East Penn Press

Friday, November 16, 2018

Theater Review: Players' 'Chronicles' is pitch-perfect

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Who doesn't enjoy occasionally eavesdropping on strangers' conversations? Often, the juiciest sound bites are overheard in a bar.

In the Crowded Kitchen Players' "The Bartender Chronicles," weekends through June 28, Charles A. Brown Ice House, 56 River St., Bethlehem, the new play by Lehigh Valley playwright Brian McDermott, audiences will get an earful.

The setting is a small bar-restaurant in a resort in upstate New York's Lake George. The two-act play takes place beginning with Sunday brunch and later at dinner.

The play opens as bartender (John Cusumano) is readying the establishment for the brunch crowd.

The guests begin to file in and take places at their respective tables. A regular, Mr. Delacroix (Steven Rosenblum), silently takes a seat next to the bar, tablet computer in hand and held close to his face. He will remain seated and silent throughout the two-act performance as Cusumano and later on Karen (Susan Burnett) unload their relationship woes on the impassive Delacroix.

Characters are grouped into pairs such as siblings, Dottie (Pamela McLean Wallace) and Pearl (Patti Squire), who eventually reveal double infidelities with one another's spouse.

With the exception of Cusumano and Rosenblum, the performers play dual roles, as brunch turns to dinner in the second act.

The play is dialogue-centric with characters rarely interacting outside of their pairings save for Cusumano who mingles on occasion amongst the customers taking drink and meal orders and occasionally singing songs to both "guests" and the audience.

There is also an explosive scene in the second act between an entitled nightmare of a customer, Frank (Greg Rogers), Cusumano and George (Brian Wendt), a sweet man celebrating his one-year wedding anniversary to his wife, Mary (Rebecca Wenhold), with a fancy dinner he probably cannot afford.

Ginny (Lauri Beth Rogers), Frank's exasperated wife, looks at the other less-refined couple not with pity or disgust, but admiration for their pure love for one another.

Bill (Nick Nelson), on vacation with his new wife, Annie (Alexandra Racines), is shocked to encounter his ex-wife, Joan (Jeannie Olah), enjoying a retreat at the same resort.

Meanwhile, Paul (Brian McDermott) anxiously awaits to introduces his new husband, the free-spirited Joey (Thomas Rush), to judgmental sister Eloise (Lauri Beth Rogers) and her husband Matthew (Wendt).

In order to make a play like this work, the dialogue must be precise and playwright McDermott's scripting is pitch-perfect. Each pairing is a mini-story within the overall performance. The major themes are interpersonal relations, communication, social media, trust, failures, economic inequality, indecision and jealousy.

As noted in the playbill, Director Ara Barlieb aims for a style much like a documentary film and that is exactly how the play feels under his direction. You are the camera; panning around the stage as the dialogue quickly cuts in and out amongst characters. The play, although scripted, has a natural, improvisational feel akin to the mumblecore style of filmmaking.

The Crowded Kitchen Players' new home upstairs in the Ice House is a cozy intimate space. Barlieb has always been one of the most creative set designers around and he makes great use of the smaller stage.

Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling and lend a whimsical feel to the set. Sightlines are not obscured because of the three-tiered staging and the players are not cramped. Perhaps this is because of, in part, the many years of rehearsing in Pamela McLean Wallace's crowded kitchen from where the theater group derives its name.

Stage manager is Alexandra Racines and choreography is by Sarah Thomas. The play is co-produced by Barlieb and Wallace.

This smartly written and directed play will have you leaning forward, listening intently to each scenario as it unfolds and revelations come to light. "The Bartender Chronicles" is a voyeuristic delight.