Haddonfield

The Crucible at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Boy did I pick the right time to listen to Black Sabbath on the way to the theatre. “Voodoo”, “Lady Evil” and “Black Sabbath” put this reviewer in right frame of mind to experience The Crucible. The cool autumn air along with the full moon weaving through the breaks in the overcast sky added superb ambiance. I attended the opening night performance on October 11th at Haddonfield Plays and Players.

Director Pat DeFusco selected an excellent show to follow up HPP’s 24 Hour Play Festival. Mr. DeFusco also directed that performance in which a number of writers crafted tales applicable to Twilight Zone episodes. It seemed appropriate that he would select Arthur Miller’s 1953 masterpiece The Crucible for his next endeavor.

In 1960 Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling developed his short story “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Avenue” into one of the series’ most memorable and chilling episodes. A power outage drove the residents of a suburban community into a state of madness, fear and paranoia. Their mania drove them to accuse one another of being the source of the anomaly. The horror in that piece didn’t lie in the supernatural, but in the way ‘normal’ people treated one another in the wake of an unexplainable event. Apply that premise to the seventeenth century and one has the world of The Crucible.

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible to draw parallels between the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and the McCarthyism he experienced during the 1950s. While lacking in historical accuracy, the play made for some gripping theatre. It brought audiences uncomfortably close to a world of ambition, greed and selfishness exacerbated by suspicion.

For a settlement predicated upon deep religious convictions, the Massachusetts Bay Colony sure contained a host of unscrupulous characters.

Nick French played an exceptional Reverend Parris. Mr. French performed like a man possessed…with a gift for acting. The method with which he enacted the character’s quick temper brought out the reverend’s demons. Mr. French’s vocal inflections captured Parris’ anxiety over losing his job due to the ‘bewitched’ girl in his household. I also enjoyed the animated way he argued over the wages and firewood the congregation owed him. Mr. French’s portrayal allowed me to understand why so many of Salem’s residents were skipping services on Sundays.

Grace Narducci played 17 year old Abagail Williams. Ms. Narducci made Abigail into the embodiment of evil itself. Ms. Narducci’s facial expressions captured the malice lurking behind her character’s eyes. She also demonstrated Abigail’s duplicity just as believably. The performer entered into a frenzy of trembling and shaking while being attacked by spirits. They always seemed to strike her at the most opportune moments. Ms. Narducci’s convincing performance showed Abagail capable of the horrific things she did. Bravo and a belated Happy Birthday to Ms. Narducci.

The Putnams made for an interesting couple. Gary Werner portrayed landowner Thomas Putnam. The character stood to acquire land from someone he accused of witchcraft. His wife, Ann Putnam (played by Andrea Veneziano), accused a midwife of witchcraft due to several of her children dying in childbirth.

And then there was Judge Danforth (played by Robert Bush). Reverend Hale (played by Taylor Brody) asked him to postpone the executions of seven people convicted of witchcraft. The judge opted not to because, to paraphrase using modern parlance: “We’ve already executed 12 people. If we let these people live it would look bad.” That’s an extreme way to make a decision based on sunk costs.

Even had the witch trials never occurred one suspects 1690s Salem still would have provided ample fodder for playwrights.

To balance this company of the conniving, Mr. Miller included noble characters.

Justin Walsh delivered an outstanding portrayal of John Proctor. The character endured a conflict between the man he was and the man he wanted to be. Mr. Walsh concretized it brilliantly through his interactions with Ms. Narducci and Marissa Wolf.

Taylor Brody portrayed the change in Reverend Hale very well. While first a proponent of the witch trials, his doubt grew as they progressed. Mr. Brody showed the character’s development in a very measured way.

Marissa Wolf played an outstanding Elizabeth Proctor. Ms. Wolf demonstrated the torment her character experienced over both a troubled marriage and the fear she’d be accused of witchery. The performer selected exceptional facial expressions and modulated her voice with extraordinary skill all evening. Her enactment of her character’s inner strength during the show’s final moments was without peer.

This summer I watched Marissa Wolf deliver a powerful soliloquy during a production of The Laramie Project at the Maple Shade Arts Council. With the final scene in The Crucible, Ms. Wolf showed she can express thoughts just as compellingly without words.

