Steve Kreal

Harvey at the Village Playbox

Easter is coming a little early this year compliments of the Village Playbox. The company presented a show featuring a six-foot one-inch tall rabbit. This cottontail issued something other than candy, however. The treats he delivered brought either good or bad fortune to those he chose. To complicate matters, only one person could see him. Nevertheless, he made his presence known through the vehicle of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize winning comedy Harvey. Your correspondent attended the February 2nd performance.

Elwood P. Dowd (played by Michael Hicks) made his sister (Veta Louise Simmons) hopping mad. His either talking to or about an invisible rabbit named Harvey impeded her and her daughter’s (Myrtle Mae Simmons played by Amy Bannister) efforts to move into high society. Veta decided to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium. While explaining the situation with Elwood and “Harvey” to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) she became distressed. Assuming that she must be the person requiring treatment, he committed her and released Elwood.

Veta’s attorney Judge Omar Gaffney (Jay Burton) became involved as did the physician managing the sanitarium, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Klotz). The ensuing search for Elwood led to a series of misunderstandings, comedic hijinks and surprises.

Anita Rowland (assisted by Jan Johnston) directed an entertaining show. The cast made it a spectacular one.

Michael Hicks turned in an award worthy performance as Elwood. The character’s love of humanity came through every moment he occupied the stage. Mr. Hicks smiled often while delivering his lines with warmth and charm. In his scene with taxi driver EJ Lofgren (played by Jason Pollock), Mr. Hicks shook his hand and sounded genuine when insisting he come over for dinner. This occurred just minutes after the two met.

Mr. Hicks had the challenge of working with an invisible sidekick. Elwood described Harvey as a pooka: a spirt that appeared to him in the form of a six foot plus rabbit. Mr. Hicks showed imagination working with this fictional figure. He looked upwards when addressing Harvey. Once he even gave the pooka a friendly wink. Mr. Hicks would either move out of the way or ask others to “make way” for Harvey when walking about the set. His actions showed that whether Harvey existed or not, his character believed he did.

While Phyllis Josephson has done spectacular comedic work all throughout South Jersey, something about the Village Playbox inspires Ms. Josephson to exhibit her best humorous skills. During the winter of 2019, Ms. Josephson appeared in the farcical Noises Off! the company presented. Her portrayal of Veta Louise Simmons brought that classic performance to mind.

Ms. Josephson used a superb delivery when explaining to Dr. Sanderson (Dan McDevitt) why she wanted Elwood committed. She started off calm and steadily became more excited. By the end of her monolog she sounded unhinged. Mr. McDevitt played the perfect straight man in this scene. Other than his jittery finger against the call buzzer, he remained composed.

Ms. Josephson made a comedic entrance as only she could. With her hair disheveled, she stumbled through the door of the library. After collapsing on the couch, she staggered through an explanation to her attorney (Jay Buton) and daughter about getting stripped when mistakenly admitted to the sanitarium.

Amy Bannister’s reaction made this the best scene in the show. Ms. Bannister raised and lowered her eyebrows several times. She kept an arch smile on her face until pressing Ms. Josephson for details. Then she became very serious.

The script included two sets of couples. Their interactions created a host of humorous moments.

Steve Kreal played the sanitarium strong man. He spoke with a tough voice and moved with the grace of a gorilla. His character developed a romantic interest in Amy Bannister’s. Mr. Kreal expressed his feelings with the same rough vocal inflection. Ms. Bannister’s coy responses made their exchanges even funnier.

Dan McDevitt and Ashley Trasser (as Nurse Kelly) played a comedic version of star-crossed lovers. While professing not to like Nurse Kelly, Mr. McDevitt would let some double entendres slip past his lips. Ms. Trasser used perfect facial expressions to show what her character felt. In the course of praising Dr. Sanderson to Veta, Ms. Trasser turned an encomium into a sultry sermon.

Jennifer Maienza portrayed both Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet and Mrs. Betty Chumley. As the former, Ms. Maienza became the caricature of a wealthy woman. She wore a large red hat and a garish blouse of the same hue. Ms. Maienza adopted the parody of an upper-class voice for her character. The whole personna reminded this reviewer of something from a Three Stooges short.

Chuck Klotz played Dr. Chumley as a psychiatrist more anxious than his patients. He used a great voice for the character. It worked very well for when he told Elwood his life’s ambition. The glasses perched at the end of his nose were a nice touch.

Performers Donna Allen and Jason Pollock completed the cast.

The Production Team included: Stage Manager Donna Allen, Set Construction and Lighting/Sound Effects Gary Kochey, Set Painters Jan Johnson, Chris Dziczek and Anita Rowland. Ms. Rowland also handled the costuming along with Amy Bannister.

Harvey may or may not have been real, but the fun was. Those interested in an entertaining evening of theatre don’t need to rub a lucky rabbit’s foot. They should just hop over to the Village Playbox this February. The audience won’t need to be offered a carrot to keep the laughter multiplying during Harvey. Community theatre fans can chew on that until the show closes on February 15th.

 

Night of 1000 Plays at Haddonfield Plays and Players

The play’s the thing, William Shakespeare wrote. This June 7th and 8th, plays were about a lot of things. Haddonfield Plays and Players hosted their annual Night of 1000 Plays special program. The company presented 24 short pieces submitted by local playwrights. I attended the Saturday, June 8th performance.

