Month: October 2020

Hate Mail at Bridge Players Theatre Company

“Sit back and watch the vitriol fly.” With these words, director Tim Kirk introduced Hate Mail. The Bridge Players Theatre Company delivered on what he promised. Your correspondent witnessed the October 28th production via Zoom.

A broken snow globe and a stained camel hair jacket served as the catalysts for a unique love story. Real life husband and wife Jeff and Kori Rife portrayed the couple in playwrights’ Bill Corbett’s and Kira Obolensky’s tale of a tumultuous, yet entertaining relationship. 

Midwesterner Preston Dennis, Jr. (played by Jeff Rife) purchased a snow globe during a trip to New York City. Upon arriving home in Minneapolis, it broke. Its contents spilled and ruined his jacket. Mr. Dennis wrote a letter to the store where he bought it asking for a refund.

The store’s assistant manager, Dahlia Markel (played by Kori Rife), received his request. She responded by informing him that they did not issue refunds.

This simple premise exploded into to a conflict-laden evening of theatre. Mr. and Mrs. Rife led the audience through the increasing escalation of their characters’ feud. They displayed their anger and frustration with one another while hinting at their growing fondness.

Shakespeare wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Hate Mail’s authors pushed the envelope: literally and figuratively.

Like A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters, the play consisted of a man and a woman reading letters they’d written to one another. Each character had powerful feelings for the other. The similarities ended there.

A series of unexpected plot twists revealed more about these characters’ personalities. Mr. and Mrs. Rife enacted them brilliantly.

Jeff Rife displayed Preston’s many contrasts. In the opening scene, he wore a suit and tie that reflected his character’s financial success. Mr. Rife read Preston’s letters in a calm fashion while keeping a boyish smile on his face. His tense posture showed edginess, yet he controlled his emotions. These outward displays conflicted with the repressed anger in the words he read.

Mr. Rife showed the steady increase in Preston’s unhinged behavior as the evening progressed. In a moment of revelation, he declared, “I contribute nothing to this world, but my annoyance of it.” He took Dahlia’s advice that his “life of empty and unexamined privilege” made him the person he became.

In an effort to reinvent himself, he joined a cult. From Preston’s parents’ efforts to abduct him to catching the Luminous One with his wife, Mr. Rife made the experience of life on the commune an amusing one. 

Mrs. Rife portrayed aspiring photographer Dahlia. Her passionate personality reflected that of a free spirit. The performer conveyed disgust and condescension through her facial expressions as well as her delivery. The animosity came through in the tone she used to read Dahlia’s words.

Mrs. Rife’s character experienced a profound change during the story. Dahlia began the play as an artist with Marxist political leanings. Reflecting Preston’s “journey towards the light” in Whitefish, Montana, Dahlia headed for the Sunshine State. There she discovered an appreciation for Ayn Rand, capitalism and an unusual “vitamin” she and her business partner sold.

It’s not easy to act giddy like a love-struck teenager when discussing ideas gleaned from the pages of Atlas Shrugged. Somehow, Mrs. Rife did. She became ecstatic when discussing her sudden enlightenment for the free market. She showed even more frenetic excitement when describing her reaction after taking the “vitamins.” Her enthusiasm injected more humor into these already comical scenes.

Both performers made the couple’s blossoming relationship into a witty spectacle. When the two became close, they signed all their letters with only their first initials. The cutesy way each actor read them made this sappy sentimental sweetness among of the show’s funniest exchanges.

Larouchefoucault wrote that: greater virtue is required to deal with good fortune than bad. Both performers showed why when Dahlia became a successful photographer. Mrs. Rife played a character consumed by her own ego. Mr. Rife’s decided to threaten her with blackmail. This conflict led to an unexpected outcome. The performers made it believable.

At the end of the show, both characters put down their pens and moved on to the keyboard. They abandoned paper in favor of digital transmissions. They took their exchanges to a chat room.

This ending well suited a show presented during the pandemic. Even though platforms may change the underlying premise remains the same. While online theatre may be a different viewing experience, it’s still theatre. The team at the Bridge Players Theatre Company still produces top quality performances regardless of the medium. They won’t be receiving any hate mail, electronically or otherwise, over Hate Mail.  

2020 Historical Society of Moorestown Ghost Tours

On the evenings of October 17th and October 24th, Moorestown residents reported seeing a dark clad figure roving about the streets. With only the faint light of a lantern to guide it, this visage traversed areas where the town’s other worldly dwellers are known to inhabit. Like the “Poe Toaster” paying its annual respects at Edgar Allan’s grave, this personage makes his yearly appearance along Main Street. This notable is local ghost hunter Joe Wetterling.

Every fall, Mr. Wetterling hosts the Historical Society of Moorestown’s Ghost Tour. This year, coronavirus restrictions prohibited the Society from conducting in-person trips through macabre Moorestown. As the event has become an October tradition in town, they determined not to cancel it. Organizers found a solution that allowed them to present a 2020 Ghost Tour while ensuring spectator safety. This annual excursion took place via Zoom.

The online platform allowed Mr. Wetterling and the Historical Society more flexibility. Instead of taking the audience through the familiar haunts of downtown Main Street, they visited areas not explored during preceding tours.

The 2020 Ghost Tour became two separate outings. Mr. Wetterling accompanied by Mickey DiCamillo and Julie Maravich took viewers along sections of East Main Street on October 17th and Chester Avenue on October 24th. In an appropriate homage to gothic horror tales, this one began at a castle.

On the evening of October 17th, they started out at Briedenhart Castle. Now the Lutheran Home, this building served as the residence of Flexible Flyer sled inventor, Samuel Leeds Allen. The Victor Talking Machine Company founder, Eldridge Johnson, lived in it next. While not the site of ghostly activity, the setting provided an excellent location to begin a journey into the unexplainable.    

Locals know Stokes Hill as a fun location for winter sledding. The site has also drawn unearthly visitors to its grounds.

A three-day snowstorm affected the South Jersey area during mid-January 1909. On the morning of the third day, a resident of one of the nearby homes surveyed his property. He found hoof shaped prints in the snow. After a short distance, they stopped. This incident added Moorestown to the map of Jersey Devil lore.

