To stir the soul is a much-wished-for sentiment shared by many who have spent their lives supporting the arts. South Camden Theater Company (SCTC) took this sentiment and made it a reality. Upon arriving at the theater for their opening(s) (I will get to that), the sense of community and familiarity was everywhere.
Flags were hanging over the intersection and people were standing on the street corners talking with the enthusiasm that only people who have lived and worked together can. I said opening(S) because SCTC was not only celebrating the opening show of their new season with LAST RITES, but they were also celebrating the opening of their brand new theater building. This labor of love, was completed by South Camden residents (both former and current; both individual and corporate) resulting in a newly constructed, bright, and pleasing space in which SCTC can “stir the souls” of their audiences. This brand new theater stands proudly on the exact location of the bar which forms the backdrop for LAST RITES.
The community excitement was palpable. It was the excitement around a job well done and being able to share it with others. It was the excitement surrounding a new venture for many never attempted before. It was the excitement of another step toward a “reborn Camden”. On Friday night, September 10, 2010, for this community, the world was their new stage while they watched their history unfold as the lights came up on LAST RITES.
LAST RITES is a snapshot in time of Camden, New Jersey in 1966. The playwright, Joseph M. Paprzycki, a long time supporter of SCTC, and current Producing Artistic Director, has written this play from memory… his memory. His memories of his grandparents, of the bar itself, of the people for whom the bar was a safe haven, of the losses that began and then continued to break down Camden … all of these memories can be found in LAST RITES.
These memories were transformed on the SCTC stage. The visuals of this play were very effective in bringing these memories into the light. Picture: Walt’s Bar and its regulars introducing us from the first words to a specific time and place. Picture: women in their kitchens doing chores and sharing their worries about the future and its impact on their men. Picture: a priest drinking too much because he cannot find inside himself what he needs to help his friends. These visual images and the character dialogue defined situations specific to Camden but situations that each audience member could understand based upon their own life experiences.
Robert Bingaman’s set was very effective for staging the multiple locations required by the script. With rolling partitions that served as both bar sections and kitchens, the scene changes were well choreographed. They did become unwieldy in Act 2 as the tension builds, while each set change allows the tension to dissipate. The music that played throughout the production was appropriate and supported the moodiness of a place changing from the familiar to something unknown. The efforts of director, Christopher “Jumbo” Schimpf, were quite successful as the cast worked very well together as an ensemble while allowing each of their individual characters to help us see Camden as they saw it. Everything that appeared on stage by way of props, costumes and set pieces added to the ambience of this production. William Rahill as Father and Patrick A. Castenada as Tim both excelled with the monologues given to them. It was a view of Catholic priests that not many people see as they struggle within themselves and with each other to find their way through the dissolution of the life they have lived for so long.
Both the theater and my introduction to South Camden were welcoming and comfortable. However, I would suggest better main street signage for those of us who wish to continue (hint! hint!) to support SCTC for the remainder of this season and hopefully for many seasons to come.
by Joseph M. Paprzycki
Directed by Christopher “Jumbo” Schimpf
September 10 – October 3, 2010
South Camden Theatre Company
Waterfront South Theatre
400 Jasper Street
Camden, NJ 08104