Langhorne Players Presents Stop Kiss

lp1

Langhorne Players is ambitious. They challenge themselves: their directors, set designers and actors. They strive to offer their audiences something beyond the typical community theater experience. With Diana Son’s Stop Kiss, Langhorne Players succeeds again.

Stop Kiss has an ambitious format — a linear spine of flashbacks interspersed with aching limbs, all told with no intermission. The protagonist, Callie, is portrayed by the luminous Carla Ezell, who holds this gangly body together with incredible strength. Ms. Ezell is spectacular, brave, commanding — the very definition of ambitious. Callie is not.

Callie is just happy enough with her life. She has a rather public profession as an award-winning helicopter traffic reporter, but values her privacy, so much so that she feels compelled to place tape over the peephole before she lets loose with her dance moves in the seclusion of her own apartment. It’s a spacious New York City apartment, acquired through piercing heartbreak, but she allows the sanctuary of her home to be auditorily invaded twice a week by a noisy neighbor. She has friends, including one with bed privileges, which he rather abuses.

Callie may report on traffic trouble for a living, but she runs and hides from confrontation in her own life. She doesn’t even balk when a friend of a friend of a friend wants her to take in her cat.

The cat’s owner is Sara, played with restrained force by Leann Newman. Sara seeks out adventure, running after it with widespread arms, although such openness is new to her and she isn’t always up to the challenge. She recently left her longtime boyfriend, parents, and comfortable position in a private school for a teaching fellowship in the Bronx — to replace a teacher who had been shot dead by his student.

Sara was once “the kid who had the right answer, who never raised her hand, hoping the teacher would call on them.” Now she has a classroom full of them. She celebrates when a third-grader writes her own name for the first time, and is inspired when her 8-year-old student shuts down a mouthy crackhead during an after-school walk with his teacher.

“Best thing to do is to walk on by,” says Callie as Sara relates the tale.

Sara is too impressed by the boy’s backbone to listen. Her own is growing strong in her adopted city and it feels good. Sara is ready to spread her wings, finally. Thai food? Sure, she’ll try it. The subway late at night? Why not. Dancing at a lesbian bar? Come on, Sara says to Callie, let’s go.

Callie gains some momentary strength from her new friend and suggests sitting on a park bench in the wee hours of the morning, where the two women share their first kiss.

But as with the rest of their lives, nothing is private, nothing is sacred — not even a first, delicate kiss in a budding romance. They are always being watched: by the car-driving public, by impressionable schoolchildren, by violent crackheads.

Director Jack Bathke has peripheral characters on stage with the two women, always watching, always judging, as is the case with the detective, played by Vincent Pileggi who is also the assistant director, set designer and builder.

Detective Cole is condemnatory and unkind. Somehow that the two women were kissing on what becomes the worse night of their life seems important to him, as if it justifies their pain.

Sara’s ex, portrayed by Jonathan Edmondson, is in denial and overcome with jealousy. “Why was she protecting you?” he screams at Callie.

And for the self-absorbed George, played by Ken Marblestone, the women’s trauma is all about him and his pain.

Instead, it is other women who stand in witness to the ordeal Callie and Sara are suffering. Kathryn Wylde brings a jaundiced acceptance to her Mrs. Winsley character and compassion to her medical professional character. Mrs. Winsley was watching over the women from her window above and helped in the only way she could. The nurse watches over them now.

Both of Ms. Wylde’s characters acknowledge Callie and Sara’s relationship with a matter-of-factness that Callie herself hasn’t yet reached. Sara’s and her churning relationship was interrupted before Callie could get on board and now the train has chugged to the next station without her.

Callie has to decide if she will redeem her ticket or refund it. But people are watching. Callie is exposed, laid bare. In a heartwrenching scene, Callie is center stage and under the glare of the spotlight, which despite her public persona is not comfortable for her. She urges herself to “speak truth to power” but doesn’t “know what that means.”

Yet to back quietly away from the commotion would be to betray Sara. Saying nothing would permit Sara’s parents and ex to reclaim Sara for the former life she had fled, right when Sara is at her most vulnerable. Right when the two women had only just begun to love.

–by Jodi Thompson

 

Advertisements

The Unholy Sideshow

rev at rest

Quiet and unassuming over a morning cup of coffee, Rev is anything but on stage.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan, who describes Rev as a P.T. Barnum and Criss Angel fusion.

He hands a red staple gun — the kind you’d use to tack carpets down — to a guy in a bar — the kind of guy who might tack those carpets down — holding a dollar bill. The guy in the bar staples the dollar bill to his torso. The guy in the bar smiles, comes back with a five and staples it to his cheek.

Why? Why would you let a stranger staple filthy currency to your body?

“Because I can,” Rev says. (He prefers his stage name be used, although his birth name is no secret to Facebook users.)

