Timothy Kirk

Little Women at Bridge Players Theatre Company

After spending Thanksgiving with family, audiences now have the opportunity to spend some time with one of the most iconic families in American literature; compliments of the Bridge Players Theatre Company. For the second show in their 2019 – 2020 season of “celebrating the joy, complexity and strength of women” the group presented Marian DeForest’s theatrical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Your correspondent boxed up his Thanksgiving leftovers, made an early New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and headed over to the theatre to spend an evening with the March family on November 30th.

In keeping with the upcoming Holiday Season, the story began in December 1863. The family lamented not having their father home for Christmas. (The War Between the States had inspired him to serve in the army.) While his daughters rehearsed for a play that Jo (played by Allie Shaw) wrote, their mother (Ashley Carragher) received word of Mr. March’s illness. She left their Concord home to attend to her husband in Washington. Following her departure, the March girls began their transformation from girls into women.

Director Maureen Broadbent wrote in the playbill: I am sure, however, that we can nonetheless relate to one or more of these characters in our own lives. The author and the playwright made it easy to do so. The writers ensured each of the four March daughters possessed their own unique traits.

Jo March (played by Allie Shaw) possessed the qualities of a non-conformist and temperamental artist. In keeping with mid-nineteenth century society’s conventions, Meg (played by Emily Rose O’Connell) longed to become a wife and mother. Amy (Mia Zambrano) harbored aspirations of becoming a woman of high society. Other than an interest in nature, the timid Beth (Arielle Kline), to put it charitably, didn’t share her sisters’ having ambitions.

These four diverse dispositions created myriad opportunities for conflict. The performers utilized the clashes for both dramatic and comedic effect. Ms. Zambrano delivered frequent mispronunciations when alluding to Jo’s lack of sophistication. Mr. Shaw’s book toss when discussing Meg’s pending engagement captured the character’s frustration. Ms. Shaw accomplishedly combined anger and humor when discovering Meg and John Brooke (played by Aaron Wachs) making their marital plans official. She called her parents by saying, “Mr. Brooke is being disagreeable with Meg (beat) and Meg’s liking it!”

SPOILER ALERT: Little Women also contained a nineteenth century version of a love triangle. Family friend, Teddy Laurence (Alex Stork), often took Amy on various excursions. He secretly longed for Jo’s love. Mr. Stork and Ms. Shaw both brought strong emotions into the scene when he expressed his feelings. Both performers made it a very powerful and uncomfortable episode to watch. Ms. Shaw became just as devastated while rejecting Mr. Stork’s advance as his character felt receiving her response to it.

Allie Shaw enacted Jo’s myriad emotional states magnificently. Ms. Shaw’s gift for facial expressions showed the passion within Jo. The performer executed wonderful overacting while performing Jo’s play-within-the-play. Ms. Shaw displayed the same skill during the tragic scenes. She also showed tenderness playing opposite Ms. Kline during Beth’s illness. Ms. Shaw turned in an all-around outstanding acting performance.

While the weekend after Thanksgiving is a busy one for most people, this reviewer found the attendance at the November 30th performance of Little Women disappointing. During a time of year when audiences will be inundated with plays, programs and movies featuring images of mutton chops, the sounds of British accents and the scenery of Victorian London, why not escape the monotony by enjoying a classic American story set in Civil War era Massachusetts?* Besides, the cast at Bridge Players Theatre turned in an incredible interpretation of it.

Other performers in the show included: Cynthia Young, Bob Rossi and Gavin Knox. Timothy Kirk, the current captain of the Bridge Players Theatre Company enterprise, played Mr. March.

The following served as members of the Production Team: Assistant Director Patti Keefer, Producer Gwen Ricks-Spencer, Stage Manager Lori Gilmore, Technical Director Kristian Kauker, Lighting Design/Lighting Technician Bob Beaucheane, and Set Construction Manager Bob Broadbent. Bob Broadbent, Dave McGrath, Bob Shaughnessy, Bob Rossi and the cast worked on set construction. Nora Krahenbuhl, Noelle Small and Mary Kay Hansen handled the costuming.

Your correspondent enjoyed the time he spent with the March family. The experience gave him something else for which to be thankful during this Thanksgiving weekend. Time is running out for those who haven’t had the opportunity. Make an early New Year’s Resolution to see Little Women at Bridge Players Theatre Company. The show runs through December 7th.

 

*It is with embarrassment that your correspondent acknowledges he’s never read Louisa May Alcott’s novel.