The woods at the bottom of Stokes Hill have their own paranormal history. To battle the scourge of smallpox, local Native Americans developed an unusual means of treating it. A patient would be placed in a box with steaming hot stones. Once removed, the person would be lowered in a frozen creek. Some people claim they can still hear their screams echoing through the woods.

Many houses on East Main Street are breathtaking to behold. One such building has that effect for a different reason. Mr. Wetterling shared the story of one such Gothic Victorian home. During the early twentieth century, no one occupied it. Legend suggests that teenagers broke in and held seances there. This led to the tradition of adolescents holding their breaths when walking past it.

Paranormal activity that affects multiple senses occurs in the gray stone house with the year “1889” chiseled on top of door frame. Mysterious noises sound through the rooms. Residents have heard footsteps in the front stair case. The chain at the front door has rattled.

Dr. Stokes once lived there. Mrs. Stokes sat in a chair looking out the East Window to await his return from house calls. People who’ve lived in the home have heard creaking floor boards in the same place.

Several people who lived in the home reported seeing the ghost of an old woman. One could even smell her perfume. Others claimed to smell a cigar’s aroma when no one was smoking.

Those who’ve participated in the Ghost Tours know that the buildings on Main Street are rife with unexplainable phenomena. This year, Mr. Wetterling showed that other parts of town aren’t isolated from strange occurrences.

The Collins family built a home on Chester Avenue in 1901. Some of its former residents may still inhabit the building.

In the late 1970s, a contractor working on the property saw a little boy playing on the stairs. Several days later a landscaper witnessed the child in driveway. On both occasions, the owner’s son wasn’t home.

A psychic lived in another home along Chester Avenue. The woman predicted: “Two months nigh, I shall be laid upon the sod.” Her prophesy proved prescient. She passed shortly thereafter. Subsequent people who’ve lived in the home have claimed to see her manifest as a glowing white light on the front lawn.

Entities don’t just remain in dwellings. Some take their hauntings on the road, even those with rails.

The train tracks through town became the topic of a September 5, 1857 New York Times article. On a dark evening, the train’s engineer observed a figure on the rails. He attempted to stop the train, but couldn’t do so before colliding with it. Once the train did halt, he searched the surrounding area. He didn’t find anything.           

A few nights later, residents walking by the tracks witnessed a seven-foot black clad figure hovering over the rails. As they approached it, the object turned around and flew away.

These weren’t isolated incidents. One-quarter of Moorestown’s residents thought they saw something mysterious in the area.

Comparable to the ephemeral appearance of the Jersey Devil, sightings of the railroad track entity suddenly stopped.   

Mr. Wetterling concluded the evening with the sine qua non of all Moorestown Ghost Tours. He took viewers inside the original town jail built in 1876. The Zoom format allowed those watching to join him inside each cell including the rear “drunk tank.” With the additional light he, Mr. DiCamillo and Ms. Maravich provided, those watching could read the graffiti on the walls. They could even see the “pin-up girl” an inmate drew during his 1952 incarceration.   

Mr. Wetterling described himself as a “retired” paranormal investigator. He said that most inquiries resulted in finding “reasonable explanations” for events. The times he hasn’t have led to some fascinating tales about Moorestown’s haunted history.

The thought of a Halloween season without a Ghost Tour terrifies one even more than listening to one of Mr. Wetterling’s stories. Thanks to him and the Historical Society, one of the community’s great October traditions continued even in these frightening times.  

History Speaks Lecture Series – Mickey DiCamillo – “Jersey Tales: Quirky Stories about New Jersey’s History”

The Historical Society of Moorestown made some history of its own this October 14th.  They presented their first History Speaks session via the internet. Mickey DiCamillo, the Historical Society’s president, selected four “quirky” stories for the evening’s lecture. All featured either an unusual or surprising revelation about New Jersey’s past. 

Experts on Garden State history are either difficult to locate, uninterested in or unable to address local audiences. This inspired Mr. DiCamillo to share with the Society a few intriguing stories he’s read.

Mr. DiCamillo opened his quartet of quirky tales with the “Amphibious Ambiguous Creature.” In May of 1861, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that, a monster like a whale arose from the waters of the Delaware River. This mammoth beast was the prototype of a submarine designed by Brutus de Villeroi.

In June 1861, it travelled down Delaware River and into Delanco. As an indication of the vessel’s seaworthiness, the Navy determined that it couldn’t operate in the “rough” waters of the Rancocas Creek.

They did, however, decide that the Union military needed one.

Some have speculated that the inventor orchestrated the trip to publicize his creation. If he did, it worked. The Navy hired him to build one.

De Villeroi designed a 47-foot submarine named the USS Alligator. The vessel launched in May 1862. It served the Union Navy until a storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras caused it to sink in April of 1863.

Legend suggests that the prototype met the same fate somewhere in the Rancocas Creek. Mr. DiCamillo discussed several expeditions that attempted to locate it. One team searched Riverside’s marshes and ditches during the mid-2000s. Another group explored the area using sonar and a magnetometer in 2007. During the winter of 2009, a party reported “interesting sonar readings.”   

Mr. DiCamillo credited local historian Alice Smith for the information on this topic. Ms. Smith wrote about it in the Sojourn journal.

Next, Mr. DiCamillo took the audience on a trip through history’s “People Powered People Mover.” During the late nineteenth century, a man named Arthur Hotchkiss developed an innovative method of transportation: the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railway.

This monorail featured an inverted bicycle placed on a rail that sat on top of a fence. In order to move the device, travelers didn’t pedal as they would a conventional bicycle. They used a marching motion to propel it.  

In 1891, Ezekiel Smith of Smithville’s HB Smith Machine Company financed its development. As the rail connected Mouth Holly to Smithville, Mr. Smith believed it would assist his employees in getting to work on time. In September 1892, the Smithville Bicycle Railway Company launched.

The track measured approximately two miles. It opened for the morning commute and closed at 11:00 PM. A round trip cost 10 cents. The bicycles reached speeds up to 18 miles per hour. Perhaps as a harbinger of the modern “car pool,” travelers could ride tandem.