Rev is a lanky guy with a mesmerizing presence. Piercings, dreads, tattoos, along with a handlebar moustache, bow tie and a bowler. He prides himself in his dichotomy, down to his carefully planned ink — right arm bedecked with religious icons, left with more “sinister” imagery.

fox trap on arm

Rev’s right arm, in a fox trap, is inked wih sacred iconography. Here is St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


This part-Steampunk-part-rock-‘n-roll charisma comes to life on stage. The Reverend First Minister (a.k.a. Rev) is a showman. My guess is that he could talk his way out of, or into, any situation. My fear is the circumstances he willingly puts himself in. I’m the squeamish type. Evidently, his best audience, the kind that watches through our fingers, wincing.

The Upper Black Eddy resident and four fellow entertainers form The Unholy Sideshow, a name that says it all. They perform wickedly irreverent feats of daring. Much of which I can’t watch. Some of which children shouldn’t, although the troupe can tone down their more risqué acts, and be quite entertaining for kids.

mousetrap on tongue

Rev lets a 9-year-old and a mousetrap loose on his tongue.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


Joining Rev on stage are Davey Danger (few real names are used here – I’m setting aside good journalistic practices for today), a Pilates instructor also from Upper Black Eddy; Catalina Askew, an artist and burlesque dancer from Allentown; fellow Allentown resident Jay Sin Aces, a machinist who once raced BMX professionally; and Philadelphia’s Atlas Drugged, a former Navy nuclear engineer.

Danger’s marquee act is hanging from his ankles while escaping from a straight jacket. Askew is a “human dart board,” contortionist and fire breather. Aces excels at the bed of nails, often paired with breaking cinder blocks on his body. Drugged (yes, I just wrote that) is a strongman, trained in the traditional arts since age 12.

As Rev talks about eating light bulbs, sticking hairpins through his face and walking on swords, I worry that it’s all an illusion, that I’m more gullible than I’d imagined. No one could do that to themselves and not faint or bleed out on stage. He assures me it’s all real.

“When I’m on stage, I’m not lying,” Rev says. He is an expert on anatomy and physics. And pain tolerance. Years of piercings and tats have inured him to pain. “You get so used to it, it’s nothing. You know how it feels. When you know how something feels you turn off that pain response.”

Could be an explanation for Michelle Duggar. Just a thought.

When he opens his box of props, I’m nervous. Aw, geesh, don’t do it. But he grabs a screwdriver from the prop box and a hammer from his pickup (he’s a contractor by day) and hammers the screwdriver up his nose. I have nightmares about such things. Truly.

screwdriver up nose

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


“On stage I use the microphone,” he says. “It makes a nice ‘thunk, thunk, thunk.'”

I’m dumbstruck. Do you thunk about what you’re doing to your body? I think.

“If you do it wrong, you hurt yourself,” Rev says. “People have died doing this.”

Rev specializes in what he calls torture routines. His props include regulation mousetraps and fox traps. Needles and swords, all sharp. Light bulbs still in the packaging and an anchor purchased at a boat supply. That anchor? He hangs it from his tongue. The swords? He walks on them, blade up, of course.

For him, it’s pushing the boundaries of what he can do. It’s a challenge. He seems ever ready to take on an exploit, saying he could walk on glass and swords just about any time, although during our early morning meeting, he does confess, “I’m not sure I want to eat a light bulb this morning.” Understood.

There are some stunts, however, that he can only do while on stage. The adrenaline helps spur him on. And the crowd. He’s a natural showman, at ease with a crowd of sophisticate-wanna-bes at a sweet sixteen party, families at a state fair or a rowdy bunch at a tattoo convention.

Not only is Rev the “pain-proof man” but he is the “talker.” He keeps the audience engaged. His innate ability to connect is how he got started in the sideshow biz. A friend was performing, but didn’t have the knack for addressing the crowd. Rev stepped in, to great success. It isn’t just banter that sets him apart. He can open a beer bottle with his throat, climbs a ladder of sharp swords 4 feet in the air and leaps off into broken glass. And his “face of pain,” involving needles and that anchor hooked through his tongue, is his signature act. No one else does it.

There’s a reason. It would hurt.

deathproof man

Rev has appeared on Science Channel’s Oddities and WMMR’s Preston and Steve show. Last weekend The Unholy Sideshow appeared at Jersey Shore Music Festival. August 3 they will perform on the new stage at Fran’s Pub in New Hope.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.


“The things he does and the way he does them really aren’t extremely painful,” Rebecca Gittings, Rev’s mother, says. “Except the stapling.”

Yes, the stapling. It worries her, especially the risk of infection.

“I’m a nurse, so I’m not terribly squeamish,” she says, yet still worries about the stapling. “There are a few spots I’m not fond of at all, like the head.” (For $20, Rev lets you take the tool to his head. I think he should raise his prices.)

She assures me he felt pain as a child. “He didn’t do anything dangerous, really, when he was growing up,” Rev’s mother says. “I never had to worry about him getting into trouble, never had any problems with him. All in all he’s a nice guy. He’s his own person, no doubt about it.”

Gittings just wants for Rev, his brother and his sister what all mothers want for their children. “I always wanted my kids to be happy with what they do.”

That guy in the bar, the one stapling a $5 to Rev’s cheek — he isn’t the only one smiling.

quiet rev

Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

— Jodi Thompson