Theatre

The Weekend Australian 1998

Summers founded her New York reputation with the runaway success of her first effort Punch Me in the Stomach, which she directed and co-wrote with New Zealand actor Deb Filler.

Harpers Bazaar, Australia. 1998.

“For Summers, working in the theatre allowed her to get to know New York from a different perspective. Her big break came when she co-wrote a play “Punch Me in the Stomach” about the child of a Holocaust survivor, with New Zealander Deb Filler. The play was seen by producers from the New York theatre Workshop, who produced in 1992 with Summers directing. The play has since been produced all over the world, including in her hometown of Sydney

“When we first arrived I had no contacts at all. At the time I had no green card and no job and through a random meeting with Deb Filler one day at the gym, I found myself writing a play with her, that was then produced in a theatre. New York began to open up to me after that.”

The Weekend Australian

In 1991, Summers met a New Zealand actor on the treadmills at the gym. Deb Filler wanted to turn her experience of growing up the daughter of a Nazi death camp survivor into a one-woman show, but needed help to do it.   The two women toweled off and decided to talk about the idea over coffee….

“She’s telling me about her father’s first night in Auschwitz and how he’s lying with seven others in the bed, and she said that whenever anyone needed to turn, they’d say “Turn!” and everyone would turn, and someone would say “Turn!”, and they’d turn the other way. Her father said “We laughed the whole first night in Auschwitz.    And I thought, “That’s the beginning of a show.”

Punch Me in the Stomach, first performed at New York’s hip La Mama Theatre in 1991 was a sensation. As well as being the subject of a film and a documentary, the show toured the US, Canada and Australia, and returned to New Zealand three times. Suddenly Alison Summers was hot.

Extracts from reviews of Punch Me in the Stomach. Co-written by Alison Summers and Deb Filler in 1991.

Starring Deb Filler.  Directed by Alison Summers.

Produced by New York Theatre Workshop in 1992, the play then toured the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. It was also the subject of a documentary.

THE BOSTON GLOBE

MONDAY MAY 18, 1992

Deb Filler’s ‘Punch Me’: Funny, Sad – and true

The press notes says she does “35-plus characters,” but I was laughing, crying, thinking and feeling too hard to count.

Under all the hilarity, the affectionate parodying of this huge family, is the shadow of those who were killed …

The music stops, the stage goes dark for a moment, and the Filler is speaking, herself, about taking her father back to the camps. The story is simple, really, no one Big Moment, and that makes it all the more stunning. It is quiet, brave and true, and, like the rest of the snow, magnificent.

THE AGE

FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 1992

A triumph out of a tragedy

  • A remarkable piece…. This is a collaboration between Filler and her Australian born New York based director Alison Summers. Together they have devised a production so finely honed that barely a word is wasted or a gesture rendered superfluous. (The Melbourne Age, 4/1992)

Using humor to portrait aspects of the Holocaust in a way that is funny, warm and deeply moving. Never bleak, occasionally black, it is full of the sharpest observations and most incisive impressions.

This is not a stand-up comedy routine, but a carefully scripted monologue that evolves laterally, its narrative skillfully guidance the audience through a range of emotions and experiences.

Traverses dangerous territory – artistically, ethically, and emotionally…turns the experience around from catharsis to liberation, skirting mawkishness and guilt and substituting wit and intelligence for angst and anger.

… ‘Go On… Punch Me In The Stomach’ is an all-too-rare moment of theatre that should not be missed. What a travesty its season is so brief.

Qantas Magazine 1998. “A stellar career directing in New York was born in, of all places, a gym. In what must be one of the all time great theatre stories, Summers met Deb Filler…on the treadmill where the actor and director got talking and resolved to work together.

The result was a play that garnered glowing reviews and put Summers on the directing map. It also led to an invitation from the prestigious Manhattan theatre company Circle Repertory to become a member.

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 1992

A ‘Punch’ with a Holocaust hook

The shows writing, by Filler and Summers, is consistently clever. Summers’ direction manages the transitions between drama and comedy seamlessly.

…bravura sequence. Many in the audience reaching for their handkerchiefs.

VILLAGE VOICE

THEATRE REVIEW – “Go On, Punch Me In The Stomach”, by Deb Filler and Alison Summers; directed by Summers.

Extraordinary….

We laugh, and we weep, and we do so hope “Go On, Punch Me In The Stomach” resurfaces, and soon, so that we might send our friends to bear witness to a stunning evening of theatre that is as black as comedy gets.

Qantas Magazine. Interview with Alison Summers. 1998.

“What happened here after Punch Me in the Stomach was that I was given opportunities to direct a lot, and many different kinds of plays.”

Courier Mail.

“Rave reviews gave Summers the momentum to work for noted companies such as New York Theatre Workshop, The Women’s Project and Circle Rep. She has since directed more than 30 productions in the world’s most competitive stage industry.”

  • “Punch Me in the Stomach is an all too rare moment of theatre that should not be missed. What a travesty its season is so brief.” (The Melbourne Age, 4/1992)
  • A most extraordinary work in progress entitled “Punch Me in the Stomach,” co-authored by Filler and her multi-talented director Alison Summers. We laugh, and we weep, and we do so hope “Punch Me in the Stomach” resurfaces, and soon, so that we might send our friends to bear witness to a stunning evening of theatre that is as black as comedy gets.” (Israel Horovitz, The Village Voice 11/16/01.)
  • “Punch Me in the Stomach is an all too rare moment of theatre that should not be missed. What a travesty its season is so brief.” (The Melbourne Age, 4/1992)
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