The concept contained significant design and safety flaws.

The rail consisted of a single line track. If travelers approached from opposite directions, one would need to get off the rail. The lack of space didn’t permit navigating around slow cyclists, either. Mr. DiCamillo termed some confrontations that ensued as “bicycle rage.”

The fence that supported the rail contained gates. People on one side needed a means to get to the other. If one such pedestrian didn’t close the gate, cyclists could travel off the rail and onto the ground four feet below.

Non-technical issues plagued the operation. Bandits robbed commuters. One woman’s former lover murdered her beside the rail. Commuters reported being chased by startled farm animals.

By 1898, the rail’s popularity waned. Hotchkiss lost interest in running it. Track maintenance suffered. More injuries resulted. A business slowdown at the HB Smith Company decreased demand for its use.

Mr. DiCamillo followed-up this tale of travel for something focused on home. The next story described a South Jersey house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The residence at 373 King’s Highway North in Cherry Hill represented the designer’s usonian style: that of a small, single story home manufactured from inexpensive materials.   

Wright’s homes have a reputation for reflecting their environments. The Sweeton home has been described as “Straight, flat and horizontal.” Some have argued this design comparable to the South Jersey landscape.

Mr. DiCamillo concluded his lecture with a “true crime” story. He based his remarks on Warren Grover’s book Nazis in Newark. The author detailed the conflict between Jewish mobsters and German immigrants who lived there during the 1930s.

The narrative included interesting characters. Abner Zwillman was a controversial figure even during his lifetime. His bootlegging aptitude earned him the nickname “the Al Capone of New Jersey.” Because of his work towards bettering his community, others referred to him as: “The Mobster Activist.”

The German immigrants who settled in the Newark area brought their Nazi sympathies with them. They formed a nationalist organization called the Friends of New Germany to express their support.

With the end of Prohibition, this group became Zwillman’s new rival. He didn’t want to battle it outright. That would have drawn law enforcement’s attention. Instead, he financed his “tough,” boxer Nat Arno, to fight it.

Arno led a group called “The Minutemen.” In addition to spreading propaganda, they used violent means to disrupt Friends of New Germany meetings. They tossed stink bombs into their gatherings. As people ran outside, Minutemen attacked them with bricks, pipes and bats.

Not even the police could help the Friends of New Germany. At one meeting they were called in to protect, the Minutemen used their preferred tactic. In the process, they ended up assaulting some policemen.

Senior officials in the German government knew how the Jewish mobsters responded to the pro-Nazi Newark residents. The Third Reich instructed the Friends of New Germany to stop holding meetings. They feared their activities would draw the United States into conflict with Germany.

Mr. DiCamillo closed his quirky quartet by saying how difficult it was to deliver a speech without being able to view his audience. Because of the Zoom format, he couldn’t gauge their reactions. Judging from the Chat comments, the attendees signed off feeling informed, entertained and with a better understanding of the Garden State. They also had whole new appreciation for historians such as Mr. DiCamillo.

Frankenstein at Burlington County Footlighters’ Back Stage

While COVID-19 lockdowns played a trick on those expecting a flourishing community theatre scene this year, Burlington County Footlighters is giving fans an early Halloween treat. The company is presenting a theatrical adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein penned by Lou DiPilla III; himself a veteran performer of the BCF stage. Another BCF legend, Gabrielle Affleck is directing. This tragic tale of a tenebrous Prometheus is taking place at Footlighters’ outdoor venue: the Back Stage.

Mother Nature provided her own terrors at the October 23rd opening night performance. Under the cover of overcast skies, leaves trickled off the trees. The baleful effulgence of a half-moon penetrated through breaks in the clouds. Midway through the show, a chill coated the air.

Pretty scary stuff. Then came the story of Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein (played by Aidan Collet) refused to accept the conventional scientific wisdom of his day. The learned Professor Krempe (Bernard DiCassimiro) admonished him. Victor ignored him. The warnings motivated Victor to become even more stubborn and reckless. Unnecessary bloodshed resulted.

 A tale this bizarre could only come from the minds of imaginative horror writers.

Mr. DiPilla III’s story germinated from the fictitious Mary Shelley 1818 novel of the same name. Perhaps influenced by his experience editing Shakespeare plays, Mr. DiPilla III wrote his Frankenstein as a “story-within-a-story.” He bookended the play with the meeting that served as the catalyst for Shelley’s masterpiece.

A group of writers gathered in a Swiss castle during the “summer without a summer” in 1816. The poor weather precluded any outdoor activities so Lord Byron (Timothy Schumann) proposed that everyone write a horror story. Percy Bysshe-Shelley (Aidan Collett) and Dr. Polidori (Bernard DiCasimirro) agreed. They even coaxed Percy’s wife, Mary Goodwin (Abigail Hunt), to participate. At midnight two days later, the authors would share their creations with one another.

The playwright crafted a well-written adaptation of Shelley’s book. Mr. DiPilla III condensed the longer aspects of the novel to make them more suitable for a modern production. The best example occurred when he recreated the scene where the Monster (Richard Kingston) reencountered Victor following their two-year separation.

In the book, the Monster delivered a soliloquy that lasted for several pages. To spare Mr. Kingston the agony of memorizing blocks of Victorian text (as performers in Murder by Poe agonize with), the playwright shortened the speech. Mr. Kingston pre-recorded a large portion of it, as well. Accompanied by music, the Monster reflected upon his encounter with a family in the woods. Director Affleck and the performers ensured this became the show’s most moving scene.

While the Monster drifted into reverie, the Blonde Girl (Liz Baldwin) performed an interpretive dance as Felix (Mike Muller) mimed doing his chores. When the two exited the stage, the Monster introduced himself to their guardian, the Blind Man (Jeff Cleve). Following a pleasant exchange between the two, the young people returned. Upon seeing the Monster’s hideous appearance, a violent scuffle resulted.

During an interview with the Critique Compendium, Mr. DiPilla III was asked which character was Frankenstein’s villain. The playwright responded: “I’ll leave that up to the audience. There could be a few villains in the story for different reasons. Tell me what you think when you see it.”