The Boys Next Door at Bridge Players Theatre Company

“I can’t tell if this is the saddest place I’ve ever been or the happiest,” social worker Jack observed. That’s a good summation of The Boys Next Door. It contained both a heart-rending and heart-warming story. I attending this opening night performance at the Bridge Players Theatre Company on February 1st. Edwin Howard directed.

The Boys Next Door related the stories of several men living at a group home. Arnold Wiggins (played by Stephen Jackson) possessed a compulsive and nervous disposition. Mentally retarded middle aged man Lucien P. Smith (Jay Scott Burton) had a fascination with books. Norman Bulanski (Matthew Brent) fixated on donuts and locks. Schizophrenic Barry Klemper (Jeff Skomsky) believed himself a golf instructor.

Case worker Jack Palmer (Thomas Everett) attended to these clients. The continuous struggles of helping these men fit into society strained him. He confessed to feeling burned out. “Either they deserve better or I deserve better,” he mused. Maintaining his composure proved a challenge.

Bridge Players’ production featured some powerful performances. Stephen Jackson played a convincing compulsive obsessive personality. His repeated counting, quick pacing and even faster talking captured Arnold’s essence. It’s difficult to speak clearly when delivering a machine-gun like barrage of words. I credit Mr. Jackson as he spoke in a way that I could still understand him.

Jay Scott Burton delivered the most powerful speech in the show. After his genuine portrayal of a man with mental deficiencies, he stood upon a soap box. Mr. Burton delivered a disquisition on the plight of the mentally retarded. He animated playwright Tom Griffin’s dialog with authority.

Matthew Brent played the lovable donut aficionado, Norman Bulanski. Perhaps, because of that, his character was the only one with a love interest. His scenes with Lisa Croce (as Sheila, the resident of a different group home) made for the show’s most sentimental. I give Mr. Howard and the performers credit for not allowing this relationship to deteriorate into melodrama. Their portrayal of the conflict that resulted when Ms. Croce innocently asked for Mr. Brent’s keyes aided in that regard.

The most moving scene occurred at the end of Act One. Mr. Bulanski and Ms. Croce danced together. They performed a well-choreographed routine. They showed each character’s affection for each other by smiling the entire time. So did the audience.

Jeff Skomsky played an exceptional Barry. Through the serious way he discussed “business” and conducted his golf lessons, I had difficulty telling why the character was even in the group home. Then Barry found out that the father he hadn’t seen in nine years was coming to visit him. At this point, Mr. Skomsky brought out the character’s inner turmoil.

Mr. Skomsky kept a blank look on his face while staring straight ahead. In an eerie monotone he told unbelievable stories about Barry’s father. He described “Kipper” Klemper as a third base coach for the Yankees, a defensive coach for the 49ers and Ted Williams’ fishing buddy. The performer’s interpretation of Barry’s mental state showed that the two men’s reunion would not end happily.

This segued into the show’s most memorable scene. Russ Walsh played Mr. Klemper as socially inept and crass. When he asked Jack to leave the two alone, Mr. Everett paused and gave him an uncomfortable look. Mr. Walsh then showed the dark side of “Kipper” Klemper’s personality. He and Mr. Skomsky played a very unsettling scene together. The emotions involved and the quality of the acting made it very difficult to watch.

With characters of this nature, humor becomes a challenge. The cast and director conveyed it respectfully. One of the most comical moments occurred when a neighbor (played by Andrea Veneziano) visited. While sitting on the couch sandwiched between Mr. Brent and Mr. Skomsky she asked if they’d seen her son’s hamster. I’ll avoid giving away spoilers, but the startled looks on their faces showed that they had.

The production also included some spectacular lighting. It figured. Bob Beaucheane is one of the best lighting designers in South Jersey community theatre. The Boys Next Door showed why. The multi-colored lights that simulated the dance hall looked very authentic. It complimented the music very well. (Mr. Beaucheane also handled the sound design.) The full moon projected on the backdrop created a superb ambiance for the outdoor night scenes.

Bridge Players Theatre Company President Timothy Kirk rounded out the ensemble.

Director Edwin Howard wrote in the playbill:

In today’s world of tolerance and acceptance, sometimes we forget that everyone has wants and needs. Just because simple things are harder to do for some people, doesn’t mean they are any less human and deserve any less care and love.

The Boys Next Door is a solid commentary on these sentiments. The show runs through February 16th at the Bridge Players Theatre Company.