Lost Her Mind, The Pig Who Stole Time, The River Rat and the Rabbit.  All those frenetic little characters who hope Time will return.  And Meg, who needs this adventure because all she’s done is study for tests.  She rediscovers her curiosity. I want kids all over to identify with her.

Boothbay Register, Sept. 7, 2006
Sandra Dutton's "Just A Matter of Time" being staged in New York City

By Lisa Kristoff

Writer-artist-playwright Sandra Dutton. Dutton's musical "Just A Matter of Time" is being performed at Theatre-Studio, Inc. in New York City on Saturday, Sept. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 1.
(Photo Lisa Kristoff)
Welcome to the whimsical, mind-bending world of artist, novelist and, now, playwright, Sandra Dutton.

Imagine. You are eleven years old. Your grandmother has declared that you have lost your curiosity. Then, while you are fastidiously memorizing schoolwork, a cloud blocks the sun and your garden has been transformed into a Maze.

Imagine. In the Maze you are charged with the task of finding Time. Your only clue to Time's whereabouts: he's been beaten in a boxing match by the Lop-Eared Rabbit and is in hiding somewhere in the Maze.

Imagine. In the Maze you meet the Rhymester, a former poet who has had go underground, because as we all know poets beat time.

Imagine. A Maze filled with other unusual animals such as the River Rat - a deep thinker whose thoughts take shape and line the riverbank, the Pig-in-a-Blanket who stole Time and is wallowing in guilt, the Sheep that has lost her mind and crawls in the orchard looking for it, and others including the Walrus, Mayor Goose, the Beaver, three Pigs, and a Cornish Hen that puts time into jars…preserving time.

Imagine. You have written this musical, described by Theatremania as, "A combo of `Oz' and `Wonderland' feel with fable. A young girl's search for time's meaning and a test of her curiosity."

"Just A Matter of Time," the musical, for ages eight and up, will be presented at Theatre-Studio, Inc. on East 24 th Street in New York City on Saturday, September 30 and Sunday, October 1. Tickets are $20.

"What I have done in this play is use clichés of time and mind - literally," said Dutton. "I have always been fascinated by science, especially quantum mechanics and relativity. I couldn't get enough of it - it was so weird. I have no background in the sciences, but I got very good books on the subjects. When I began reading this stuff I began to see funny little characters over the words and started writing this stuff down."

Dutton began writing the play in 1991. It was first performed as a straight play in 2001 at the Horse Cave Theater (now Kentucky Reparatory) in Horse Cave, Kentucky.

In December of 2003 Dutton and husband, Wayne Sheriden, moved to Boothbay Harbor. The play began to undergo some changes after the pair relocated.

Dutton read some of her poetry at a reading in Damariscotta shortly after arriving in the area. Writer Terance Deadman was in attendance and struck up a conversation with Dutton that led to his reading of the script. The upshot: Deadman felt strongly that the play should be a musical.

Further alterations resulted from a walking house and garden tour of Newagen in the late spring of 2004.

"We walked into this yard. There was a sundial, a gazebo, and a delightful, outspoken owner," recalled Dutton. "From that experience, Meg's grandmother was written in, the gazebo added, and, the show became a Maine play."

Ironically, Dutton submitted the play to the Theatre-Studio two years ago, as a straight show, and sent the musical version to them in 2005.

In July of this year, Dutton received a call from the Theatre-Studio, Inc. artistic director A.M. Raychell they wanted to stage the show as part of a new play series. However, they did not as yet have a director. They would get back to her. On August 31, Raychell told Dutton the director/choreographer would be Susan Streater.

Streater has danced on Broadway in "Merlin" with Chita Rivera and Doug Henning, performed in the first national tour of "Chicago," (she understudied for Gwen Verdon who created the role of Roxie Hart), directed by Bob Fosse. Streater appeared in the films "All That Jazz," "The Fan," and "Legs."

Jack Kohl is the musical director. Kohl and Dutton worked together to create the music for the show's 11 songs - all written by Dutton - in a day and a half!

Dutton will be involved in casting the show and auditions were scheduled for Wednesday, September 6 at the Theatre.

Dutton holds a master's in creative writing and a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition. A professor of English at the New York Institute of Technology, she has written four children's novels including "Capp Street Carnival," "Tales of Belva Jean Copenhagen," "The Cinnamon Hen's Autumn Day" and "The Magic of Myrna."

An accomplished painter, Dutton has shown across the United States. On September 21 she will be showing at the Maine Art Gallery in Wiscasset and on October 6 will be presenting with poet Gary Lawless a series of poems and paintings on Chimney House, the home of Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth, at the Belfast Poetry Festival. She has also been commissioned to paint the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens Visitor's Center.

Imagine. Visiting Dutton's Maze for yourself.

For more information on tickets and/or Theatre-Studio, Inc. the Web site is
Dutton's Web site is