Review of 'Pints Pounds & Pilgrims'

Morning Call Review:
New Crowded Kitchen farce a successful romp
through the theater world

by David Howell

"Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims" is about two struggling. D-level theater companies, one in Ireland and one in New Jersey. Although it is a comedy, it realistically shows the difficulties and nightmares that can arise from being on stage. Fortunately, the Crowded Kitchen Players are only pretending to be failures in this successful work it presented at the Ice House in Bethlehem in early February will move to the Unicorn Theatre in Catasauqua this weekend.

On Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Ireland, Simon Wexler (Brian McDermott) is directing his play "A Bad Year for Potatoes." Wexler is vain, sarcastic, and tyrannical — in other words, a typical director. He is incensed that his less than sterling players find humor in his work about drug addiction and child trafficking, starring actors Sean (Brian Wendt), Bridgette (Sarah Thomas), and Claire (Pamela Wallace). Things are kept somewhat in line by his pragmatic stage manager (Scott Van Nortwick).

Wexler is sleeping with Bridgette, a fact he publically refers to during rehearsals that include an audience of villagers. Bridgette is also involved with Michael (Dan Ferry), who heads the arts festival committee that is sponsoring the play. Other villagers are played by Paula Klein, James Probst and Alexandra Racines.

Meanwhile, back in Hoboken at Tony and Maria's Dinner Theater, director Benjamin Foolscap (David Oswald) is rehearsing a dinner theater sex farce. He is often interrupted by the Box Office (Steven Rosenblum) taking calls for reservations ($94 per couple with dinner, drinks not included).

Foolscap's opus has a wife (Susan Burnett) talking to her lover in the adjoining bathroom (Michael Thew), when her transgendered husband (Patti Squire) returns home unexpectedly. It lowers even more in quality after the troupe hits Ireland, when Foolscap has the actors speak their lines with indecipherable faux-Irish accents. Writer and director Ara Barlieb (the actual one of "Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims") intended Foolscap's frantic play-within-a-play to be the worst one ever written, although I suspect there may be real ones that are even more awful, if not as funny.

It comes to pass that both groups are scheduled to perform at the same time during the festival. Wexler will not give up his spot because he has invited an important literary critic who he hopes will revive his career, and Foolscap does not want to yield because he, his actors, and even Tony and Maria have traveled to Inishbofin from Hoboken. I will not reveal what happens, except to say that things end happily.

There are a couple of dramatic interludes. One has a very effective scene of "A Bad Year of Potatoes" done straight in emotionally dramatic fashion. Another has an absorbing monologue by Oswald, as he recounts Foolscap's disastrous performance as Richard III in front of the royal family.

This is more plot oriented and has less slapstick than most of Barlieb's other works. The humor comes from situations rather than gags. The strong cast, led by McDermott and Oswald as their hapless leaders, is spirited but never overplays the humor, letting it come naturally. Although the closing scene that combines the Irish and Hoboken casts is a bit rough around the edges, this might be the best play Barlieb has ever written.

•"Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims," 8 p.m. Feb. 19 and 20, 3 p.m. Feb. 21, Unicorn Theatre, 417 Front St., Catasauqua. Tickets: $18; $14, seniors; $10, students. 610-395-7176, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Dave Howell is a freelance writer.

Jodi Duckett, editor

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