Langhorne Players Presents Stop Kiss

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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

 

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Langhorne Players Presents Breaking the Code 

Nigel Rogers and Christian Gonzalez in a scene from Breaking the Code.  Photo courtesy Langhorne Players

Nigel Rogers and Christian Gonzalez in a scene from Breaking the Code.
Photo courtesy Langhorne Players

Reports from survivors of the recent murders at Umpqua Community College in Oregon indicate that the killer asked his victims if they were Christian before shooting them — in the head for a “yes” response, and in the leg or body for either a “no” or no answer. Simply not responding could possibly save their lives, yet many chose to tell their truth. This is a heartrending example of a choice someone should never have to make. No one should have to lie or hide their identity in order to save themselves.

The day following the school shooting, Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code opened at Langhorne Players. The World War II-period drama, which runs through October 17, is remarkably relevant today.

Although not as instantly deadly, Alan Turing’s ordeal with Great Britain’s form of McCarthyism was as tragic. The brilliant Cambridge mathematician was recruited by the fledgling MI6 during WWII to help break the Nazi Enigma machine code. To do so would mean Allies would gain vital intelligence of enemy military movement, helping to win the war.

Nigel Rogers portrays Alan Turing in Breaking the Code. Photo courtesy Langhorne Players

Nigel Rogers portrays Alan Turing in Breaking the Code.
Photo courtesy Langhorne Players

If you’ve already seen the film The Imitation Game, and believe you don’t need to see this production, you would miss a riveting performance by Nigel Rogers. And you would be wrong.

Once again, Langhorne Players brushes aside any common misconceptions of “community theater” and provides a production worthy of respect. This is no easy, linear play. The choices are as rife with peril as those faced by the main character. Director Jack Bathke gives it its due.

For Alan’s mother, Sara Turing, portrayed by the brilliant Carole Mancini (A LP vet whose father worked as a code-breaker!), life is much simpler. As it is for the other major influence in Alan’s life, his boyhood friend Christopher, who instilled in Alan a reverence for truth. New to the LP stage, Christopher Lapinski plays Christopher. He is nearly always on stage, mostly as Christopher’s spirit tending to Alan with gentleness, bearing quiet witness to Alan’s foibles without judgment.

It is Sara’s simple line about her son that resonates: “He’s always been his own worst enemy.”

Her son, who believes some wars are necessary, breaks the Nazi code, but as Bathke writes in his Director’s Note, also breaks “the code of society and suffer[s] as a result.”

Alan is obsessed with distilling right from wrong. He is warned by his boss (Hans Peters’ benign and fatherly Knox) to be discrete. His co-worker Pat (portrayed with keen depth by Tami Amici) offers him a closet in which to hide, namely marriage despite knowing he is not the marrying kind. Yet, could it be Pat who betrays his trust to the authorities?

If you don’t know the story of Alan Turing, he not only cracked the Nazi Enigma code, but is also credited with early “electronic brain” or computer theory. A recipient of the Order of the British Empire award, Turing was charged with “gross indecency” for his homosexuality.

In the play this occurs after admitting to an affair with a young drifter, portrayed by Christian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is making his acting debut in this production and yet he inhabits his complex character completely. Neither he nor Lapinski, both theatrical novices, allow the audience to see or feel anything close to “stage fright” or discomfort. Both men commit fully.

Vincent Pileggi and Todd Gregoire complete the cast with their portrayals of law men, for whom “Decisions have to be made. All we’ve got is the law.”

But it is the law of fear, where a small search for justice becomes an out-of-proportion witch hunt. Although, as Sara says, her son had everything to live for, Alan does not survive “the weird ideas people have about being homosexual.”

When Alan’s honesty gets him in legal trouble that threatens his work and his very being, he tells Pat, “I should have played the game and stuck to the rules.”

“Why didn’t you?” she asks.

“I couldn’t.”