Mr. DeFusco has a reputation for producing work of the highest quality. Even by that standard, The Crucible featured fantastic direction.

The opening captured the audience’s attention. While Tituba (Salina Nicole Miller) and the girls of Salem danced in the woods, a fog machine generated a ghostly mist that enveloped the stage. The background projection of a forest at dusk with a small fire in the foreground added to the eerie ambiance. Mr. DeFusco’s decision to have Reverend Parris enter the through the aisle aided in bringing the spectators into the story.

The trial scene burned like white heat. Mr. DeFusco still enhanced the intensity. Mr. Walsh and Ms. Narducci gave each other looks of unvarnished hostility while walking past one another. This brief incident was both well-conceived and well-performed. It made this pivotal scene even more dramatic.

The distress in the story required performers to cry on stage. Sarah Dolhansky’s character (Mary Warren) played the majority of these emotional incidents. Ms. Dolahnsky’s performance brought out the fear and torment tearing at her character.

Mr. Miller wrote late-seventeenth century verbiage and syntax into the script. The entire cast deserves credit for navigating this challenging dialog. The performers also managed to deliver it in ways so that I could understand its meaning.

Justin Mead designed authentic period costuming for this show. He demonstrated solid attention to historical detail with the buckles the reverends and judges wore on their shoes.

I’d also acknowledge Tami Funkhouser for her portrayal of Rebecca Nurse. Ms. Funkhouser’s make-up was marvelous. When she first appeared on stage I didn’t recognize her.

The Crucible contained an extensive cast. Other members included: Emma Scherz, Salina Nicole Miller, Sophia Frances, Rachel Aspen, Cassidy Scherz, Sera Scherz, Sabrina Gipple, Rebecca Kaserkie, Penelope Incollingo, Joe Sweeney, Kristine Bonaventura, Sheila McDonald, Doug Cohen, Julieann Calabrese, Tina Currado, Melynda Morrone, Tony Killian, Peter Tancini, Kacper Miklus, Ben Morris, Jeremy Noto, Dennis Dougherty, and Olivia Bee Sposa.

The following individuals completed the production team: Artistic Coordinator Nicole DeRosa Lukatis, Producer Sue C. Stein, Stage Manager and Light Board Operator Omi Parrilla-Dunne, Lighting Design Chris Miller, Properties Anna Diaczynski and Donna Scherz, Set Construction Mike Snyder. In addition to directing, Pat DeFusco served as Artistic Director, Set Designer, Sound Designer and Engineer.

When first performed The Crucible provided disturbing commentary on the Salem Witch Trials with latent parallels to McCarthyism. Is it still relevant sixty-six years later?

Last October your correspondent attended a three part lecture series on the Salem Witch Trials. Mickey DiCamillo, the President of the Historical Society of Moorestown, delivered them. Mr. DiCamillo explored the socio-political dimensions of this disturbing episode in American history. He explained that three elements led to the trials: Puritan society was divided into many factions, a rampant belief that the government lacked the capability to govern and what he termed an internal “fear factor.”

During The Crucible Judge Danforth asked those accused: “Have you seen Satan?” This reviewer saw him in most of the characters portrayed on stage. To quote a Black Sabbath lyric:

When you listen to fools

The mob rules.

 The Crucible runs through October 26th at Haddonfield Plays and Players.

Lecture Review – “The Music of World War II” by Dr. Sheldon Winkler

At first I thought it unusual for a dentist to present a lecture on the music of the 1940s. Then I discovered that dentist was Sheldon Winkler. Appropriately enough, Dr. Winkler cut his teeth back in the early 1950s as the band leader for Sheldon Winkler and His Orchestra. While he didn’t share any of his chops with this audience he presented some great stories behind the great music of the Second World War. The Moorestown Library hosted his lecture on August 20th.

Dr. Winkler possesses tremendous range; well beyond that of most musicians. He previously served as the Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Prosthodontics and Dean of Research, Advanced Education, and Continuing Education at the Temple University School of Dentistry. Now he is Professor Emeritus at Temple University. Currently, he’s an Adjunct Professor at the School of Dental Medicine, Midwestern University located in Glendale, Arizona. The man doesn’t rest. I’d note that when he has time he delivers a lecture on music history that can’t be beat.

