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 Good People

Langhorne Players third offering of the season is David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People. The work had a short run on Broadway and garnered two Tony awards. Not many will know the story. That’s a good thing. To miss this production would be a bad thing.

“You’re good people, Mikey. I always said that about you.”

So says Margaret, a “Southie” born-and-bred, to Mike, who escaped South Boston for a life as a successful fertility doctor. Margaret has barged into Mike’s office hoping he will find her a job. She uses the social pleasantry as much to sway him to help her as to convince herself that he is “good people.” He’s not, actually.

And it’s not that Margaret is necessarily a poor judge of character, she is just forgiving, and giving. She is “good people,” but hides it behind a sharp tongue that lashes out when she feels aggrieved.

And her old friend-made-good, Mike, does just that when Margaret shows up at his Boston office after he ignores her many phone messages. Margaret is so wounded by Mike’s rebuff that she hurls “lace-curtain Irish” his way. For a man who has a lucrative career, lovely family and fancy home, Mike is unusually sensitive to the insult of placing himself above his humble origins. He turns mean.

“I’m sorry if you made some bad choices in life,” Mike says to Margaret. “But that’s not my fault.”

Oh, the irony. Mike’s success is directly related to the one and only choice Margaret ever made.

Director Kathy Junkins, in her Director’s Note, says Good People is “about choices and the outcomes of those choices.” The thing is, poverty denies Margaret of having many options. She’s only had one real choice her entire life, and while it may not have altered her circumstances much, had she not made the one she did, it would have completely changed the outcome for another person.

That person is anything but grateful. That person is oblivious. You will be pleased with your choice should you opt to see Good People. You will laugh; you will cry. As per Langhorne Players usual high standards, the acting, directing, sets — the entire production is top-notch.

Julie Ann Marra, who plays Margaret, employs a thick accent and flings Margaret’s flares with abandon. Her Margaret is crispy crass, with a soft, chewy center.

Margaret weasels a half-hearted invitation to Mike’s house. In her attempt to dress up for the party, she wears her usual denim jacket over her “party clothes” and carries her typical sack of a purse. She even has a Band-Aid hanging from the heel of her shoe. Margaret is a fish out of water at Mike’s fancy Chestnut Hill house.

When Mike asks, “How’s the wine?” Margaret parries, “How the fuck should I know?” while sipping it.

Mike, played with appropriate unease by Bernard DiCasimirro, is not pleased when Margaret appears in his living room. She is a reminder of his old self, one he has tried to erase. The discomfort at having Margaret in the same room as his young wife is clear.

Mike’s wife, Kate, is played by Carla H. Ezell making her Langhorne Players debut. Kate, as a wealthy black woman raised in academia, has her own issues. After mistaking Margaret for the caterer, Kate jokes about being mistaken for the nanny when she takes her daughter to the park. Both women deal daily with either socio-economic or racial prejudice.

Yet is it clearly Kate who holds the cards. Margaret keeps her one ace firmly up her sleeve, refusing to play the game, because winning isn’t worth the cost — to others.

“She’s too nice,” says Margaret’s friend, Jean about her. Jean, slyly portrayed by Gabrielle Affleck (also new to the Langhorne Players stage), is fiercely loyal to her friend. Jean has Margaret’s back.

The cast includes Dottie, Margaret’s shifty landlord and unreliable babysitter. Loretta Zullo, makes her LP debut with Dottie, a woman who blames everyone but herself — Margaret’s foil. This line, about a former classmate of the three women who ends up a “bag lady” tells you all you need to know about Dottie: “It’s not right, her sleeping on the sidewalk. Makes the neighborhood look bad.”

An authentic good person turns out to be the one who opens the show by firing Margaret. Bobby Reiser plays Stevie, a dollar store manager with few choices. Life has been hard to Stevie. Stevie refuses to let it harden him. Young Reiser holds his own in the talented cast.

Because Good People playwright Lindsay-Abaire is so skillful, it is difficult to review his work without destroying what makes him so brilliant: his ability to reveal bits of history and truth in increments. Up until the last moments of the play, the audience is never quite sure of the real story, never quite certain of who is “good people” and who is less so.

–Jodi Thompson

Not Macbeth, But Bucks

A friend is seeing Alan Cumming’s one-man adaptation of Macbeth at Ethel Barrymore Theatre tomorrow evening. If you’re not visiting Broadway this weekend, there’s still no reason not to take to the theater. Bucks County has plenty of stage offerings.

Newtown Arts Company is continuing their production of Cheaper by the Dozen through April 24, while Actors Net and Langhorne Players both open shows.

Actors Net presents Enchanted April through May 12. The adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel, set in 1920’s Italy, follows four Englishwomen seeking excitement while on holiday. This could be welcomed balm for Downton Abbey fever.

Langhorne Players opens God of Carnage tomorrow and runs through May 4. The play promises to study the reaction of two sets of Brooklyn parents to a playground altercation between their sons. As always, Langhorne Players presents sophisticated theater you’re unlikely to see produced elsewhere in Bucks County. I look forward to reviewing God of Carnage soon.

Bucks County Theater opens In the Mood on Tuesday, April 23. The musical revue – think Big Band sounds and swing dancing – runs through April 28.

There are a wide variety of offerings. I’m still a wee bit jealous that I’m not going to Macbeth –Alan Cumming! Performing all the parts! – but can certainly take in some great theater without leaving Bucks.

— Jodi Thompson