Vincent Teninty raises Pine Box Theater Company from the dead

July 27, 2011

“I trust Steve [Pickering], as far as throwing me against the wall or slamming my head against the table, so I’m never afraid of getting hurt,” says Vincent Teninty, now performing in the brutally physical A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes. “I fear more for the audience, getting scared. We’ve had some women in the front row that, the look of fear in their eyes during that fight …”

Pickering plays a burnt-out cop, and Teninty a hapless hungover salesman, in Joshua Rollins’s brand-new police procedural, featuring Matt Hawkins’s bone-rattling fight choreography. Because of the small stage, Teninty says, “It’s basically television—it’s right there. So it had to be clean and crisp, but at the same time it had to look dirty and gritty.” It does, in spades.

The other hat Teninty wears in this production: he’s the new artistic director of Pine Box Theater Company, which went dormant in 2008. Since then, he says, “We’ve thrown around scripts, had a couple readings, trying to decide, ‘OK, if we do come back, what’s the right show to come back with?’ [Director] Matt Miller gave this script to Pine Box in December of 2010, and I said, ‘This is the one we need to go with.’”

“Every single one of the characters has a hidden truth, has something to hide,” says Teninty. “And our mission statement is a quote from Galileo: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them.”

Teninty is arguably typecast in his role: a married father of three-year-old twins, he talks on Pine Box’s blog about a real-life solicitation by a prostitute. That’s pure coincidence, he says, but acknowledges the character is like him. “That made it easier to kind of jump-start into the role: ‘OK, I know who this guy is, cuz he’s me!’ But then [director] Matt Miller really wanted to dig a little deeper. I was hiding myself, almost ashamed of who I was and the fact that this character and I had so much in common.” He calls his revelatory reminiscence in a hotel room “probably one of the toughest monologues I have done to date, simply because a lot of it rings true. Having to reveal that every night is very, very tough.”

Of the six actors in Girl, four are Equity, including Pine Box company members Teninty and Audrey Francis. Now the other Equity performers—Pickering and Karen Aldridge—are joining Pine Box, in a well-deserved coup for Teninty. How does a little itinerant company that’s only recently resurfaced pay Equity wages and bennies? “You’ve got to find ways to raise money nontraditionally,” Teninty says. “From December till opening, I raised over $31,000 to put this together, cuz I knew that it was going to be a nice chunk of change—which the play absolutely deserved. I schmooze, wheel and deal, and do a lot of kissing butt.”

Pine Box is planning to announce a two-show season plus a possible remount of A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes, which closes on August 7. One of the two plays will probably be another by Joshua Rollins. “That kid is amazing,” says Teninty. “I mean, he poops scripts.”

“This has been a massive learning curve for me,” Teninty adds. “It’s our first Equity show, and being an Equity producer, and figuring out finances. I’m always thinking, like, ‘What about next week?’ And I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do that, and it just never stops. My wife is always reminding me, ‘Hey, look what you’ve accomplished so far. Look at everything you’ve done.’ But I can’t right now, I can’t.’”