Following the show’s world premiere, Mr. DiPilla III asked your correspondent the same question. Mr. Collett’s performance as Victor and Mr. Kingston’s portrayal of Monster didn’t make answering it easy.

These actors performed two outstanding confrontation scenes. One entailed a verbal argument; the second a swordfight. Mr. Collett and Mr. Kingston presented their characters as figures deserving of empathy and scorn. They balanced these conflicting traits brilliantly. Mr. Kingston had the more challenging task due to his character’s appearance and deep, guttural voice.

Sometimes the best questions are those that cannot be answered.    

The script contained engaging dialog. Victor (Mr. Collett) and Elizabeth (Abigail Hunt) shared the following flirty exchange.  

Victor: I don’t know what I would do without you.

Elizabeth: Don’t try.

The playwright added philosophical flourishes to his text. In another scene, Victor proclaimed that, “Science is the ultimate religion.

It’s difficult to imagine a place for comedy in a gothic horror story. Somehow, Mr. DiPilla III made one. Mueller (Jeff Cleve) observed, “It’s hard to find good honest crooks these days.” He added that it “worried (him) about the younger generation.”

When addressing a crowd at the Winter Festival, Dieter (Bernard DiCassimiro) said, “I promise to keep my remarks short.” A jeering voice from the gathering answered, “That would be a first.”

Mr. DiPilla III avoided using the cliché: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Instead, Mr. Collett implored the creature to “Live! Live!” before the Monster came to life. Doing so fit Victor’s personality better. The careful way the performer drew out the words made the scene more powerful.  

The playwright reserved the play’s most memorable lines for the Monster (Richard Kingston). The Monster questioned Victor, “(You) ask me to act with compassion when you, created by God, cannot?” The Monster later warned Victor that if he did not create a mate for him, he would make his maker “drown his sorrows in blood.”

Ms. Affleck supplied stellar direction for this show. She along with Mr. Collett, Mr. Kingston and Jim Frazer gave life to a mesmerizing animation scene. The lighting crashes while the light pulsated through the tube made a phenomenal visual spectacle.

The director used the lightning to outstanding effect at the show’s conclusion. Ms. Hunt stared out the window to the sound of thunder and rainfall. Opposite her, flashes illuminated the Monster’s silhouette.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the performers weren’t permitted to touch one another. Ms. Affleck and the actors came up with work arounds that made the show more entertaining. Mr. Kingston’s imitation of Darth Vader’s death grip on his victims gave the Monster an air of the supernatural.  

Victorian décor compliments gothic horror settings. This combination allowed the set to become properly ornamented for the Halloween season. Likenesses of bookcases flanked the stage. Two candles set on opposite sides of the mantlepiece. A large portrait of a woman hung over them. Lighting flashed through the windows to the left and right of the fireplace. The latter contained a simulated burning log.

The Production Team converted the set into multiple locations. The London street setting became the most realistic. Lanterns adorned both sides of the stage. Smoke flooded onto it. The darkness and fog created an ominous aura.  

As with all performances at the Back Stage, Footlighters took every precaution to ensure audience and performer safety. They established a touch free check-in process. No one handed out programs. The company made them available online for those interested. Staff members escorted guests to the seating area then measured off six feet between them. Everyone brought their own snacks and either a chair or blanket upon which to sit. All attendees wore masks.

For this show, even the actors on stage covered their faces. The players wore clear masks over their mouths and noses for the entire performance.

The complete cast list is as follows:

Percy Bysshe-Shelley/Victor Frankenstein: Aidan Collett  

Mary Godwin (Shelley)/Elizabeth Frankenstein: Abigail Hunt  

Monster: Richard Kingston  

Lord Byron/Henry Clerval: Timothy Shumann  

Dr. Polidori/Professor Krempe/Dieter/Willie: Bernard DiCasimirro  

Jane Clairemont/Justine/Blonde Girl: Liz Baldwin  

Mueller/Klaus/Blind Man/Fletcher: Jeff Cleve  

Willian/Fritz/Felix/Rushton: Mike Muller

The following individuals served on the Production/Creative team:  

Director/Producer: Gabrielle Affleck  

Author/Character Development: Lou DiPilla III  

Stage Manager : Chrissy Wick  

Lighting Design & Technician: Jim Frazer  

Sound Design: Lou DiPilla III  

Sound Technicians:  Kristian Kauker, Peg Smith

Costumes:  Amanda Cogdell  

Props: Gabrielle Affleck, Jim Frazer

Dance Choreography:  Liz Baldwin  

Duel Choreography: Lou DiPilla III

When asked about his purpose in writing his adaptation of Frankenstein, Mr. DiPilla III told your correspondent:

I’m hoping people enjoy it and will get something out of it; give them a night where they can think of something other than the pandemic. Just enjoy a story and get out and have some fun.

The answer to whether or not he succeeded was much easier than determining Frankestein’s villain.

Victor and the Monster will continue battling each other at Footlighters through Halloween night. That performance will serve as a good prelude to another horrific confrontation for power. Those interested in the challenge of identifying the heroes from the villains are encouraged to take part in Election Day this November 3rd.

Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center Reading: Classic TV Sitcom

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center brought the small screen to the Zoom screen this October 20th. The company presented an interpretation of one of television’s most memorable episodes. For their Tuesday Night Reading, they performed “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” from the I Love Lucy series.

            Fans of the show may remember better it as the “Vitameatavegamin” program. Ricky (played by Johnathan Santillana) received an offer to host a television show. In order to do so, he needed to hire a woman to perform the live commercial. Lucy (Shauni Ramai) begged him to let her. To put it politely, Ricky decided to move forward in his search by exploring other options.

            Later on, Lucy made a shocking appearance in hers and Ricky’s television set. She presented her own commercial as a sort of audition. It failed to persuade Ricky.

When Fred (Barry Leonard) and Ricky left the room, Lucy received phone call from the actress her husband hired to perform in the commercial. Lucy informed her that the role had been filled. She proceeded to the television studio in her place.