Dr. Winkler discussed the stories behind a number of war time classics. Some songwriters used their craft to convey a political point. He explained that Nat Burton wrote the lyrics for “The White Cliffs of Dover” to encourage American participation in the war. The speaker noted that the lyricist took some poetic license with the words. No bluebirds inhabit the United Kingdom.

Of interest to local historians, the professor talked about the local connection to some of the era’s most well-known tunes. A South Jersey clergyman inspired one of the war’s most popular songs. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Haddonfield resident Chaplain Howell Forgy issued the famous declaration, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” to his shipmates aboard the USS New Orleans. The expression inspired Frank Loesser to write the war time anthem of the same name.

Dr. Winkler endeavors to have an historic plaque placed on Chaplain Forgy’s Haddonfield home. His efforts are ongoing.

Any Philadelphia Flyers fan knows Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America.” Dr. Winkler shared the song’s origins. In 1938 Ms. Smith and her manager Ted Collins approached Irving Berlin. They asked him to write something she could use on her radio program. Mr. Berlin resurrected a tune he’d written during World War One, but never used. He modified it a bit and presented it to Ms. Smith. It became her signature song. Decades later it became a staple at the Broad Street Bullies’ home games.

During the Second World War a movement began to replace the “Star Spangled Banner” with “God Bless America” as the National Anthem. Dr. Winkler explained that it seemed Ms. Smith, Mr. Collins and Mr. Berlin the only people who opposed the change. With the global conflict raging, they didn’t believe it enough of a “war song.”

To borrow a quote from Rod McKuen, Dr. Winkler showed that, “1939 -1945 was a terrible time for the world, but it was a glorious time for songs.” His lecture also served as the most enjoyable hour I’ve spent in the presence of a dentist. The speaker based the talk on his book The Music of World War II: War Songs and Their Stories.

Night of 1000 Plays at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Last night I discovered one of the lesser known verities about South Jersey. The Garden State serves as home to a host of creative dramatists. Fortunately for theatrical fans, Haddonfield Plays and Players provided these budding Ibsens, Ephrons and Simons with a forum to exhibit their art. With their Night of 1000 Plays, the company turned over their stage to these newcomers. I attended the second annual installment of this program on June 8th.

The stylistic range impressed me. The evening included a host of comedies, some solid dramas as well as a topical tragedy. A cautionary tale regarding the perils of not knowing The Rules to Save a Princess framed the program.

Relationships served as the most popular muse for South Jersey’s playwrights. The excerpt from Lili Myers’ The Gentle Indifference of the World (directed by Jennie Pines) explored the dynamics between four friends played by Ms. Myers, Ricky Conway, Moses Ali and Isabella Capelli. The piece contained an impressive amount of conflict and drama. Amber Kushing’s He Loves Me Not (directed by Eilis Skamarakis) allowed performers Jessi Meisel, Jeff Skomsky, and Kahil A. Wyatt to explore one woman’s struggle through an abusive relationship. Mr. Wyatt also played a witty “bad boy” as the title character in Patti Perry’s Nephew Nemesis (directed by Jeannine James). Rebecca Dilks, San Safeer and Gina Lerario rounded out the cast in this oblivious and dysfunctional family. John Cassidy’s The Teenage Boys Society (directed by Tony Yates) focused on social as well as romantic relationships. It surveyed the trials of adolescence through performers Kahlil A. Wyatt, Ricky Conway, Tony Yates, Jennie Pines and Jeff Skomsky.

Other playwrights delivered some unconventional takes on family relationships. John Cassidy’s The Golden Rule  (directed by Jennie Pines) presented to most unusual metaphor for salted butter this reviewer has ever encountered. Performers Nicole Lukaitis, Dan Safeer, Lili Myers, Isabella Capelli and Brenna Dougherty took on the various family roles in this piece.

Playwright Rich Renner crafted two vignettes influenced by observational humor. In Lisa’s Carpet (directed by Eilis Skamarakas), performers Dan Safeer, Kahlil A. Wyatt and Sheila McDonald showed the risks of trying to cover up household accidents. The same playwright also made a spectacle of the absurdity of using too many spectacles. Night Glasses (directed by Amber Kusching) showed performers Robert Bush and Debby Tighe coping with this situation as it kept them up at night.

