Theater Review: Crowded Kitchen’s ‘Topsy Turvy’ lives up to its title
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus
“Topsy Turvy” is an apt name for the Crowded Kitchen Players’ latest play written and directed by Ara Barlieb.
In two acts, the cast of 14 cavorts, cross-dresses and intentionally overacts their way through the wackiness. The June 7 opening night performance was seen for this review of the rapid-fire comedy’s world premiere, continuing June 14-16, Charles A. Brown IceHouse, Bethlehem.
Barlieb loosely based his latest play on Aristophanes’ ancient tale of “Lysistrata,” where the women of Athens, Greece, pledge to withhold sex from their husbands until all wars end.
In “Topsy Turvy,” which takes place in 1930s’ Hollywood, the female lead is a movie star, Louise Antoinette, who is tired of playing fluff roles and having to avoid the unwanted advances of lascivious studio boss Max Steinberg. She wants to direct her own movie.
Trish Cipoletti as Antoinette carries the show and keeps the energy in high gear. In addition to being an accomplished actress, her stamina is remarkable. She survives the exhausting opening chase-me-round-the-desk scene, the audacious auditions and the wrap of her chaotic film.
Tom Harrison as Steinberg plays the perfect lecher, who boasts, “I have a reputation to live down to.” Nevertheless, Steinberg gets bested by his star despite his trying every trick in the book.
Antoinette gets her movie, but the contract with fine print needing a gigantic magnifying glass stipulates that the movie must be completed in six weeks or Antoinette must “sail off” with Steinberg to a predictable fate.
When she holds auditions for the lead character “Lysistrata,” Antoinette discovers that Max has hired all the suitable actresses. She winds up casting “the discarded, the has-beens and the never-was,” much to the benefit of the play’s humor. Among the many notables in the cast are the four Greek women portrayed by Emily Kreiger, Nancy Welsh, Michelle Star and Carla Hadley.
Those who audition include Antoinette’s ex-husband, Ambrose, played broadly by Dan Ferry. “What’s my motivation? he shouts before stripping off his shirt and performing a raucous imitation of Tarzan.
In the midst of the chaos, a delegation from the Legion of Decency arrives, and under its pressure, Max and Antoinette are forced to portray “Lysistrata” as a Biblical epic. “Does she [Lysistrata] have children?,” a nun in the delegation asks, adding, “We like representations of women who are fertile.”
There are lots of funny one-liners like that one, along with some zany characters and clever stage business. Slides of old movie posters and Hollywood scenes are projected above the set, and add to the overall feel of the 1930s. Though it’s not mentioned, the names of the play’s characters are the monikers of actors of the era. The scene where the cast does a Nazi salute is Barlieb’s way of noting that early Hollywood ignored what was happening in Germany because it was a major film market and the studios did not want to lose their lucrative income.
There is much to like in Barlieb’s latest work, but the script could use some tightening. The opening scene is unnecessarily repetitive and the audition scene could afford to lose a couple of auditioners.
There’s one thing that definitely should not be eliminated, however, and that is the ventriloquist and his dummy. At the end of the play, the doll is asked what his future will be. The ventriloquist replies, “I predict that someday a dummy will be president of the United States.”