            The Director (Laura Paone) walked Lucy through a series of readthroughs for Viatmeatavegamin. This health tonic included common ingredients such as vitamins and minerals. Stagehand Joe (Matt Holbert) discovered that its “secret sauce” was just that: the sauce. It contained 23% alcohol.

            At the conclusion of each practice run, the Director instructed Lucy to sip the product. Viatameatavegimen had an acquired taste. Lucy acquired it pretty quick: just in time for the live commercial.

            Fans remember Lucille Ball as a comedy idol. Enthusiasts of classic television programs view the role of Lucy as iconic. It’s difficult to imagine any performer other than the former playing the latter.

Enter Shauni Ramai.

            Ms. Ramai took this legendary character portrayed by an inimitable performer and reinvented it. She adopted some of Lucy’s recognizable features, however. The bow in her (although black not red) hair, the pearl necklace and black blouse reflected 1950s style. Ms. Ramai delivered Lucy’s famous “waaahhh.” It served as a fine tribute to one of the character’s beloved quirks.

Then Ms. Ramai made Lucy all her own.            

            She articulated the Vitameatavegamin pitch with assurance. While sipping the tonic, her facial expressions told how terrible it tasted as she struggled to hide the fact from the fictitious audience. As the rehearsals progressed, Ms. Ramai showed the increasing effect of the alcohol on her character. Her hiccups graduated into slurred speech. It intensified until culminating with her chugging the drink. The believability she gave this scene may have made it funnier than even the original. Ms. Ramai executed a fitting finale by comically staggering about her kitchen.

            Jonathan Santillana and Barry Leonard portrayed Ricky and Fred with authenticity. Mr. Santillana crossed his arms and delivered a drawn out “Lucy” just like Desi Arnaz. Anyone listening to the broadcast would have assumed the production team dubbed in William Frawley’s voice. Mr. Leonard performed a perfect imitation of him.

            Laura Paone also showed some vocal talents of her own. As she played a male character, Ms. Paone adjusted her vocal range in order to speak as a baritone. She delivered her lines in the lower register without slipping.

              Anna Paone completed this stellar cast by portraying Maury. Catherine LaMoreau read the stage directions.

            The “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” originally aired on television May 5, 1952. The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center presented their own interpretation this October. 68 years later, it still made an audience laugh. That’s serious comedy.  

Bloody Jack Presented by Virtual Studio Players

“Let good come from evil,” the eponymous character of Bloody Jack said. The Virtual Studio Players took his suggestion to Zoom this October 18th. The company presented playwright Tim Kelly’s fictional take on the Jack the Ripper killings. One stellar performance resulted.

Artistic Director/ Co-Producer Greg Northam along with Co-Producer Peter Artale once more fused both the excitement of the live theatrical experience with the comfort of watching a movie in one’s own home. The show they selected for their October performance made Halloween special this year.   

The pre-recorded opening scene drew the audience into the story by making them part of it. Viewers experienced the first victim’s (played by Patricia Kohlreiter) execution from Jack’s point-of-view. The chilling reverb and echo effects added to Ms. Kohlreiter’s final cries intensified the character’s horrific death. As a wonderful homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the close-up of the performer’s eye established the disturbing nature of the performance to follow.

The production team utilized backdrops appropriate for an 1888 Victorian doctor’s home. The setting behind Mrs. Hillier (Regina Devitt) and Morgan (Brian Wayman) included gilded walls, multiple bookcases and a large portrait hanging in the middle of the room. It reflected a conventional scene for a mystery story.

The playwright crafted Bloody Jack as more complex than a simple whodunnit, however. Mr. Kelly explained, “In traditional mysteries, the audience is supposed to guess who. In this play, to get the who, you have to establish the why.”

The writer tasked Inspector Flanders (Jim Szablewicz) with this challenge. While the inspector had all of London to investigate, the audience had to find the killer from among a cast of eight characters. The playwright made it just as challenging for them. Motives abounded. The story opened with the inspector asking Dr. Sargeant (Greg Northam) to postpone reporting the poor state of his health to his employer until he solved the Ripper case. Was Flanders using the killings as a means to keep his job? Dr. Sargeant recently hired Mrs. Hillier’s (Regina Devitt) brother Morgan (Brian Wayman) as a favor to her. Morgan already had a criminal past. Was he the killer? Several characters expressed antiquated views of femininity. Did a woman commit the crimes to show them otherwise?

These were just three of the potential motives. The playwright included many more. Then he concluded the story with multiple plot twists and an unexpected ending. Pretty heady theatre for a mystery story.

Aside from a few instances of excessive exposition, Mr. Kelly produced a well-written play. The text included some clever uses of language. When confronted about imbibing Dr. Sargeant’s brandy, Mr. Wayman (as Morgan) delivered a nonchalant: “I didn’t drink, I sipped.” The latter wore a tattoo described as, “a mouse in an opera cape.” Mr. Northam (as Dr. Sargeant) described Bloody Jack’s pen as, “A cruel, sharp weapon.” He also observed, “Faith in humanity is a burden.” During one of the story’s upbeat moments, Lady Flora Chilton (Annette Devitt) commented that “cynicism lost to hope.” In a reference to the work of another famous playwright, Dr. Sargeant named the skeleton in his office Yorick.               

The costuming enhanced the story’s sense of mystery. Every performer except Annette Devitt wore black and white clothes for most of the show. The actors ensured the attire suited the period, as well. Mr. Szablewicz and Mr. Norman both sported cravats. Regina Devitt and Gianna Porfano (as Ellen Sargeant) wore brooches to button their collars. Mr. Szablewicz and Tyler Riley (in the role of Dr. Stephen Barrows) covered their heads with derby hats.

Directors casting themselves in their own shows have the potential to become a terrifying experience for theatregoers. Greg Northam the director ensured that Greg Northam the actor kept the horror within the story. Mr. Northam’s calm, serious demeanor augmented the tale’s tension.

Mr. Northam showed his character’s illusive side during scenes with Annette Devitt and Mr. Szablewicz. While likable and credible, the information he presented showed his character may have had ulterior motives for his behavior. Or maybe not. Mr. Northam’s blank looks and measured deliveries allowed the audience to believe whatever they wanted to believe about him.

