Where the Wildflowers Are

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is a wonderful place to enjoy nature and learn about native plants. Take a peek at BCP’s photographer Bailey’s visit.
— JT

beingbailey

Flowers fill my flickr account. Georgia O’Keefe is one of my favorite painters. Botany was among my college electives. So, it’s  no surprise that blossoming beauties bewitch me:  sensual, fragrant, colorful.

I shot these lovelies during a meander in the meadow at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. Guided by Dave, the volunteer  naturalist,  who schooled me on the many varieties including ornamental grasses. “Sedges have edges, thrushes are round and grasses are hollow right up from the ground.”  The catchy poem stays with you.

As does the sight of the afternoon light on these hardy blooms. Dave  also told the group that hummingbirds love the color red. Something I must share with my mother, but I have a feeling she probably already knows.

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Thanks to Dave, and his guided hour-long tour, I now know most of these native plant names. Except for these pictured above. Any guesses anybody?

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Into the whimsy

Bucks County Playbook’s photographer, Bailey, visits one of my favorite places and makes some wonderful photos. Grounds for Sculpture is just over the Delaware River from Bucks County and shouldn’t be missed.

— JT

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Has there ever been a place you’ve driven by a hundred times and assured yourself you’d eventually visit?

With a son living in NYC, I’d travelled to and from the Hamilton train station in New Jersey more times than I could count. Along I-295, near the exit, enormous pieces of art would capture my eye and take my breath. More pieces surround the road by the station entrance.  I yearned to wander into the whimsy of their origin, but never had. Until last week.

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I finally explored the Grounds for Sculpture. But only just a bit of it, as the art park was offering a twilight special. And I think at least four hours are needed to really immerse yourself in this 47-acre wonder. But go, get a glimpse, because from now until September 3, the grounds will stay open late from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for just…

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Langhorne Players Presents 33 Variations

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Aaron Wexler, Patricia Bartlett and Tami Feist in 33 Variations.
Photo courtesy Langhorne Players.

This, this, THIS is why I’m grateful for Langhorne Players. Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations is an ambitious play woven with Ludwig van Beethoven’s passion for composing variations on Anton Diabelli’s waltz. Diabelli, a music publisher, created a marketing scheme that became an obsession for Beethoven.

The master’s mania inspires an academic fervor for the play’s Dr. Katherine Brandt, a compulsion that either contributes to an early death or adds depth to a death sentence of ALS. That is for you to decide.

What isn’t up for discussion is that Patricia Bartlett, as Brandt, is a concertmaster wielding a priceless Stradivarius of an instrument — her talent. To extend the metaphor, Maestro/Director Jack Bathke has arranged a symphony in which Bartlett’s voice soars. As Brandt contracts into ALS, Bartlett expands her character’s reach. With exquisite agony, you feel her pain, particularly as she undergoes an MRI, complete with strobe light and wracking sound effects.

Don’t be off-put. Despite deep poignancy, there is also grand humor. Bartlett and her cast mates have excellent comedic timing, nothing is forced. The organic laughter arising from the audience even drowns out some of the funniest lines. It nary matters. You can’t help but laugh. Human frailty and arrogance is hilarious. And this production reminds you of that often and well.

Little is as devastatingly humorous as the mother-daughter relationship. Central to the story is Brandt’s tenuous bond with daughter, Clara, played with virtuosity by Tami Feist. There isn’t a role in this play that doesn’t require courage, but Feist earns accolades among them. There is no diffidence in Feist’s Clara. Her character commits to her fear as well as her strength, coming to terms with her mother’s flaws and her brilliance. Clara, in Feist’s capable hands, discovers her own capacity to live as her mother is dying.

Aaron Wexler’s Mike Clark is a wonderful foil to Brandt’s academic snobbery. Mike bridges the mother-daughter divide with loving practicality. He is Brandt’s nurse — a personification of everything she finds mediocre — and her daughter’s savior. Wexler is as fearless as Feist. He adroitly handles Mike’s clumsiness. The couple’s first date, complete with verbalized interior monologues, is priceless.

Susan Blair, as Dr. Gertrude Ladenburger is divine. At first a haughty archivist, Brandt’s fixation wins her over, making the two women the best of friends. Together they pore over Beethoven’s sketches of the variations, in an archeological dig of self-discovery.

The intricacy of this production is astounding. Dialogue overlaps between modern day and early 19th century. Every movement is absolute harmony. The set, designed by Feist, perfectly assists the transitions.

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The cast, left to right, Wexler, Feist, Susan Blair, Bartlett, Todd Gregoire, Rupert Hinton, (at piano) Susan den Outer, and (behind piano) Ross Druker.
Photo courtesy Langhorne Players.

