REVIEW Softening Morning Call

Theater review: 'A Softening of Her Eyes' a courtroom thriller that is unforgettable and moving

'A Softening of Her Eyes,' an original drama by Ara Barlieb, presented by Crowded Kitchen Players
Dave HowellSpecial to The Morning Call

On opening night, it was announced that “A Softening of Her Eyes” was “not for the faint of heart.” It would seem this is not because of its explicit content, which is no worse than what’s on television, but because of its emotional intensity.
For this production by Crowded Kitchen Players, the first floor of the Bethlehem Ice House has two sets side by side, one representing the broadcast room of a radio station and the other a courtroom.
Emmanuel Thorogood Morris (William Alexander Jr.) escapes from the courthouse and manages to get on a talk show to plead his innocence against charges for rape and assault. The action constantly moves between the sets, switching between Morris telling his life story and the progression of the trial.
At first it seems “Softening” is about race: Morris is black and everyone else is white, except his wife Janeen (Florence Taylor), who appears in a courtroom scene. But this turns out to be a much more complex situation.
Morris is a composite of real people known by Ara Barlieb, the director and author of the play. He is a charming but troubled individual, who has been unable to adjust to everyday life.
The odds seem against him in the courtroom, where he is represented by a first-time public defender (Dan Ferry) facing an experienced prosecutor (David “Oz” Oswald).
But in the radio room he wins over program manager David Lester (Brian Wendt), guest star Lola Lupino (Pamela McLean Wallace), whose interview is supplanted by Morris’ presence, and the initially reluctant show host Leslie Grant (Trish Cipoletti).
This is a long play at nearly three hours, but the length is necessary for the gradual unwinding of events and the building of suspense. Sometimes the various experts and witnesses in the courtroom scenes have long expositions, but this makes the trial seem realistic, and adds contrast to the more dramatic moments. It is a great courtroom thriller.
The many Crowded Kitchen regulars, including Tom Harrison as the judge, prove that they are just as capable of handling drama as they are the comedic farces they often perform. Even smaller parts, like Donald M. Swan Jr.’s as a caller to the radio show, have strong characterizations.
Cipoletti, Wendt and Taylor are particularly noteworthy for their highly emotional scenes. Alexander is so masterful at displaying the many sides of his character, it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing his part.
This is not a relaxing evening at the theater, but it is an unforgettable and moving one.
“A Softening of Her Eyes," 8 p.m June 15 and 16, 2 p.m. June 17, Ice House, 56 River Drive, Sand Island, Bethlehem. Tickets: $18; $14, seniors; $10, students. 610-395-7176,

Dave Howell is a freelance writer.
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