Tyler Riley, however, made it easy to imagine Dr. Barrows as “Bloody Jack.” His utterance of the cryptic (or not so cryptic) line: “Women have no energy for anything but staying alive” wasn’t the main reason, either. Mr. Riley used a voice eerily reminiscent of the great James Earl Jones playing Darth Vader. With his dark cape and hat, one could’ve imagined Mr. Riley stepping out of Whitechapel and on to the Death Star.

Mr. Riley balanced the character’s persona very well. As the show progressed, he introduced the audience to Dr. Barrows’ sensitive side. He blamed the “horrors on the street” for his lack of laughter. Mr. Riley humanized the character by smiling when talking to his love interest played by Ms. Porfano; herself also having a fondness for dark capes and sharp objects.

Mr. Riley and Mr. Wayman played a scene opposite one another that would’ve impressed Harold Pinter. Both performers brilliantly enhanced the tension through a clever use of pauses. Their skillful performances made the conversation’s resolution even more astonishing.         

Several scenes required multiple actors to handle the same prop. The performers coordinated these exchanges very well. Mr. Northam extended a book to Mr. Szablewicz. The latter lifted a similar one in front of the camera to simulate taking it. Mr. Wayman and Mr. Northam acted as though pouring liquor from the same decanter. In a very challenging scene, Regina Devitt slapped Amber Kushing (as Margaret Derry). Both actresses make the smack appear life-like.   

Bloody Jack contained an outstanding musical score. The lugubrious yet ominous string sounds enhanced the play’s dread, horror and anxiety. The chilling notes that emanated from Dr. Barrows’ violin made the character even more terrifying.

Amber Kusching’s character described herself as a “fortune telling actress.” Even with those skills, one wonders if her character could have determined the Ripper’s true identity. Those interested in “good evil” would enjoy Bloody Jack. The Virtual Studio Players handed the audience one killer Halloween treat.  

Lou DiPilla III: The Critique Compendium Interview

Lou has been involved in theater for over 45 years in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey area.  He has performed almost every job there is in theater: actor, director, sound and light technician, set designer, builder, and Artistic Director. He has been involved  in close to 100 productions during his time on the boards.  His favorite acting  roles are Antonio Salieri in Amadeus, Dracula in Count Dracula, Fagin in Oliver, Henry VIII in Anne Of The Thousand Days  and Ben Franklin in 1776. Lou has also performed in several independent films in addition to corporate training videos for various companies.

Since his retirement in 2009, he has been concentrating on film and commercial work in addition to writing. His play “A Cosa Nostra Xmas” has been chosen as part of a “Night of One Acts” with the Bridge Players Theater Company in November. Frankenstein marks his second gothic drama adaptation to be produced following his Dracula in 1998. He is currently working on a film script for a horror mystery he hopes will be produced in the future. In his “spare time” he enjoys playing his guitar and volunteering for the BookMates program where he and his wife Cheryl read to students at two elementary schools.

Mr. DiPilla graciously consented to a phone interview on October 8, 2020. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Critique Compendium: Why did you decide to write an adaptation of Frankenstein?

Lou DiPilla III: I had years ago done an adaptation of Dracula. I couldn’t find a script that I liked. You can’t make changes to them due to the license agreement. So I decided to write my own.

I had written other things. I’d edited Shakespeare plays. You can do that because they’re in the public domain.

I gave Dracula a shot. They produced it at Bridge Players (Theatre Company). I was pleased with the outcome.

After that someone suggested doing Frankenstein. (Laughs) The mother of all gothic novels.

I play guitar. I was going to do it as a musical. I wrote some songs, but ultimately, I needed an orchestrator so I stopped.

I began Frankenstein in 2003 as a straight play. I worked on it a little and then put it aside. I’ve been able to put more time into it over the last three years.

I submitted it to (Burlington County) Footlighters.

You don’t know how a play is going to come out until it’s performed. It was a real learning experience.

Actors will bring their own experiences to the show. It’s about collaboration.

Critique Compendium: In the book, Captain Walton wrote that he lived in a paradise of my own creation. Did you feel that way when you were crafting your play?

Lou DiPilla III: (Laughs) Yeah, it was fun. So much fun. So rewarding.

Most of my career has been acting. I’ve been acting since I was 19. As an actor you think about your character and their wants and needs. However, you’re only doing that for one person.

The director gets to add a framework, but the actor is the primary driver. Actors should have an advantage when writing. They’re used to looking at characters. Sam Sheppard for one. He was actor and then he started to write.

An actor is able to use his actor’s skill for each individual character.

I was in paradise of my own choosing. 

If you’re a good actor you can be a good writer. Your mind is used to thinking in a way that you’re breaking down a character, the motivations and interactions between characters.

I’m enjoying what I’m doing. It’s a labor of love.

It’s great to see something you put on paper, acted out.

I may want to change things for another production after seeing it. You’re constantly trying to improve the product. I’m happy with the cast. (Director) Gaby (Affleck) has done a great job. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Gaby.

Critique Compendium: Mary Shelley wrote the novel your play is based on in 1818. How did you go about making Victorian prose into dialog more relatable to modern audiences?

Lou DiPilla III: I tried to go there; to write it as Shelley did. I used some of the terms of that time. Of course, I simplified things, I tried to put it in my own words; the common words and phrases from the era I left there.

I changed the things that no one would understand.

In Shakespeare, there were references that no one would get. If they were not germane or didn’t add anything, I removed them. That’s egotistical, isn’t it? (Laughs.)

For instance, in Frankenstein the Monster goes to Justine’s house for a mock tea party. He asks, “Shall I be mother?” I had to explain that. In Victorian England, Mother was the one who poured the tea. That’s an example from the period that people might not know.

You’re not going to see the Arctic. There are some other things you’re not going to see from the novel. That’s the point of the adaptation. You boil it down to the essentials to entertain the audience. That’s the most important thing.

The second priority is having the audience think about the play and what it means, how it relates to their life, if at all, after they have left the theater. Who is the villain? Why? Could they have done things another way?

