Theater Review ‘Pints’ of laughter with CKP

 Sunday, February 7, 2016 by Paul Willistein This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in Focus

Original plays written and staged by Lehigh Valley theater groups are always an event.

The world premiere of “Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims,” an original comedy written and directed by Ara Barlieb, which the Crowded Kitchen Players opened Feb. 5 at the Charles A. Brown IceHouse, Bethlehem, is more than an event.

It’s a must-see. The play is not only near nonstop laughter, it’s near nonstop laughter nose snorts.

“Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims” is not only paced by a blisteringly funny script. It’s paced by two superb lead-role performances by Brian McDermott as Simon Wexler, director of an Irish theater group, and David Oswald as Benjamin Foolscap, director of a Hoboken, N.J., dinner theater group, as well as a fine supporting performance by Dan Ferry as Michael, head of the Inishbofin, Ireland, theater festival.

“Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims” employs the time-honored theatrical plot device of a play within a play, but does it one better with two plays within a play.

The two theater groups head on a collision course to the Inishbofin festival, where, through Barlieb’s ingenious plot device, each troupe is to present a show. It’s all hands on heck in “Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims.”

In the play’s opening scene at The Bayside Public House, the Irish theater group rehearses Wexler’s drama, “A Bad Year For Potatoes,” which his acting troupe, Bridgette (Sarah Thomas), Claire (Pamela Wallace) and Sean (Brian Wendt), seem to think is a rollicking comedy. The growing frustration of McDermott and his miscommunication with his charges, as well as their responses, along with those of his Stage Manager (Scott Van Nortwick), provide side-splitting hilarity.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond at Tony and Maria’s Dinner Theater along Frank Sinatra Drive in Hoboken, Oswald leads his clueless cast through rehearsals of “Don’t Dress For Dinner,” a comedy sure to please his venue’s crowd. The miscues among his cast, The Wife (Susan Burnett), Rodney (Michael Thew) and The Husband (Patti Squire), as well as the interruptions provided by the Box Office Manager (Steven Rosenblum), and the dinner theater owners, Antonio (Van Nortwick) and Maria (Wallace), and the unflappability of the Stage Manager (Paula KIein), are equally hilarious.

McDermott creates a haughtiness, archness and invincible irascibility that is magnificent to behold. He chews, spits and barks his lines (“I hate funny.”) with a force akin to a Marines drill sergeant. McDermott is priceless.

Oswald’s performance is a wonderful contrast. His is a more leisurely approach, as befits a character sporting an ascot. His emphasis, timing and pacing is perfection. What’s more, Oswald’s heartfelt 12-minute monologue, with “Richard III” Shakespearean references and a Jean Shepherd sensibility, undergirds the play with a spine of seriousness that speaks to contradictions inherent in “the theater” and an actor’s life.

Similarly, the serious rendering of “A Bad Year For Potatoes” at the top of act two augments the play’s intent, as do the superb perfomances of Thomas, Wallace and Wendt, who were note-perfect opening night in the scene.

Contributing to the fun as Inishbofin residents are Alexandra Racines and James Propst.

Barlieb designed the economical set, with set painting by Nora Oswald.

With “Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims,” Barlieb directs the seasoned Crowded Kitchen Players with the assuredness of a coach who pushes his team to achieve their best. And achieve they do in a comedy that could itself surely be presented at any number of theater festivals.

To echo the play’s own dialogue encouragement to the actors in the plays within the play: “You have what it takes when the curtain rises.”

The same can be said of the Crowded Kitchen Players and “Pints, Pounds & Pilgrims.”

Performances continues through Feb. 14 before moving to the Unicorn Theatre, Catasauqua, Feb. 19-21,

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