You can’t miss Breaking the Code. Yes, it begins slowly, is at times as “baffling” as Knox says Alan’s work is, and the lighting is shadowy. But Rogers’ tour-de-force performance is invigorating, empowering. And the meaning embedded in Alan’s unbridled enthusiasm for the “electronic brain” is layered and powerful. Breaking the Code will leave you plenty to ponder.

–by Jodi Thompson

Risky Business: The Kingfisher

Back in April there was a bit of a buzz about marrying early in adulthood. Julia Shaw posits on Slate that getting hitched young is the bee’s knees. Amanda Marcotte responds with stinging data indicating women who wed young are more likely to get divorced and be poorer.

William Douglas-Home’s The Kingfisher looks at marriage, both young and late in life. Langhorne Players presents the comedy through June 15 in Spring Garden Mill in Tyler State Park, Newtown. The lead female character, Evelyn, swats away both the above nuptial theses. She tied the knot young but wasn’t happily in love; a new widow, she has plenty of money.

“Love is one thing,” she tells one-time beau Cecil, whom she fled 50 years ago when he didn’t propose, “marriage is another.”

Cecil wouldn’t know matrimony if it pricked him in the butt, even though he’s had a 50-year marriage of sorts to his butler, Hawkins. If only Cecil were as enlightened as Joel Stein‘s college sweetheart. In Time, Stein points out it’s a good thing he didn’t put a ring on it — she’s a lesbian.

The Kingfisher Director Sheldon Zeff chose not to pursue the relationship between Cecil and Hawkins, allowing the subtext to tell the story. “I don’t need to beat people over the head with it,” Zeff says. Yet, a distinctive characteristic of the kingfisher is the lack of differences between the sexes, something archetypal among many orders of the bird class.

I can’t help but wonder if Zeff had chosen to embrace the implication more fully might the production have delved deeper into poignancy, rather than stayed on the comic surface of Cecil’s missed opportunity for marriage with Evelyn.

The couple kissed for the first time beneath a beech tree after spotting a kingfisher together. “Damned risky business if you ask me,” Cecil says. “Thank God I’m not a kingfisher.”

If that isn’t an expressed fear of coming out of the closet, I don’t know what is.

Yes, Cecil purchased the land around the beech tree of that long ago moment of promised intimacy — certainly a romantic gesture. But Cecil seems to mine his shared history with Evelyn more for its fodder in his successful novels than true love. He may want to pick it up again where they left off only in an effort to avoid running out of stories to tell.

Elliot Simmons’ Cecil fumes at his butler’s fussing, and takes him sorely for granted. Simmons, however, most comes to life when interacting with the luminous Gail Foulke’s Evelyn.

Foulke shines with incredible comic timing as well as physicality. Watching her weasel gossip from a side-car-fueled Hawkins while also imbibing is delightful. Both characters know full well what life is like as a “side car,” Cecil’s “favorite.”

Scott Fishman is perfectly haughty as Hawkins, fully without his prey in his talons as the moniker would imply. Fishman’s desperate anger as Hawkins takes his leave of Cecil is spot on. (I would like to put Fishman in well fitting, plain-front pants rather than baggy pleats, but that is just being picky. I also think Hawkins wouldn’t let his Sir Cecil out of the house without a crisp crease in his trousers, and he would be more fastidious with the table setting, but I digress.)

I could write an essay on Douglas-Home’s imagery, but thank goodness I don’t have to — for the reader’s sake as much as mine. While parts amuse and parts bemuse me, overall it’s fun. There’s far less social commentary available to mine in today’s increasingly progressive world, but it’s there all the same. Even this married-young person who split the outcomes can see it.

— Jodi Thompson

Langhorne Players to Present The Kingfisher

I have a particular affinity for Langhorne Players. Not only have I rarely been disappointed with time spent in their theater, but their dedication to the creative community of Bucks County speaks to my sensibilities.

Langhorne Players is in no way insular. They aren’t a pack of exclusionary “cool kids,” not an Abercrombie & Fitch among them. Each production welcomes a new artist or artisan to show in their lobby. And each new production is open to new actors, crew and directors.

zeff at mirror

Sheldon Zeff on directing: “It’s about the story, so put up or shut up. I’m putting every effort into directing.”
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Newtown’s Sheldon Zeff will direct the company’s The Kingfisher, which opens May 31. It’s Zeff’s first association with Langhorne Players, but certainly not his first play.