I hope I did that. In this adaptation I wanted to dig deeper than he’s a monster that kills people.

Critique Compendium: You directed A Streetcar Named Desire at Burlington County Footlighters during the winter of 2019. Did the challenge of working with dialog that wordy have any effect on your writing Frankenstein?

Lou DiPilla III (Laughs.) No. I had the power to change it. If I changed something in Tennessee Williams…well  …You can’t do that.

I want people to understand. I want to give them a chance to reach and stretch. On the other hand, I’m not doing Pinter. (Laughs.)

Critique Compendium: Gaby Affleck will be directing Frankenstein at Burlington County Footlighters’ Back Stage this fall. Ms. Affleck directed you in The Explorer’s Club during the fall of 2017. What is it like to have her directing something that you wrote?

Lou DiPilla III: It’s interesting. This is the first time in theatre that I’ve written something someone else is directing.

When I thought about it, I decided to ask Gaby if she would do it. “I think you could do it,” I said, “it’s your genre.” She has the chops to do it and the knowledge and talent to do it.

I have worked with her as an actor and set designer. She makes it fun. She makes people work, too.

Gaby has the talent and technical ability. I feel safe putting Frankenstein in her hands. 

Critique Compendium: Victor Frankenstein said, “Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.” What truths can we learn from the story of Frankenstein?

Lou DiPilla III: There are a lot of things we can learn from Frankenstein that relate to today’s world. Look at what’s happening in the country these days. Just because someone doesn’t look like you, doesn’t mean they’re different from you. Just because someone might seem to you unattractive on the outside doesn’t mean they’re ugly inside. Looks can be deceiving and often are.

Are monsters created, or are they born? Is the way Adam (the Monster) acts forced upon him, or is it his nature? It’s the whole nurture versus nature argument.

Are cloning and other scientific advancements worth the risks? Should the person who creates take responsibility for what they do? Victor certainly took responsibility for what he did.

The show begins with how Frankenstein was conceived in 1816. There was a volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. It affected weather around the world. It caused many famines. Europe had a cloudy rainy, summer. It has been referred to as “The Year Without A Summer.”

With the weather being constantly cloudy, rainy and cold the inhabitants of the Vila Diodati in Switzerland spent most of their time indoors.  To break the boredom the writers had a contest to write a story that would scare the others.

Shelley’s doctor (John William) Polidori wrote, what later became the first vampire story published in English. Mary Shelley of course wrote the beginnings of Frankenstein.

Hopefully the audience will get an insight as to why Mary (Shelley) wrote the story.

Critique Compendium: Who is the villain of Frankenstein?

Lou DiPilla III: I’ll leave that up to the audience. There could be a few villains in the story for different reasons. Tell me what you think when you see it.

Critique Compendium: One of the story’s themes is the role of science in society. Why is it still controversial today?

Lou DiPilla III: There are so many things unfolding. Science never stops.

In the novel it was reanimating life. Today there is genetic engineering, GMOs, artificial intelligence, it just keeps moving along.

Are we doing things without understanding the consequences? Should we look closer into what are the possible ramifications?

Victor gets so caught up in the zeal of creating that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. His reasons outweigh the negatives.

I don’t know who said this, but, “The intent to do good isn’t the same as doing good.”

Critique Compendium: You also wrote a theatrical adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1998. The novelist told that story through the perspectives of multiple characters. How would you compare writing that script versus a story narrated by two characters that included long speeches by “the Monster”?

Lou DiPilla III: I took into account what the Monster said in his speeches. I tried to have his dialog with Victor show what they feel.

In Dracula the story was told through letters. They described everything; provided background. I turned that into the character dialogue.

I try to “show and not tell.” Theatre is a word driven medium. But you don’t need to “beat people over the head.” That’s where the actors come in, too. Their inflections and pauses can change a line’s meaning and how the character is understood by the audience.

Critique Compendium: You performed with your daughter Lauren in Tesia Nicoli’s Red Wrench at the 2nd Stage at Burlington County Footlighters in the spring of 2019. What was it like working with her on stage?

Lou DiPilla III: It was great. We’ve been on stage quite a few times, all three of my daughters. Lauren has worked as my Stage Manager many times. In Streetcar she was.

In the scene where I was in the bed dying, she said “I’m not acting, I’m being myself.” I think it’s more intense when you’re related.

It can help your acting by dialing into that. Some nights were tougher than others.

Critique Compendium: What artists have influenced you?

Lou DiPilla III: It’s interesting. If you asked me that 20 years ago, I would have had a different answer.

Zero Mostel is one. He did a lot of comedy and a lot of drama. I saw him in Fidler. I sat in the last row of the orchestra at the Forrest Theatre. During an important scene, I could see the whites of his eyes from the last row.

In the 70’s, he came to the Forrest Theatre to do The Merchant based on The Merchant of Venice. I remember my wife and I stood in the lobby. It was seven thirty…then seven forty-five…then someone came out and said the show was canceled.

I found out later that night he died at his hotel in Philly that afternoon. I had a ticket to his last show.

Frank Langella, the Broadway and movie actor, is another one. He brought Dracula back.

Before him, all Draculas were monsters. There was always an element of sexuality to the character, but actors focused on the horror. Frank brought out the sexuality.

He’s a good working actor. His presence and talent are amazing.  I learn something every time I watch him.

Anthony Hopkins can do anything from Shakespeare to Silence of the Lambs. Whenever people ask him why he’s so good, he says, “I just learn my lines and find my spot.” (Laughs.) Maybe he’s not telling us the whole story.

Critique Compendium: You and your wife Cheryl perform volunteer work with the BookMates program. Tell us about that.

Lou DiPilla III: It’s a great program. Cheryl and I are both retired. We wanted to give back.

There’s a Literacy problem in the country today. Kids are supposed to be read to in order to develop their learning skills. They need many hours of being read to from birth to about school age. A lot of kids don’t have anybody to read to them. They don’t develop a love or appreciation for reading. It stunts their intellectual growth.

Some come from homes where there’s not enough time to have a child read to. Some kids get some, but not enough. Other kids from an emotional standpoint need adults to engage with them. We provide that too.

