REVIEW Softening Bethlehem Press

Theater Review: CKP ‘Eyes’ challenging material

Thursday, June 14, 2018

by Paul Willistein This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in Focus

The Crowded Kitchen Players (CKP), noted for antic productions of orginal comedies, is presenting the world premiere of a serious drama, “A Softening Of Her Eyes,” written and directed by CKP co-founder Ara Barlieb.

The two-act play, featuring many of the CKP stable of players, continues at 8 p.m. June 15, 16 and 2 p.m. June 17 on the main stage of the Charles A. Brown IceHouse, Bethlehem.

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The show, set during a courtroom trial and at a radio station broadcast, is part of the Lehigh Valley “Voices Of Conscience: Toward Racial Understanding” Theater Initiative, founded by the CKP.

“A Softening Of Her Eyes,” the story for which is based on a true story, is a particularly challenging piece of theater, especially in the era of the Black Lives Matter and #metoo movements. “Eyes” doesn’t really resolve these or other societal problems (what could?), but it illuminates the socio-economic underpinnings. What’s more, and more to the point, CKP’s “Eyes” is gripping and powerful theater with several outstanding performances.

The production, seen June 9 for this review, is presented in two side-by-side sets, a courtroom and a radio station, with cinematic cross-cutting of scenes, sometimes with dialogue referring to topics in each respective scene. The result effectively intercuts otherwise potentially lengthy testimony and recounting of events, allowing the information to be absorbed in bite-size chunks by the audience.

On trial is Emmanuel Thorogood Morris (William Alexander Jr.) in another impressive performance), who is charged with rape. Morris somehow flees to a radio station’s nearby studios, where during a talk radio interview show in progress, he demands his side of the story be heard. The trial of Morris continues even as Morris recounts his story. The plot takes a startling twist late in the second act, the content of which, if it was revealed here, would ruin your enjoyment and understanding of the play.

The operative word here is “understanding.” As is the case among the best courtroom dramas, there often is a measure of doubt as to the outcome. You be the judge.

There is no doubt of the level of research and the amount of detail Barlieb has poured into “Eyes,” which is absorbing throughout. The media circus that high-profile courtoom cases often become is happening nearly simultaneously side by side on stage.

Alexander gives a strong and believable peformance as Morris. His charisma is unquestionable. Alexander also makes good use of the stage and involves the audience, as if it was the radio or courtroom audience. This is an emotionally-compelling performance.

Trish Cipoletti is so in character as Leslie Grant, the talk-show host, that you would think she could easily get a job as one. Cipoletti is cooly efficient and has a wonderful eloquence.

While this is a serious show, it is not without its moments of humor. Pamela McLean Wallace, as the talk-show guest, movie actress and star Lola Lupino, provides many of the show’s laugh lines, with knowing asides.

Brian Wendt also provides some light touches as the radio show’s producer David Lester.

That’s on the audience right side of the stage.

On the audience left side of the stage is another group of strong performers.

The casting of David Oswald as District Attorney Marshall opposite Dan Ferry as Public Defender Davison is particularly solid. Oswald is supremely self-assured and smooth. Ferry has a quiet authority and, as befits the role, is a bit more aggressive. Presiding over the two like a grumpy but stern taskmaster is Tom Harrison as The Judge.

Rounding out the solid cast of 16, who enter and exit either of the two scenes are James Dziedzic, Bruce Brown, Nancy Welsh, Bill Joachim, Ryan MacNamara, Felicia White, Florence Taylor, Donald M. Swan Jr., and Alexandra Racines.

Barlieb did the set, lighting and sound design. Wallace and the cast did provided the costumes.

“A Softening Of Her Eyes” presents a mult-leveled moral dilemma. The testimony begins. The story builds. It’s fascinating, complex and contradictory. Though fictionalized, it is more than that. It is the dilemma of a man and all of those he has affected. If you see the play, you will be affected, too.

Tickets: The Charles A. Brown IceHouse box office, Sand Island, 56 River St., Bethlehem;; 610-395-7176