“I was a professional actor in a past life,” Zeff says.

The Glassboro State College theater grad (he refuses to refer to his alma mater as Rowan University) even met his wife during a production of Fiddler on the Roof at (now defunct) Riverfront Dinner Theater, where she played Golda and he was “generic Jew number 3.”

In fact, much of his acting career has been associated with the well loved musical; he’s been in about 10 productions. Kingfisher is quite a different story.

“People don’t know this show,” Zeff says. Langhorne Players is known for selecting new or unusual works. They don’t produce the community theater canon.

The British comedy features three actors of a “certain age,” Scott Fishman, Gail Foulke, and Elliot Simmons. Zeff describes the three as very talented, with a wealth of experience. “They make my job very easy.”

Zeff feels playwright William Douglas-Home had friend and actor Rex Harrison in mind for the lead, a well heeled 70-year-old considering marriage to a newly widowed ex-flame, much to the chagrin of his long-time butler, who “has basically been his ‘wife’ for 13 years.”

zeff laughing

Zeff bears a striking resemblance to actor Mandy Patinkin, with whom he shares the role of Tevye in “Fiddler,” as well as a middle name.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Zeff says the repartee resembles a verbal boxing match, quick and sharp, amongst people of means. “They don’t want for anything, except love, companionship and romance,” Zeff adds.

As is the goal of all Langhorne Players productions, Zeff wants to provoke conversation. “There are so many things [theater-goers] will relate to: What is your perception of love? What happens when you lose it? Gain it back again?”

He wants theater goers most of all to know “it’s going to be a fun night at the theater. But I want them to talk about it.”

— Jodi Thompson

Michener: Here 25 Years, When Did You Last Visit

MichenerfrontToday I heard a familiar clop-clop coming down Hillcrest Avenue that has always brought me to my front door just in time to see Sam Snipes (a Bucks County treasure in his own right) riding his horse and buggy home from Summerseat (an often overlooked Bucks County treasure). It reminds me just how interesting it is to live in Bucks County.

We tend to forget what is right outside our front doors. One of those treasures is Doylestown’s James A. Michener Art Museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. If you haven’t visited lately, you’re missing out on the riches.

visitors at museum

Visitors at the James A. Michener Art Museum during Tribute Day, May 8, 2013.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

After the abandoned prison was torn down, the county leased the land and remaining century-old Bucks County prison walls and warden’s house on North Pine Street to house a museum. Doylestown treasure, native and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James A. Michener was a founder and namesake of the art museum that opened in 1988.

Michener Director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover says the museum rose “from a lonely little prison building to a vibrant art institution.”

Michener’s life and the museum share, if not a common story, then a recognizable outline. The art museum is housed within the once restrictive walls of a jail, constrained, at least physically, by its footprint.

Michener experienced what could have been a limiting beginning. According to his New York Times obituary, he was a foundling, raised by an impoverished Quaker widow who took in orphans and washing. Some children may have been restrained by such an upbringing. Instead, Michener traveled extensively from age 14, graduated from Swarthmore on scholarship, and found employment in a New York publishing house.

While fellow Bucks County Friend Sam Snipes choose to uphold his religious beliefs and serve his country in a non-military role stateside during World War II and in Germany post-war, Michener waived his Quaker principles and enlisted in the Navy. It was during this time that he wrote stories that would become his Tales of the South Pacific.

Michener went on to great success as an author and novelist, writing Hawaii, The Source, Texas and Alaska. He was also renowned for his art collection and philanthropy.

kids and docent

Some of the 101 schoolchildren who visited on Tribute Day discuss art with a Michener docent.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

According to his NYT’s obit, he was humbled by his success, still “haunted by his years of poverty.” He told NYT’s Caryn James: “They have a deeper impact on someone like me than people realize. It makes you more dour, more tightly ingrained. It inhibits you. . . . I live as if I had stayed on my job and retired on a small pension and some savings and security.”