Rupert Hinton portrays Beethoven, with a slight British accent that is easily overlooked considering the boisterousness he brings to the role. Physically, he commands the stage, yet also shares well with others, which is required of the part. He brings a vulnerability to the composer that is both comical (pianist Susan den Outer does her best not to laugh during one scene in which she has a particularly awkward vantage point), and tender.

Two men who equally exploit the master, Diabelli and Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s sycophant/manipulator/biographer, are portrayed by Ross Druker and Todd Gregoire, respectively. Both men are strong additions to the talented cast.

The sole remaining cast member is atypical. Pianist Susan den Outer is hardly a guest in this orchestra, nor a soloist, but instead the heartbeat of the production. With as much emotion as any actor on stage — she is always on stage — den Outer is magnificent. Her perfection is not just in the notes played, but the absolute synchronization with the action surrounding her. She is no accompanist; she is an actor with a most vital voice.

There is so much to say about the theme of this composition. But it is best experienced and shouldn’t be ruined with a spoiler of a review. Go see 33 Variations. There is really no reason every seat at each performance shouldn’t be filled. This is a fugue to experience. As Brandt says: “There is beauty in the minutiae.”

–Jodi Thompson

Newtown Arts Company Presents Grease

“The day the music died,” that day memorialized in Don McLean’s American Pie, happened that year. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, three rock ‘n’ roll icons, were lost in a tragic plane crash in 1959. It was also the year the U.S.S.R. launched Mechta into the first solar orbit and Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state. Oh, and Barbie was introduced. Can’t forget that.

Music didn’t die, our lives are managed and monitored via satellites, Alaska is no longer the newbie state, and Barbie, she’s still damaging the body image of little girls everywhere.

That last year of the fateful decade was the cusp of big changes, yet everything remains the same. It’s the setting for the enduring musical, Grease. Newtown Arts Company is presenting Grease August 8-14 at Newtown Theatre.

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Photo provided by Newtown Arts Company.

Kathy Junkins is the director and spoke with me recently about her vision for the familiar musical. What those who know the story from the popular movie version forget is the musical opens at fictional Rydell High School for a class reunion.

“I do want the audience to know this is reminiscence. I think that’s often missed,” Junkins says. “That’s the entire premise of the show. We’re keeping to the script of the original Broadway musical.”

Mid-century — last century — is ripe for nostalgia, but Junkins cast is nearly all born at the very end of it. She has 16 cast members younger than 18. To prep, give some substance to the sometimes fluffy show, she had the cast research the era.

“We’re keeping it authentic to the 1950s and helping the cast understand what was going on and bring that to the audience,” she says. Junkins says she and the cast have done a lot of research in hopes of making the era more relatable to the young actors.

“This musical, although set in the 1950s, and the times, the technology, etc. were different, some of the issues concerning today’s youth are the same as they were in the ’50s.”

She’s right. Teenagers still worry about their grades in school, fitting in, standing out, getting in trouble, getting pregnant. They just have the added pressure of not being able to hide it. No gaff, goof or bad hair day goes unpublished.

“People have real concerns as teenagers,” Junkins adds, “and that carries through to today.”

Part of that perennial angst is being in the “chorus,” and not one of the leads, or even a named role. Junkins helps ease the sting by working with the ensemble on character development.

She’s assigned the roles of “nerd,” “student council president” and other archetypes roaming high school halls, to each of the eight members in the ensemble. These enhanced portrayals lend more depth to the story. And the actors get to do more than don a poodle skirt and do the “hand jive.”

Surely we don’t know who will be more successful — and happier — ten years from now, “Sandy” or the “nerd.” Hopefully, all equally so for having taken part in community theater, a summertime tradition.

As Junkins says about Rydell’s class of ’59, so goes for the cast of 2013, “This core group will always be friends. Through thick and thin, they’ll always be together and I think that’s a good message: You’ve got to stick with your friends and be there along the way.”

— Jodi Thompson

The Maine Attraction

A quick road trip to Maine with my best bud. Ahh, to return…even if it means leaving Bucks behind.

— JT

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Succulent lobster, sweet blueberries, cool water, and rocky shorelines  – that’s how I remember Maine. The Pine Tree State’s salty charm, untamed vastness and nonconforming nature have always held appeal.

So when asked to be a plus one for a good friend housesitting for her niece, I had my suitcase packed even before discussing it with my family.

“Did I mention the house is on the water, there are kayaks and….”she said.

”Oh, I’m in,” I told her.  “You had me at Maine.”

Aside from reveling in this much needed girl time, I’d hoped to explore, shoot some gorgeous scenery and maybe even capture a moose. In anticipation, I hung my camera around my neck en route. Playing with shutter speeds to photograph the passing pines, I merely stared, mouth agape, as a dog-like-creature leapt in front of us and soared across Interstate 95.

At least a moose would have been…

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