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Vermont Commune Performs 'Radical' Version of 'Les Miserables' in Church

The group set up a circus tent for practices.
The group set up a circus tent for practices.
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Less Miserable

BUSHWICK — Veggie-oil school buses packed with performers are headed from their makeshift Northern Vermont commune to a church on Bushwick Avenue — all to deliver the essence of playwright Victor Hugo.

"The whole thing is made of garbage basically, but it doesn't look like garbage, it looks like a Broadway show," said Donna Sellinger, the director of "Less Miserable," a three-hour "radical" interpretation of the renowned novel and play "Les Miserables."

"Our budget's really small so we've made everything out of salvaged fabric, salvaged wood, salvaged food."

Last fall Sellinger, a Woodstock native and performer with the company Missoula Oblongata, said she mailed 200 friends and acquaintances around the country to announce her plans to put together a play "somewhere in the Northeast in the woods." 

Now after one month of dumpster diving, milking local farmers' cows for free dairy, and rehearsing night and day under a "raggedy circus tent" on a 90-acre plot in Glover, Vt., the group is sharing its musical creation with New York City.

Just in time for Independence Day, "Less Miserable" plays July 3 and 4 in the 626 Bushwick Ave. church that organizer Bobby Redd has transformed into an arts space and made a destination at Bushwick Open Studios.

"The show's really big," Sellinger said, noting her play's 20-foot revolving stage, 10-piece orchestra, and 50-person cast. "Nowhere I knew was big enough. At the last minute someone was like 'I think there's this church space'...and it's an amazing place."

Sellinger, 29, said the show follows the plot of "Les Miserables," a historical narrative based during a rebellion in post-Napoleonic France whose themes of spiritual searching, love, class struggle and questions of morality particularly attracted Sellinger, who also plays the role of Madame Thenardier in the production.

"We wanted to make something with an incredibly high creative standard," she said, "but even if people can't afford to pay no one is turned away."

"Less Miserable" plays at 8 p.m. July 3 and 4 at 626 Bushwick Avenue. Tickets are a suggested donation of $10.