His eponymous museum may be forever impeded by its footprint, but not its potential.

“If we were to grow (physically), what would we do?” Hanover asks. “Would we break through the prison wall? That’s an artifact for me. Would we dig down or go up like a skyscraper? I don’t know.

“We’ve been growing 25 years and now it’s time to look inward, take stock and grow our offerings.”

But first, some sprucing up. The overgrown landscaping at the entrance has been redone. The lobby has been painted warm colors. The Nakashima Studio (yet another Bucks County treasure) has restored the wood furniture pieces in the Nakashima Reading Room.

Michener Director and CEO Linda Tremper Hanover shows off the museum's new logo. Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Michener Director and CEO Linda Tremper Hanover shows off the museum’s new logo.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

A new logo helps differentiate the Michener from its neighboring Mercer Museum (treasure!). Hanover tells how the old logo often got the art museum mixed up with the “tool museum” across the street.

“The Mercer is a great colleague to us,” she adds.

top25computer

I choose a few of my picks for Top 25 at the computer kiosk in the museum lobby.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The public is invited to participate in the silver anniversary celebration by voting for 25 out of 125 new works of art to be added to the collection in honor of the Michener’s 25th anniversary.

September 21 and 22 will be the public celebration with an open house, activities, tours and performances.

And causing the biggest buzz is the upcoming From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly – Beyond the Icon, which opens October 28. Princess Grace’s son, Prince Albert II, will visit the exhibition at its only U.S. venue.

The Monaco prince will surely be impressed with what he sees at Michener. The permanent collection, with more than 2,700 works, includes pieces by Pennsylvania Impressionist and New Hope school artists such as Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber and Walter E. Schofield. The outdoor sculpture garden boasts bronze works by Barbara Lekberg, Allan Houser and more.

pavilion

The Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion is, according to Hanover, the largest free-standing glass cube in North America.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The Edgar N. Putnam Event Pavilion, a 2,500-square-foot, all-glass structure is an example of physical growth and a deepening of offering. It is available for private events and also hosts the museum’s popular Jazz Nights series.

Ongoing adult lecture series, workshops and children’s programs highlight the Michener’s connection with its community.

giftshop

I’m always pleased that Michener and Mercer are across the street from each other when I’m looking for a great gift. Both museums have intriguing offerings in their respective gift shops.
“Be sure to mention that we’re open seven days a week,” a volunteer in the Michener gift shop adds.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Go. Take family and friends visiting from out-of-town. Don’t neglect a treasure in your midst.

— Jodi Thompson

A Playbook for Arts, Entertainment and Adventure

While listening to Larry Smith’s TED talk Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, I realized the universe was speaking to me. (Yes, I have a private line with the universe, although it often drops calls.) Smith tells the same story as many before him: Follow your passion. There are very few great careers out there – only one Sheryl Sandberg. The rest are “high-workload, high-stress, bloodsucking, soul-destroying” jobs, Smith asserts. The reason we’re not Sandberg? Excuses, he says. We find excuses to not follow our bliss.

After absorbing Smith’s taunting, I took a moment to stand in my Wonder Woman pose, a la Amy Cuddy’s TED talk Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I, indeed, have been following my passion. It is helping me “create the highest expression of [my] talent,” according to Smith. But I most love writing about the arts, entertainment and adventure of Bucks County. Something I have done fairly regularly since 2000. Wouldn’t you know that I was busy putting in my 10K hours (read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers for his 10,000-Hour Rule) while print media was in decline.

Instead of bemoaning that cruel coincidence, I’m creating this spot to highlight entertainment venues, profile artists, review plays and explore adventure opportunities. Perhaps I’ll start creating puzzles again. Whatever it becomes, it won’t be high workload, high stress, bloodsucking or soul destroying. I’ve put in my 10K hours. Let me adopt Cuddy’s winning-the-race pose for the requisite two minutes before I assure you, it will be fun.

— Jodi Thompson