Amazing Evenings with New Feathers at James Michener Museum

By John Dwyer

The Hammersteins are doing amazing things these days, what with trying to save the old farm of patriarch Oscar Hammerstein and make it a museum. That seems like a no brainer, right? Certainly, the creative gene is a part of that family and it, certainly, is appreciated by all, as they are also part of “The New Feathers Series,” a playwright reading series devoted to new work.

The highly respected Witherspoon Circle participates in this venture. Who are they? Their Facebook page describes them thus: “The Witherspoon Circle was founded by David Lee White and Ian August in the summer of 2016 and is based in Princeton, N.J. comprised of award-winning New Jersey and Pennsylvania playwrights who have been produced internationally as well as throughout the region. The Witherspoon Circle strives to create an independent environment for these playwrights to meet, hone their craft through peer critique, and expand their audiences through community partnerships, productions, and publication. The current membership of The Witherspoon Circle includes: David Lee White, Ian August, James Christy, Jr., Robert Sandberg, Michele Aldin Kushner, Pandora Scooter, Barry M. Putt, Jr., Lisa Huberman, Greg Nanni, Ken Kaissar, Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, John Augustine, Shelli Pentimall Bookler, and Kerri Kochanski.”

On Nov. 1, I had the most wonderful time at the James Michener Museum where six short plays were performed by six actors (including a stage directions narrator). It was amazing fun. Ranging from funny to heartbreaking, this was the best $20 I have spent in a long time. Two more evenings are coming up this Thursday, Nov. 15 and Thursday, Dec 20. Allow me to get into a few specifics from the first night.

There were six shows. The first was “Jugs” by Shelli Pentimall Bookler, where an older woman named Lucille (Hayden Saunier), after the passing of her husband, wants to waitress at a restaurant, where the waitresses are known for having great — well, the name of the joint says it all, doesn’t it? The younger male manager, named Marc (Christopher David Roche’), said he is not interested. Hilarious banterfollows between the two of them, as they explore how sexuality plays out in the workplace, along with insights on aging, the loss of beauty and the loss of a loved one.

“A Slap in the Ass” by Ken Kaissar tells us how “guys will be guys.” A young woman named Lydia (Alexandra Voelmle) gets slapped on the rear end by a stranger (Max, played by Christopher David Roche’) but Sean (Keith Maliszewski) defends her. Quite by circumstance, this play is timely in regards to the issue of harassment with the triangle of Dr. Ford, Brett Kavanaugh and David Judge. Not to make any judgment on the latter, but the play provokes an interesting discussion with what possibly happened
there as a counterpoint.

“Animals” by Kerri Kochanski has two women, Cathea (Alexandra Voelme) and Lisa (Brianna Lynn), discuss their lives and their husbands. Their husbands are the animals that the title refers to. If you have taken an acting class, there is an acting exercise where you see the character that you are working on and imagine him/her as an animal. Here, Cathea is literally married to a hamster and Lisa is married to a turtle. Catheas’s husband Harrison is seen on a treadmill, endlessly walking, as Cathea discusses how well he performs at his job every day and can be dependable. Lisa complains that her husband is shy, withdrawing and way too slow to get ahead, but he is more likely to be there for things that an animal on a treadmill will not be able to get to. Kochanski provides interesting commentary on relationships, personality traits and what we see as success and happiness.

“Try the Fortune Cake” by Barry M. Putt has hard working Brenda (Hayden Saunier) coming into a diner for coffee and a danish. She is being waited on by Debbie (Brianna Lynn), a waitress with whom she is unfamiliar. Whatever it is about the cake, perhaps cannabis but that is purely a personal speculation, has gotten Brenda to open up about herself, herm dreams and unfulfilled hopes and results in anunexpected call that she makes to touch base with her past.

“The Faint Taste of Cat Food and Sour Milk” by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich was incredibly moving as Adam (Keith Maliszewski) undergoes radiation for cancer as his wife Lisa (Brianna Lynn) is in the waiting room. They are young and feel that this should never have happened. His pickup line, when they met, was basically, “So, this is the girl I will be with for the next 60 years.” And, now, he may be dying and the play focuses on the intertwining of his physical pain and both of their emotional pain, that is so much anger and so much sadness.

“The Tale of the Spooky Turnip” by Greg Nanni was hilariously funny. Eddie (Christopher David Roche’) has isolated himself in the middle of the woods as he is getting ready to be transformed. Like a werewolf with a full moon, he will be transformed into a monster. Kelly (Alexandra Voelmle) happens on to Eddie while she is hiking through the woods. He screams at her to run away, as soon it will be too late. He will become a man-eating beast. He does transfigure but it is into a flesh-eating turnip. Kelly rolls in laughter
and, in the end, solves Eddie’s dilemma.

Last year, New Hope Feathers presented their plays at the Raven Resort in New Hope in the Oak Room. This cozy atmosphere was charming, but cramped. The new venue at James Michener is spacious and gives more space for the actors and director to tell their stories more effectively.

Joseph Perillo directed this segment of plays and Sarah LeClaire was the narrator/stage directions reader. Mr. Perillo directs an excellent cast, who are able to take on the different characters and situations with ease. All professional actors with impressive resumes, they shine a light on some great stories that these six playwrights have produced. Bravo to all involved and especially to 6 amazing playwrights who are doing the hard work of writing and then getting their work seen. Bravo, as well, to New Feathers (Producers: Mandee Keunzle-Hammerstein, Gregg Nanni and John Augustines), who feature these artists and encourage voices that need to be heard.

I highly encourage to see the next segment for New Feathers which will again be at the James Michener Museum in Doylestown on Thursday, Nov. at 7 p.m. The plays being seen then will be “PeopleSpeak” by John Augustine, “Secedin From Eden” by John McDonnell and “Celebrity” by John Augustine. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online.

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