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

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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