The three acts of Casey Tingle’s (directed by the playwright and Nicole Lukaitis) The Rules to Saving a Princess occurred at the beginning, the middle and the end of the evening. Performers Jennie Pines, Krista Reinhardt, Tony Yates, Nicole Lukaitis and Ricky Conway brought this tale to the stage.

Susan Goodell’s No History (directed by Amber Kusching) showed how an unusual classified ad can lead to an uncomfortable Holiday dinner. Performers Krista Reinhardt, Sheila McDonald and Robert Bush allowed the audience to sit in on this comical Christmas chronicle.

The comedy continued with pieces such as Patti Perry’s April Fools (directed by Jeannine James).  Performers Rebecca Dilks, Jeff Skomsky, Sheila McDonald, and Kahlil A. Wyatt enacted a macabre series of jokes that led to an unexpected consequence. John Cassidy’s Artistic Architecture (directed by Eilis Skamarakas) allowed Jessi Meisel to instruct Moses Ali, Brenna Dougherty and Ricky Conway on a rather unconventional approach to the subject.

Taylor Blum crafted a dramatic take on the theme of relationships in Shattered Glass (directed by Amber Kushing). Ricky Conaway delivered a powerful monologue to enhance the writing.

The program included two high minded dramas. Both exceeded this reviewer’s expectations.

Sera Scherz crafted an impressive piece in the form of Through My Eyes (directed by Jeannine James and assistant directed by Sera Scherz). It featured performers Brenna Dougherty and Lili Myers alternating lines as they addressed the audience. The play explored the themes of vengeance, bigotry and forgiveness. Debby Tighe, Jeff Skomsky and Ricky Conway rounded out the cast.

Amber Kusching’s haunting When I Fell in Love (directed by Tony Yates) surveyed the themes of devotion and tragic loss. The playwright placed all three characters in different locations while they spoke indirectly to one another. The play also included sophisticated symbolism. Gary Werner, Nicole Lukatis and Isabella Capelli all delivered impassioned performances bringing the script to life.

While advertised as a Night of 1000 Plays, the Haddonfield Plays and Players could have also called the evening the Night of 1000 Roles. The individuals who participated in this endeavor stayed busy. Most of the performers worked in various capacities in multiple plays. Ricky Conway performed in six of them, Kahlil A. Wyatt in five and Jeff Skomsky in four. Nicole Lukaitis performed in three and directed one. Jennie Pines performed in two and directed two. Jeannine James, Isabella Capelli, Eilis Skamarakis and Amber Kusching each directed three. Ms. Kushing also wrote two of the shows presented.

In addition to her multifarious other roles, Nicole Lukaitis served as the overall program producer. I’d compliment her and stage manager Omaira Parrilla-Dune for providing such a professional environment for these playwrights to showcase their creativity. I’d also express gratitude in allowing audiences to enjoy them.

Pat DeFusco did an exceptional job as the stage announcer. His witty asides added to the evening’s entertainment value.

In the 1930s Paris became famous for its American expatriate community. Notables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Gertrude Stein emigrated there to practice their craft. Just shy of a century later, South Jersey is developing into a similar community for aspiring writers and playwrights.

For those who missed the opportunity to experience Night of 1000 Plays during its limited run, don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll have the chance to attend plays written by these playwrights again. Just perhaps, the next time they’ll be featured in a city located slightly north of the South Jersey area.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Haddonfield Plays and Players

I never would’ve thought it possible to combine themes like desire, dishonesty and the use of alcohol in the same story. I guess that shows I need to get out more often. So it was ironic, really, that I discovered a play with these themes during a night out. I attended the opening night performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof directed by Bill C. Fikaris at Haddonfield Plays and Players  on May 11th.

Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece explored the dynamics between members of a Southern family. I found it interesting that Mr. Fikaris applied the ‘family’ premise to casting. The show included a pair of sisters (Shae Harris and Shani Harris), a brother and sister (Harper Carney and Quinn Carney), a father and daughter (Gary Werner and Gabrielle Werner) and a mother and son (Amanda Frederick and Wesley Frederick). I thought it nice to see a mom and her son sharing the stage over Mother’s Day weekend.

