A READING of the new play “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” took place at North Shore Music Theatre last month. Lower level, from left, Shanelle Chloe Villegas, Kelly Baker, Jared Reinfeldt, Kyra Kennedy, Executive Producer Karen Nascembeni, Bronson Norris Murphy, Mia Matthews, Casey Lynn Roland, Amanda Dane, Matthew Eriksen and Merrill Peiffer. Upper level, from left, Kat Shanahan, Cheryl McMahon and writer/director Nate Bertone. (Courtesy Photo)



BEVERLY — Steven Richard’s memory and legacy continue to shine bright.

Richard, who passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 58 in March 2020, served as the inspiration for a character in a new play called “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased.” Richard’s close friend Nate Bertone wrote the play and serves as its director. Richard’s widow, North Shore Music Theatre General Manager Karen Nascembeni, is the play’s executive producer.

Nascembeni recalled that the origins of “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” date back to when she and Richard were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020.

“On the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Steven, and I, the sickest we had been in our lives, drove to Winchester Hospital,” Nascembeni recalled in an interview with the Villager. “When we got there, there was a staging area outside. The hospital was completely overwhelmed with patients. A physician’s assistant came out and took Steven in immediately because he was so sick, but left me behind. When he got out of the car, he turned around and he smiled at me and he said, ‘I love you.’ He blew me a kiss, and like a giddy little schoolgirl, I touched my heart and blew one right back. ‘I love you,’ I said. That was the last time I saw him.”

After Richard passed away from COVID on March 24, 2020 and Nascembeni remained hospitalized, Bertone was filled with grief and decided to go for a drive around the North Shore to try and clear his head. While driving through Danvers, Bertone saw a sign that he thought stated “The New England Home for the Dead.” He originally thought the facility was a “home for souls that are stuck since we can’t grieve them properly right now.” He later realized that the facility was a home for the deaf, and it was his “grief-stricken mind that changed a letter.”

The experience inspired Bertone to write and direct the new play, which he said is about “life, loss and the gray area in-between.” Bertone, Nascembeni and North Shore Music Theatre Owner/Producer Bill Hanney hosted a one-night only reading of “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” at NSMT last month. The reading featured 450 attendees, and included many of Richard’s closest family and friends.

“Steven is represented in this room with his siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews,” said Nascembeni. “His childhood friends are here, many of whom have known him since birth. Dear friends from near and far have come tonight. I can feel his energy in the room, and I carry him with me every day.”

Bertone noted that the reading for “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” marked the first time that the play had been performed in public.

“I am grateful and humbled to be at North Shore Music Theatre this evening,” said Bertone. “I used to be an usher here when I was 16. This has been an incredible journey. ‘The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased’ has been a labor of love since the beginning of the pandemic. The show is a piece that I began as part of my grieving process when Steven lost his life to COVID-19.”

“The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” is about six souls who recently passed away. The souls — Steven, Aliyah, Barbara, Emma, Kristen and James — are unaware they passed when they wake up in the abandoned Sea View Nursing Home. The souls work together to figure out where they are and why they are there.

After realizing and accepting their deaths, the six souls meet an unrelenting and divinely connected real estate agent named Sefatia, who is trying to sell the Sea View Nursing Home. When she reveals they are stuck in the in-between, the souls must discover how to cross over to the great beyond.

“The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” reading featured Jared Reinfeldt from the TV shows “American Horror Story” and “Gossip Girl” starring as Steven. Shanelle Chloe Villegas from WBUR’s “The Makers” portrayed Aliyah. Cheryl McMahon from “A Christmas Carol” starred as Barbara.

Kyra Kennedy from “Mystic Pizza The Musical” portrayed Emma. Bronson Norris Murphy from “The Phantom of The Opera” and “Love Never Dies” starred as James. Mia Matthews from “Single Drunk Female” and “Every Witch Way” portrayed Kristen. Merrill Peiffer from “Mamma Mia!” starred as Sefatia.

“We had four hours of rehearsal with this incredible cast that came from New York and Boston,” said Bertone.

In addition to Bertone serving as the play’s writer and director and Nascembeni serving as executive producer, NSMT Owner/Producer Bill Hanney served as producer for the reading. He called “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” a “powerful new play.”

“Steven Richard was one of my dear friends who I am proud to call family,” said Hanney in a statement. “I am truly honored and excited to be a part of this beautiful new work, which is a loving tribute to Steven’s memory.”

“The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” took the audience on an emotional journey filled with both heart and humor. Attendees cried and laughed throughout the play.

“I think the audience’s reaction said it all,” said Nascembeni. “It was overwhelmingly positive. People were incredibly emotional, and there was a lot of laughter. That balanced out the heaviness of the piece.”

Bertone also noted that the reading served as a fundraiser for the Steven T. Richard Memorial Photography Scholarship Fund at Montserrat College of Art.

“I started the scholarship when Karen was sick and Steven had passed at the start of the pandemic,” said Bertone. “Many of you, far and wide, purchased T-shirts, wine glasses and mugs while Karen was sick. We raised $35,000 for the scholarship. The scholarship will inspire art and photography students just like Steven did for me with his photography.”

Nascembeni agreed.

“I always felt guilty that I never had a real memorial for Steven after his passing,” said Nascembeni. “I feel like we have done that with our mask advocacy and our COVID advocacy, and certainly with this show. Everything Nate and I do that is charitable is done in Steven’s memory and his honor.”

Bertone was blown away by the audience’s reaction to “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased.”

“I learned more than I could have ever imagined,” said Bertone in an interview with the Villager after the reading. “I am so fortunate to have had an audience this early in the game, and we learned so much from the 450 people responding with laughter, tears and applause from start to finish.”

Bertone thanked Nascembeni and Hanney for the support they have provided him.

“We are only here because of North Shore Music Theatre, Bill Hanney and Karen Nascembeni, who believe in this piece, and have been a catalyst for my growth as a storyteller since the first day we met,” said Bertone. “This piece is a play, which is not a traditional choice for NSMT, and to be able to bring it here first is an amazing honor. To say I am eternally grateful is to say too little.”

Bertone and Nascembeni are looking to bring “The Sea View Nursing Home for the Newly Deceased” to Broadway.