We’ll go into a school. We do two kids in one school and two in another school. We go for an hour every week during the entire school year. We read things they like or things we recommend.

The kids hear the spoken word. It’s something they haven’t experienced and they enjoy it.

We do that once a week. We haven’t done it this year due to the pandemic. We’re hoping it will happen very soon. Probably on Zoom or another platform remotely.

Older people and younger people read to the kids. They develop a bond with the child. The kids get the hours of reading exposure to books that they need to develop, and hopefully continue with a lifelong love of reading.

This will be our fifth year doing it. It’s very rewarding for us. It a great program for the children.

Critique Compendium: Captain Walton wrote Mrs. Saville asking, “Do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?” Do you feel like you’ve achieved a great purpose by writing a theatrical adaptation of Frankenstein?

Lou DiPilla III: Thank you for thinking that. I don’t know if I can say that.

I enjoyed it. I’m hoping people enjoy it and get something out of it; give them a night where they can think about something other than the pandemic. Just enjoy a story and get out and have some fun.

This is one of my creative outlets. It’s like therapy to sit at computer, write and do research. I’m enjoying it. If other people get joy out of it, that’s fantastic. It’s nice to have people appreciate it.

I’m happy as long as I had an effect on you one way or another.

Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil at Burlington County Footlighters’ Back Stage

In the light of a full moon with leaves falling, your correspondent watched Burlington County Footlighters fall into autumn this October 2nd. The company utilized Jim Frazier’s Back Stage to present a show written by local playwrights Brandon Monokian and Kirsten Sughre. Their Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil provided a fitting prelude to Halloween.

The playwrights demonstrated a lot of creativity with this piece. While incorporating the Garden State’s infamous legend, the play contained a parody of literature’s most popular sleuth, an element of intrigue and an abundance of comedy; including an homage to a Scooby Doo ending. These writers even worked in some musical numbers.

They chose an unusual setting for the story. The action took place in the format of an old-time radio show.

Pat Frazer made her directorial debut with Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil. She assembled a wonderful ensemble to bring this entertaining piece to the stage.                       

A murder took place at the 1909 Small-Town Fall Festival. Suspicion fell on the event’s main attraction, the Jersey Devil (played by Rico Esteves). Locals opted to call in the famous detective Herlock Sholmes (Dave Pallas) along with his sidekick Winston (Stephen Kreal) to solve the case.

Dave Pallas has experience portraying popular sleuths. In January 2020, he portrayed one of the Sherlock Holmes characters in Holmes and Watson. During that run, also presented at Burlington County Footlighters, Mr. Pallas performed the deaf, mute and blind incarnation of Holmes. When his character went under hypnosis, he delivered a gripping narrative of the detective’s final battle with his nemesis Dr. Moriarty.

Mr. Monokian and Ms. Sughrue allowed Mr. Pallas the opportunity to display his comedic capabilities. Sholmes (please call him Herlock Sholmes) combined the intellectual acumen of Inspector Clouseau with the crime solving capabilities of Inspector Gadget. The character may have lacked in those areas, but he exhibited extraordinary skill in taking credit for things other people said. Winston provided him ample opportunities to excel at the latter.

Mr. Pallas brought out these traits through his performance. He did so in a fashion that made the character funny instead of obnoxious. His most comical moment occurred when he blew bubbles out of his gourd Calabash pipe. “Smoking is bad for you,” he explained.

Stephen Kreal enacted Winston’s sagacity and frustration with his egocentric partner. He and Mr. Pallas played off of one another very well. Mr. Kreal would explain the details of his findings, Mr. Pallas would tell him to be quiet and then Mr. Pallas would repeat what Mr. Kreal said as if it were his own idea.

Few performers portray mythical creatures. Even fewer get to sing Blues numbers accompanied by a ukulele. Rico Esteves received these rare opportunities in the role of the Jersey Devil. Mr. Esteves added humor and anguish to this terror of the Pine Barrens. His lackluster roar brough out roars of laughter from the audience. Mr. Esteves’ self-described “vegan” monster could only communicate to humans through song. His vocals did so in a style that would’ve pleased the great Son House.

Mike Muller had a very busy evening. He wore so many hats in this show, it’s amazing he could do so with only one head. Mr. Muller selected an entertaining array of voices for the characters of Frank, Legend, Scientist 3, Nick and the Ringmaster.

The script contained some witty parities linking the modern world with the one of 1909. The Ringmaster displayed a drawing of a new horrifying attraction: a hamburger that didn’t contain any meat. He attached the appellation “veggie burger” to this abomination. Another character discussed upgrading her Rotary Phone 6.5 to the newer model.  The show’s conclusion included a reference to the Back Stage’s last production: a series on one act plays written by David Ives. Narrator Wayne Renbjor said, “Only bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

The set consisted of a radio show. The performers sat several feet apart. Most wore black, but some utilized clever costuming. Mr. Esteves wore an oversized pair of bat’s wings and added a fedora to the Jersey Devil’s persona. Mr. Pallas attired himself in a trench coat complete with deerstalker hat. Mr. Muller fittingly put on a series of hats to reflect which character he portrayed at the time.  

Wayne Renbjor enhanced the performance through his melodic narration. Strong vocal skills must be a Renbjor family trait. Jill Renbjor used an excellent nasal accent for one of her characters.

Other performers included: MacKenzie Smith, Becky Mosely and Lisa Croce. Chrissy Wick provided stage management.

Burlington County Footlighters enforced its COVID-19 safety measures. The performance took place upon the outdoor Back Stage. All audience members had their temperatures taken at the door. A staff member escorted each patron to the seating area and measured six feet between all attendees. Everyone brought their own chair or blanket upon which to sit. No snacks or programs were distributed and tickets were scanned at the door. The company required all attendees to wear masks when not in their designated seating place.  

“Who would have thought violence would be so entertaining?” MacKenzie Smith’s Unpaid Intern asked. The answer: this audience did. It’s scary that there are so few opportunities to see Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil after this weekend.

The show runs through October 10th at Burlington County Footlighters. For more information, consult their website at: https://bcfootlighters.com/.