Bill Gates once said, “If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake.” Maggie (played by Ashley Griffiths) came to this realization herself. Then she applied it in a way Mr. Gates wouldn’t have approved. She married Brick (played by Ken Hellings): a former football player and the potential heir to Big Daddy’s fortune. With the patriarch’s health in decline, only three potential obstacles could prevent her from achieving her dream. They included Big Daddy’s other son Gooper (played by Benjamin Morris) and his wife Mae (Amanda Frederick), Maggie’s and Brick’s childlessness and Brick’s alcoholism.

Ashley Griffiths played a stellar Maggie. The show opened with inscrutability regarding the nature of hers and Brick’s relationship. Ms. Griffiths’ performance kept the audience guessing. In the opening scene at hers and Brick’s bedroom, I thought her a lovelorn vixen hungry for her husband’s attention. In the course of their conversation she expressed an interest in having a child; quite an interesting statement after ridiculing her nieces and nephews for having “no necks.” This revelation combined with her seductive charms intensified the sense of mystery.

Ms. Griffiths delivered her lines in a heavy Southern drawl. Her accent sounded more realistic than native Mississippians talked the last time I visited there. She managed to capture the dialect inherent in Williams dialog while still speaking in a way that I could understand.

The performer showed great skill in crying during the show’s climax. I won’t give away spoilers, but when one knows the reason, the action made Ms. Griffiths’ artistic choice much more impactful.

Ken Hellings brought the role of Brick to the stage. The character harbored bitter feelings regarding the death of a friend combined with resentment towards his wife. While ostensibly blaming “mendacity” as the source of his alcoholism, he drank to drown the pain. He delivered the best line in the show about imbibing until he got the “click” in his head.

Mr. Hellings delivered a superb performance pairing Brick’s anger with his alcoholism. Bringing the latter to the stage could prove quite a challenge for any thespian. From the way Williams crafted the character, Brick drank so much that he was more in danger of drowning than suffering the effects of cirrhosis. This character very well may have consumed more alcohol than Dr. Sloper in The Heiress.

This performer balanced Brick’s drinking with his rage well. I flinched when he broke one of his crutches after swinging it at his wife. Even though his character always drank, he still delivered his lines in a way I could understand. I liked how the slur in his voice gradually increased as the show progressed. I thought his acerbic, “Yes, sir” whenever Big Daddy asked him a question a nice touch.

In sports, managers always talk about having depth on the bench. The same goes for theatre. Due to unexpected circumstances, the actor slated to play Big Daddy couldn’t perform. Producer Pat DeFusco did an extraordinary job stepping in to play this crucial role. His deep, gravelly voice suited the character. Had it not been for the rare occasions when he glanced at the script, I wouldn’t have suspected him a (literal) last moment replacement.

The matriarch of the Brody Royal Family of South Jersey Community Theatre, Tami Brody, played a splendid Big Mama. The role entailed a range of emotions. Ms. Brody expressed happiness and relief to dealing with loss and her vulture-like relatives. While delivering lines like an authentic Southerner, the performer animated the character’s travails perfectly.

Benjamin Morris (as Gooper) and Amanda Frederick (as Mae) played Big Daddy’s son and daughter-in-law. They played a couple, to say it politely, very interested in their family’s financial future. Ms. Frederick and Ms. Griffiths seemed to compete as to which could play a greedy character better. As with any occurrence of friendly competition between performers, the audience ended up on the winning side.

The confrontation scene at the end of Act II made for the highlight of this show. It featured all the main characters arguing over the disposition of Big Daddy’s fortune. Big Daddy’s entrance towards the end of the scene made this dispute even more awkward. The performers took advantage of the opportunity to bring out their respective characters’ flaws; with the exceptions of Ms. Brody and Mr. DeFusco. They both demonstrated the humanity in their roles. It made for a terrific contrast.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featured marvelous atmospherics. I liked the color scheme on the set designed by Bill Fikaris and constructed by Glen Funkhouser. The background and the bedsheets appeared the color of the sky during a sunset. The blue lights behind the curtains made them the same hue as a cerulean sky.

When presenting a live performance, most directors focus on appealing to senses of sight and sound. Mr. Fikaris chose to add an applicable smell. During the show, Ms. Griffiths lit a cigarette, Mr. DeFusco puffed a cigar and Mr. Werner smoked a pipe. While I abhor the scent of tobacco (well, at least since I quit smoking) it helped bring me into the story. It made me feel like I sat, to borrow a line from Hamilton, “in the room where it happens.” That’s one of the benefits of attending live theatre that a person doesn’t experience at the movies.