HPP Artistic Director Pat DeFusco directed the program. Mr. DeFusco selected a variety of dramatic styles for this endeavor. They ranged from the comical (such as David Lewinson’s Crazy), to the topical (Allie Costa’s Failure to Communicate) to the absurd (Absurdity by Jim Moss). They even included a philosophical piece contrasting the ancients’ views of gender roles with the modern one. (RA Pauli’s Man & Woman) Drama containing powerful soliloquys made the bill, as well. (Scot Walker’s Whole and Lily’s Fine by John O’Hara.)

The program’s sequence reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Echoes. On that best of compilation, producers mixed various songs from the band’s catalog into a sequence. The arrangement made them flow together naturally. Some have said the mix makes the album sound like one song.

The same could be said of Mr. DeFusco’s arrangement for this program. Somehow all these diverse plays flowed well with one another. That’s a testament to Mr. DeFusco’s creativity.

The Haddonfield Plays and Players stage became a busy place on Friday and Saturday nights. They still managed to present all 24 plays in less than two hours. Your correspondent has a rule about writing: the running time of anything I review should be greater than the time it takes to read my assessment of it. To adhere to that philosophy, I’m going to borrow an idea from another show I attended at HPP. High Fidelity’s protagonist, Rob, had a “top five” list for everything. For this post, I’m going to present my “top six” plays performed.

Two shows impressed through their imaginative use of language. Ron Baruch’s Love (directed by Pat DeFusco) took a minimalist approach. The playwright selected a difficult setting in which to do so. Amber Kusching played a director instructing two actors on how to play a scene. Performers Maddox Morfit-Tighe and Cassidy Scherz enacted a heartwarming result.

Jack Helbig crafted creative language in Thinking of Her Made Him Think of Her (directed by Bill Fikaris). The dialog included repetition a bit reminiscent of some passages in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. Performers Zach Martin and Amanda Barrish played a couple expressing their inner feelings towards one another. Repeating the same words in different context can become comparable to speaking in tongue twisters. Both performers handled this challenge flawlessly.

George Sapio also used language ingeniously in his The One-Minute Mamet (directed by Pat DeFusco). Anecdotally it’s said that the average person uses only 23 different English words during a 24 hour period. Based on Mr. Sapio’s dialog, it seems Mr. Mamet gets by with two. Performers Lisa Croce, Pat DeFusco, Andrea Veneziano, Victor A. Martinez and Steve Kreal expressed the delicate nuances of the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s prose.

Playwright John O’Hara drew on the subject of theatre for his work. Cast (directed by Omi Parrilla-Dunne) envisioned what happens to actors after they die. Performers Steve Kreal, Lisa Croce, Connor Twigg and Lili Myers took the audience on a journey through the theatrical equivalent of the afterlife.

Mr. O’Hara’s Fan-Tastic (directed by Pat DeFusco) presented a twist on the traditional sports bar. The playwright envisioned the concept of a “theatre bar”: a place where supporters of the arts could pound a few brewskies with like-minded people. Performers Steve Kreal, Bonnie Kapenstein, Victor A. Martinez and Pat DeFusco brought this world to life.

Patti Perry both wrote and directed the evening’s concluding piece, Young Miss Sissy Fanning. This parody of Inside the Actors’ Studio contemplated the extremes aging actresses will pursue in order to remain relevant. It featured performers Pat DeFusco, Bonnie Kapenstein, Ricky Conway, Lili Myers, Brynne Gaffney, Andrea Veneziano and Cassidy Scherz.

The following shows rounded out the program: Complete Stranger or Completely Strange written by Carol M. Rice and directed by Lisa Croce, Air Rage written by Shirley King and directed by Omi Parrilla-Dunne, Balls written by Emily Hageman and directed by Alex Hawthorne, Remove Your Belt and Shoes written by Shirley King and directed by Bill Fikaris, It’s All in the Breast written by Robin Rice and directed by Bill Fikaris, The Down-Low Dating Show written by Steven G. Martin and directed by Pat DeFusco, Pseudo-Human Resources written by Rex McGregor and directed by Randy Hendler, In the Heist written by Allie Costa and directed by Nicole DeRosa Lukatis, Diagnosis: Improv written by Peter Dakutis and directed by Amanda Frederick, Proverbs written by Donna Latham and directed by Lisa Croce, Post-Apocalyptic Romance written by JJ Steinfeld and directed by Amanda Frederick, and Suit Yourself written by Chip Bolick and directed by Alex Hawthorne.

This elaborate show contained an extensive cast and crew. The following actors performed in various skits: Amanda Barrish, Amber Kushing, Andrea Veneziano, Bobby Kramer, Bonnie Kapenstein, Brynne Gaffney, Cassidy Scherz, Connor Twigg, Debbie Tighe, Isabella Capelli, Lana Croce, Lili Myers, Lisa Croce, Liza Chesebro, Maddox Morfit-Tighe, Melynda Morrone, Pat DeFusco, Ricky Conway, Sarah Pardys, Sera Scherz, Steve Kreal, Victor A. Martinez, and Zach Martin.

Pat DeFusco produced the show and handled the sound and projection design, Omi Parilla Dunne stage managed and designed the lighting, and Kalman Dunne worked as the sound engineer. Lana Croce and Emma Scherz assisted the Stage Manager.

Night of 1000 Plays treated audiences to an entertaining evening of theatre. For those who missed it, Haddonfield Plays and Players has more opportunities for budding playwrights on their calendar. This August 24th, they will present a 24 Hour Play Festival. On September 13th and 14th, they will host a Teen One Act Play Showcase.

Haddonfield Plays and Players received an “overwhelming” number of submissions for Night of 1000 Plays. They presented 24 of them. Playwrights have crafted plays since the fifth century BC. In a world where sources of entertainment change regularly, theatre still retains its popularity. To paraphrase Shakespeare: the play will always be the thing.