Theater Review: Crowded Kitchen Players’ ‘Unspeakable’ speaks volumes
Monday, March 25, 2019 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus
In its latest thought-provoking play, written and directed by Ara Barlieb, the Crowded Kitchen Players tackle the uncomfortable topic of child abuse and how society has either failed to address it or has too often been looking the wrong way.
The play is “Unspeakable,” but it has a very loud and clear message in a production that continues March 29, 30 and 31, Charles A. Brown Ice House, Bethlehem.
Dubbed as a melodrama, “Unspeakable” is gripping and infuriating at times, but Barlieb has skillfully softened things with some scintillating dialogue and appropriate comic relief. The March 22 performance was seen for this review.
The most humorous scene was provided by Tom Harrison as a gun-show clerk. For Harrison’s scene, Barlieb takes a short writer’s sidetrip concerning gun control and demonstrates how comedy can make its points better than any talking head.
The star of the play is Adam Shane, a young boy who spends late afternoons after school going to movies and a local diner with his Uncle Henry (David Oswald). Adam is a puppet handled by Pamela McLean Wallace, who gives him life. Doug Roysdon, Mock Turtle Marionettes, designed and built the puppet.
McLean Wallace is co-producer of the play, and program coordinator for Project Child, a Lehigh Valley child-abuse prevention program that will receive the proceeds from ticket sales of the production at the Ice House.
Barlieb chose a puppet for the play’s lead role to spare an actual child from exposure to the topic, but it goes beyond that. The Adam puppet becomes the universal child, representing victims of child abuse.
Heading up the human cast is Brian Wendt as Jerry Clark, identified in the director’s notes as a stalker. He is a man disturbed by nightmares about a playground. He’s trying to face the jarring truth about who he is and what were his life experiences.
Clark is first seen in a therapy session with psychologist Dr. Alison Blake, played by Trish Cipoletti. If she is not a real therapist, she could easily pass for one. Her exchanges with Clark provide a window into the relationship of doctor and patient, and the limitations that hinder them.
When Clark starts watching Adam in the diner, and sits down next to him when Uncle Henry leaves the room, Clark’s fate is sealed.
Rounding out the large cast are Felecia White and Carla Hadley, the two “bad cop, bad cop” detectives; Susan Burnett, Clark’s sister; Bruce Brown, Clark’s husband; Judy Evans, the police clinician; Florence Taylor, Adam’s mother; Julisa Trinidad and Paula Klein, diner waitresses; Nancy Walsh, as Kendra, and Alexandra Racines, as a stenographer.
The set, designed by Barlieb, consists of five elevated performance spaces. They provide the setting for the actors’ movements and, with focused lighting, trouble-free scene changes.
Video and stills projected on a screen above the set are an imaginative touch. They add reality by showing locations, such as Clark’s home. They also add symbolism, such as a hand rising out of a large body of water. It could mean that Clark is drowning psychologically. You decide.
“Unspeakable” takes the audience in different directions, and at times generates negative reactions to those trying to protect Adam. Stick with it, avoid jumping to conclusions, and wait for the shocking ending.