One incident in the show made me a little nervous. Ms. Griffiths took up a bow and arrow. She then performed a quick demonstration on how to use it. This took place just a few feet in front of me. Whenever an actor takes up a weapon in my presence I worry. Are Haddonfield Plays and Players trying to send me a message?

Performers Philip Kehoe and Emma Scherz rounded out the cast.

“Mendacity” may have been one of the show’s themes, but I’m telling the truth when I write that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was phenomenal. Maggie asked a rhetorical question about how long a feline could remain on the top of a dwelling. While that inquiry remained unanswered, the show will stay on Haddonfield Plays and Players’ stage until May 26th.

Theater Review – Born Yesterday at Haddonfield Plays and Players

At first I thought Born Yesterday a bit dated. After all, this 1946 show featured some antediluvian characters one wouldn’t recognize in the modern era. Harry Brock was an unscrupulous businessman. He’s in Washington, D. C. ostensibly to ‘sight-see’ but in actuality to bribe a senator to pass favorable legislation for his company. Norval Hedges was a senator motivated by money, not the principles of American government. Ed Devery was a corrupt alcoholic attorney. He used to work for the Justice Department, but left public service to facilitate Mr. Brock’s unethical commercial endeavors. I’ll tell you: I really had to suspend my disbelief to buy into this story.

I had the privilege of watching the Haddonfield Plays and Players troupe present this piece on Friday, February 27th. They did an exceptional job. Al Maffei really brought Harry Brock’s character to life. He strutted about the stage like a modern day emperor surveying his domain. In the tone of a New York street thug he pretentiously barked orders to his underlings; in the character’s mind this meant everybody. The casual cigar flailing added a nice touch.

Emily Brennan turned in a fine performance as the lovable, but dull-witted Billie Dawn. I found her chemistry with her love interest/paramour/ educator Paul Verrall (played by Charlie Kirkwood) well done. It brought to mind Eliza Doolitle and Professor Henry Higgins only with much more edge to it. After Verall agreed to Harry’s offer of $200.00 per week to make Billie more compatible with Washington society, she decided to give him a bit of an education of her own. (Don’t worry, folks. If you don’t mind some bad language, you can bring the kids to this show.)

Brennan also showed outstanding chemistry with Maffei. After repeatedly describing Billie as a dullard, the two sat down to a game of gin. Unlike the audience, the two thespians managed to keep straight faces to Billie’s repeated shouts of “Gin!” To date, this scene represented the best comic exchange I’ve had the privilege of watching during live theater.

Billie’s transition served as the centerpiece of the drama.  Verrall’s exposing her to books and especially, left-wing political thought, moved the story forward. The comic japes and yuks made the story much more enjoyable. Without them, this would’ve been an evening long disquisition on the dark side of unfettered capitalism, political corruption and a jaded citizenry.

I mentioned left-wing political thought, right? I’d give the playwright, Garson Kanin, credit for not turning this into a dry polemic. I should point out that several characters described Harry Brock as a ‘fascist’. He admitted he was a dealer in ‘junk’; something he took pride in. The catalyst of Billie’s change worked as a writer for the New Republic.  Yeah, Kanin wasn’t very subtle in allowing his political views to come through in the text.

All three acts of this show took place in Suite 67D in the best hotel in Washington, D. C. The crew did a phenomenal job with the set design. It included most of the suite with the exception of the kitchen and the two bedrooms. I liked that both of the latter were up a flight of stairs. That showed good attention to detail. At first I wondered if the show would keep my attention without scene changes. Thanks to the superb direction by Susan DeMinico and the performance by the cast, this issue didn’t arise.

The show runs through March 7th. I’d encourage anyone with an interest in a quality community theater performance, to see Born Yesterday presented by Haddonfield Plays and Players. While I described the show as a comedy, I should point something out. My opening remarks in this column were meant to be humorous. The more I thought about it. Born Yesterday first premiered in 1946. Unfortunately, many of the serious themes explored in the performance are just as relevant today. No amount of histrionic prowess can make that funny.

Restaurant Review – The British Chip Shop

            I decided to commemorate my British heritage by taking a trip to Haddonfield, New Jersey. I did this not because the British occupied it  three times during the Revolutionary War, but rather to feast on some English cuisine. The Union Jack hanging outside the British Chip Shop on King’s Highway showed me I found the right place.

