Illuminating Human Spirit

The Langhorne Players bring ‘Hard Feelings,’ ‘Comic Potential’ and ‘The Elephant Man’ to the stage in Newtown, Pa.

On Stage: Pennsylvania Listings
By: Jodi Thompson
   Langhorne Players recently received kudos for producing Coyote on a Fence, the first play of their summer season. The accolades came not only from the usual source of critics or audience members, but from the author. Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham wrote a letter thanking the company for being brave. His work is set on death row, which doesn’t make for levity.


Staff photo by Daniel Shearer
The Langhorne Players are based in an intimate 73-seat theater, the Spring Garden Mill, located in Tyler State Park in Newtown, Pa.

   "It’s a tough play, and a very edgy play," says Curt Herr, vice president of the 50-year-old Langhorne Players. "We really appreciated that (Mr. Graham) took the time to acknowledge the risk involved in producing (‘Coyote on a Fence’)."
   It’s less of a gamble for Langhorne Players, as they pride themselves in offering new and different work. Based in an intimate 73-seat theater, the Spring Garden Mill, located in Tyler State Park in Newtown, Pa., the group will shift gears a bit for its next production. Three of the four remaining plays in the summer season are comedies.
   The players will present Hard Feelings, a comedy by New York City playwright Neena Beber, June 7-22. Mr. Herr first encountered the production at Women’s Project in New York City, a theater that produces plays by contemporary female playwrights.
   "We saw the play ‘Hard Feelings’ there two years ago," Mr. Herr says, "and right after the second scene that president of the theater (Rick Stockwell) and I looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to do this at Langhorne.’"
   Hard Feelings follows the out-of-control life of Selma Rogers. Her lover walks out, her writing teacher is arrogant, her grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and her mother has taken her daughter from her. She is surrounded by what Mr. Herr calls "cartoon-crazy characters."
   "As the play progresses, the focal character discovers a profound truth in how much easier life is when you let go and just swim with it rather than fight it," Mr. Herr says.
   The story is told on a skewed set with walls that lean. "It’ll be a comic, surreal location in which to house all of the scenes," he says.
   Mr. Herr says the company is lucky to get the unpublished script. This will mark its first production since the play left New York. Hard Feelings promises to be profound and moving.
   Last season, the Langhorne Players intended to produce Art but lost the rights to it at the last minute and the play was performed in Philadelphia. This year, Yasmina Reza’s comedy will finally have its run July 12-27 under the direction of Peter Ward


Staff photo by Daniel Shearer
Curt Herr, vice president of the 50-year-old group, says the players don’t do comedies simply to make the audience laugh. There also must be a theme within the laughs that speaks to the company’s desire to address the human spirit.

   "It’s just such a well-written play, and it’s so perfect for us," Mr. Herr says, "we decided to keep it even though it’s becoming really popular. It’s the one play (on the schedule) that most people are going to be familiar with."
   Mr. Herr says Langhorne Players don’t do comedies simply to make the audience laugh. There also must be a theme within the laughs that speaks to the company’s desire to address the human spirit.
   "When we do a comedy," he says, "we try to make sure that it’s got a little bit of a social kick underneath so that it’s not just purely zaniness for zany sake."
   Comic Potential, written by Alan Ayckbourn and directed by Kathy Garafano, fits the bill. The play is set in the future on the set of a soap opera. Most of the actors are portrayed by androids. One such android adopts human characteristics, including the ability to fall in love. Comic Potential runs Aug. 16-31.
   "You really start to feel for the character," Mr. Herr says. "Like ‘Hard Feelings,’ they go on a nice journey, where they come to know what it is to be human, to hurt and to feel love. What a ride life can be. It’s very cool."
   The final show of the season is a familiar story to many people. The Elephant Man will run Sept. 20-Oct. 12. The drama is based on the true story of John Merrick, "The Elephant Man," who with the help of a surgeon struggles to leave behind a degrading past as a circus freak and live life with comfort and dignity. The Langhorne Players selected the show more than two years ago, but some of them are now disappointed that New York City producers had the same idea.
   "We thought we were being creative by taking ‘The Elephant Man,’" Mr. Herr says. "Then, lo and behold, it just opened up for a revival in New York City." He calls the script Brechtian, declaring that in the wrong hands it could be cold and overly intellectual. He says the director, Mr. Stockwell, will enhance the emotional aspects of the play.
   "It’s such a perfect script for us," Mr. Herr says, "I’m surprised we didn’t look at it years ago."
   The Elephant Man is something different for a group that normally performs only new pieces. Their take on the older play will strive to illuminate the human spirit, the theme of all of Langhorne Players productions.
   "We’re a really lucky company," says Mr. Herr, "because our audience comes to us because we do new work. I hope people will take a risk and give us a try."
Hard Feelings plays at Langhorne Players, Spring Garden Mill, Route 332, Newtown, Pa., June 7-22; Art, July 12-27; Comic Potential, Aug. 16-31; and The Elephant Man, Sept. 20-Oct. 12. Performances: Wed.-Thurs., Sun. 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 Wed.-Thurs., Sun.; $12 Fri.-Sat. For information, call (215) 860-0818.