Saturday, August 2, 2014


By Ruth Ross

Last night, I caught Series B of Chatham Community Players' 20th anniversary celebration of Jersey Voices. While there were some winners in the six one-act plays (actually five plays and a dance sequence), the quality fell a tad short of those offered in Series A. Nevertheless, it's worth going to see this bunch, if just to marvel at the troupe's hits of the last two decades.

More loosely than Series A, this group of plays centers around love in various incarnations: filial love, marital love, friendship, and the love of a mother for her "lost" son. The only two offerings that don't quite fit the mold are the dance sequence, Executive Dreams (unless one considers it to be a love of fantasy) and a playlet exploring the frustrations of a woman attempting to get her landline phone's dial tone fixed.

The most successful, and heart-wrenching, play and performance is that of Terri Sturtevant in Mary Jane Walsh's Ping (directed by Arnold J. Buchiane), wherein Sturtevant delivers a monologue revealing a mother's poignant love and care for an adult son who, suffering from schizophrenia, lives in a box on the street and pushes a golf cart around New York City all day. Each day, this stalwart woman (who has moved from her suburban New Jersey home to a tiny New York apartment to be closer to Ping) leaves breakfast for him outside his box—early, so the coffee will be hot—and otherwise keeps an eye on her child. Sturtevant delivers Walsh's natural dialogue with a masterful alternation between sunny pride and tears. There wasn't a dry eye in the theater as the lights dimmed.

In a similar vein, Eric Alter's Ties (directed by Jon DeAngelis) examines the very strained relationship between a young man and his dying father. The two have not spoken in 10 years, not since the father rejected his son when the teenager came out as gay. Now, through a chance phone call to his mother, the two speak and come to a sort of détente as the father instructs his son on how to "make a tie" so he'll be presentable for a job interview. The best acting here is turned in by Michael King (left, in bathrobe); his halting admissions of wrong are moving. As Andrew (the son), Matthew Cronin (right) takes a while to get going; his "driving" doesn't look very believable (gotta turn that steering wheel sometimes), but his anguished tears are convincing. Frederick Gallo as Andrew's boyfriend Greg is wooden. The play could use some judicious editing to tighten up the dramatic arc; the dialogue between Andrew and Greg goes on far too long. It's really needed for exposition, not so much to build dramatic tension.

Fruppum, Alabama (written by John P. Dowgin; directed by Joann Lopresti Scanlon) is kind of like the film score for Deliverance, but this time it could be called "Dueling Gas Stations." The dialogue between two old geezers sitting in front of their competing gas stations is interrupted several times by travelers seeking a map, snacks and spark plugs, all of which are available at Zeke's station, but not at Rufus' Gas-o-rama. When modern life enters, the differences begin to show and the quiet one wins the day. Kevern Cameron is a delight as the garrulous Rufus, who cannot believe that Zeke, played by a taciturn Jim Clancy, has one-upped him in business. Chip Prestera (above right, with Kevern Cameron) has a fine time portraying various travelers. The conclusion brought down the house.

Similar to Series A's Grandparents Day, Couples Therapy presents a couple (married, this time, to each other) spilling their guts to an unseen marriage counselor. Colleen Grundfest (left) and Lewis Decker (right) reveal secrets long kept (although one wonders if they haven't been manufactured of whole cloth by one just to stick it to the other), complaints about sex or the lack thereof, financial expectations—in short, problems that plague many marriages. The two hurl accusations in a loving way, despite the hurt inflicted on each other. Amanda Mayer's dialogue sounds natural and convincing; director Steve Catron gets his two actors to do it justice.


Of all the plays, Tech Support was the one everyone in the audience related to, given the laughter of recognition it elicited. Henry Meyerson has written a script with universal appeal, for who hasn't called Technical Support for some gadget (in this case, a landline telephone with no dial tone), only to have to answer myriad questions to a recording and then deal with a series of technicians in various locales? As she attempts to get such support, Elizabeth Royce (left) has a meltdown of major proportions; it appears that she has been waiting for an important call and fears not being able to get it on her broken house phone. Kristin Bennett (above, right) has a field day as the single technician playing different roles by adopting various accents—the most hilarious one being an Indian stationed in Boise, Idaho. No, not a Sioux or Apache, but a South Asian Indian, whose thick accent recalls those many of us have had to deal with.

As for Executive Dreams, written and directed by Donald Earle Howes, I had a hard time discerning just what he was up to, at least until the talkback where he said it had to do with boring business meetings. Here, as businesswoman Kimberly Jackson (left) makes a presentation to executive James Lopez (center, with M. Efron, right), his mind wanders to construct a fantasy whereby the three women disrobe and seduce him! I guess business meetings are really boring!

Despite the series' unevenness, I still recommend your going to see Jersey Voices B at the Chatham Playhouse; Sunday, August 3, at 7 PM will be your only chance (Series A will be presented August 2 at 8 PM). Of 112 plays over 20 years, the Chatham Community players have come up with 12 worthy of our notice. Kudos to a great program and a troupe willing to take a chance on New Jersey playwrights. It is a great theatrical (and community) service they perform. Bravo!

Jersey Voices is performed at the Chatham Playhouse, 23 N. Passaic Ave., Chatham. Parking is available (free) directly behind the theater. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7363 or visit online.

Photos by Jill and Howard Fischer.