            I liked the homey feel of the décor. Solid red brick made up the walls. Various pictures of fox hunts and famous Brits adorned them. Of course, as a writer and public speaker I appreciated the photo of Britain’s most famous Nobel Laureate, Sir Winston Churchill.  The red color of the interior made it seem much smaller that it’s actual capacity. (They also provide outdoor seating.) I settled right in and prepared for dishes that our friends across the pond enjoy.

            I informed my server that I’d never been to this establishment. He recommended that genuine British stand-by: the Fish and Chips. (Patrons may order one of three different sizes ranging in price from $9.00 to $15.00.) I’ve enjoyed Fish and Chips before, but never like this. The fish had a crunchy exterior, yet it flaked easily on the inside. I didn’t require a knife to cut it.

            The quality of the chips surprised me the most. I’ve always thought that the Irish had a monopoly on proficient potato preparation. Apparently, some of that aptitude made its way across the Irish Sea to Great Britain. The chips (or “fries” as we Yanks call them) tasted so fresh I thought the chef just peeled them. I can’t recall a time when I enjoyed my entire meal, yet the quality of the potatoes stood out the most. I applaud the British Chip Shop for this feat.

            I really enjoyed the Fish and Chips, but that seemed a bit banal in terms of sampling British food. I know my readers expect something more from me. Such are the perils of being an internet food critic. I stopped by the British Chip Shop for dinner one evening and, once again, had to try something with potatoes.

            I began my meal with the Potato Leek Soup. ($5.00) A lot of places go broth heavy when it comes to soup: not the British Chip Shop. The large quantity of potatoes in the bowl surprised me. Once again, they tasted fresh as though someone just peeled them.

            For an entree I selected the Mussels in Ale. ($13.00) The sauce possessed a distinct flavor. It didn’t contain too much butter and tasted much milder than what I’m used to. At times clam sauce can make one’s taste buds feel as though they’ll explode off the tongue; not this one. I thought the sauce very smooth on the palette. I give the preparers great credit for getting the seasoning just right.  

            The dinner came with garlic flavored chips for dipping. These were actual “chips” not “fries”. Once again, I thought the seasoning perfect. The garlic tasted more temperate than what I expected.

            The only criticism I had involved the beverage. The second time I dined there I drank the iced tea which tasted fantastic. On my first visit I wanted to try something I couldn’t get anywhere else. I ordered a can of Barritt’s Ginger Beer. (This is Haddonfield so the drink contained no alcohol.) It initially had a sharp ginger flavor that gave way to a sweet aftertaste, almost like syrup. The drink contained 200 calories and 49 grams of sugar. Between the caffeine and the sugar, I didn’t know if I’d be able to sit still long enough to finish my meal. With all that noted, I would point out that I wanted to try something different and Barritt’s certainly delivered. I can’t fault the establishment for that.

            The British Chip Shop received an “Excellent” Zagat’s rating in 2013. They lived up to it on both occasions I dined there. The British have invaded Haddonfield for a fourth time. This time it looks like they’re here to stay.

  

             

Restaurant Review – Cross Culture: Fine Indian Cuisine

            For years I’ve been looking for a way to satisfy my hunger while at the same time alleviating seasonal spring allergies. As I strolled down King’s Highway in Haddonfield, NJ this April, I found the solution. It appeared in the form of Cross Culture: Fine Indian Cuisine. I stepped into the restaurant expecting to see a lot of maize on the menu. I then realized this establishment specialized in food from the Subcontinent of India and not Native Americans. In spite of my initial confusion, I decided to stick around for lunch. After all, I’d heard that Indian food possessed a reputation for a “spicy” flavor. As I battled the twin maladies of hunger and sinus congestion, I figured I’d address both at the same time.

            Upon visiting an eatery for the first time I check out the Men’s Room. Someone once admonished me, “If the bathroom’s in bad shape, what does the kitchen looks like?” I felt very relieved to see that the bathroom wasn’t simply clean; I would call it elegant. Dark blue tiles covered the walls from waist level to the floor. On the wall above them appeared sketchings drawn against a beige back-drop. On one side of the room a drawing of a branch decorated the wall, on the other a mermaid. They designed the sink in the shape of a large bowl. I don’t mean to gush about this, but I don’t regularly visit rest rooms I would classify as “beautiful”.

            I thought the dining room ambiance outstanding. Decorative strips of cloth hung on the walls to give a true flavor of India. I really liked that authentic Indian music played on the loudspeaker. Whenever I go to a restaurant that features non-American cuisine I like to get a sense of the culture where the food originated. I truly received that at Cross Culture. I give them major kudos for getting that done.

            I started my feast with a Masala Ice Tea. I’d never eaten Indian before. To my surprise this drink served as my first introduction to that legendary “spicy” flavor. I didn’t expect that from a cold beverage. I really savored the sharp flavor of the tea leaves. While it tasted unique, I do like strong caffeinated beverages.  When the time came I did get a refill.

            I decided to start my meal with a bowl of Mulligatawny Soup. The menu described it as “an Anglo-Indian invention of split pea soup.” I quickly realized how Indian food earned it reputation for spiciness. While spicy, I could still discern the flavor of the peas. The preparers also put a lemon in the soup which added some bitterness to offset the spices.

I’ve had my share of pea soup over the years and have found it rather plain. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Mulligatawny Soup tasted very flavorful, and dare I use the word, interesting. It reminded me of Snapper Soup with a drop of Sherry, but much more tasty.

I received bread with my meal, but not the kind I’m used to. Cross Culture served a flat bread with garlic. I’d compare it to a white pizza only without the cheese. It had just the right amount of garlic. I could taste it, but at the same time, it wouldn’t lead to a mass extermination of vampires if I breathed on them.  I’ve noticed a lot of Italian places tend to overload meals with garlic.  This Indian establishment didn’t fall into that trap.

Then the time for the main course arrived. It’s not often that I can describe a meal as both delicious and entertaining. I ordered the Tandoori Special. It consisted of Lamb, Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Malai Kebab and Chicken Tikka. The server gave it to me on a hot plate. I’ve received meals on hot plates before, but this one pushed the envelope. I got to see something I’ve never witnessed in all my years of dining out. The chicken was a bright red hue. Smoke poured off of it. This went on for a good several minutes. As time passed I felt relieved they didn’t seat me under a fire sprinkler.

Once the smoke cleared—literally—I took a bite. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never eaten chicken this tender. For comparison I thought it more tender than the lamb. That stunned me. I didn’t think it possible to prepare chicken like that. I also experienced a shock in that neither the chicken nor the lamb tasted spicy.

The meal came with two sauces for dipping. One was a sweet prune sauce which verily lived up to its description. For comparison’s sake, Easter candy tastes about as sugary as a hot dog compared to this sauce. I thought it very good, though. The server said most patrons combine it with the spicy appetizers. I tried it with my meats and liked it.

My server recommended the second dipping sauce for meats.  As he informed me it had a “bit of a kick to it.” I believe he referred to it as a mint chutney sauce. It contained yogurt, of all things, and still tasted spicy. For the second time during the same meal, I learned something about food I never would’ve thought possible.

As I wrote before, all the meats tasted very tender. I enjoyed them both with and without the sauces.

My meal also included white rice. People who don’t like spicy foods would enjoy that the most. It tasted like plain rice.

I’ve made a lot of references to the food being spicy. I didn’t think it “too” spicy, however. I noticed that I didn’t touch my water the entire meal. I drank the iced tea which also had a sharp taste to it. I didn’t feel a burning sensation in my mouth and my stomach didn’t get upset at any point during or after eating. I enjoy food with a good pop to it, and I didn’t think anything overly hot. Cross Culture got it just right.

            Based on the sizes of the portions I thought the prices a little high. To be fair to Cross Culture, they are a fine dining establishment. I didn’t feel slighted or cheated. I certainly enjoyed my meal and didn’t leave hungry.

According to Cross Culture’s menu, Zagat rated them “excellent.” I agree with that assessment. I felt very satisfied and relished the opportunity to learn about food from another society. All the spicy foods cleared my sinuses during allergy season, so that served as an added bonus. For anyone looking for an interesting dining experience, I’d strongly encourage him/her to “spice” up his/her diet with some fine Indian cuisine. Take the opportunity to cross cultures in Haddonfield, New Jersey.