RIDING THE COMET: Actors’Net of Bucks County Presents World Premiere by Mark Violi

by Robert Beizer

Actors’ NET of Bucks County celebrates playwright Mark Violi.  The theater previously premiered his play ROEBLING: THE STORY OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE and now presents us with his World War II drama set in France, shortly after the Normandy Invasion,  RIDING THE COMET.

A French farmer turned Resistance fighter (played by Ed Patton) explains a traumatic event to his daughter Andie (Anna Chandless) in the World Premiere of RIDING THE COMET at Actors'NET of Bucks County, running in Morrisville PA through October 2.

It is the story of a French farm family and their involvement with “The Comet Line” – an escape route for Allied soldiers and airmen trying to return to their units in England.

The facts of The Comet are real and historical. Set up in Brussels, Belgium, in the early part of the war, by a woman named Andree de Jongh, “The Comet Line” would help spirit over 5,000 Allied soldiers; including 2700 Americans, through occupied France to neutral Spain and, via the British held port at Gibraltar, back to England.

The dangers to resistance fighters on “The Comet Line” were everywhere. The Germans constantly searched for downed pilots and others lost from their units. And the French collaborators would think nothing of turning in their neighbors to the Nazis in the hope of better treatment. Both of these are vividly covered in RIDING THE COMET.

What RIDING THE COMET misses is the ability to maintain the tension created by its opening moments. Darkness; then a gun shot. After which we have an opening scene which is overly long and repeats its exposition too many times before the action of the play resumes. The dialog is unnatural at times, stiff, almost preachy; the characters in the family speaking more “at” each other rather than “to”. However, some of the characters are fleshed out better than others.

Ed Patton, an Actors’ NET regular, gives a strong performance as the farm father, Burke (although his French/English pronunciation was often inconsistent). His children: son Peter (seen but not credited; is lost at the beginning of the play), daughter Linette, his teen becoming a woman, played, somewhat unevenly, by Kathryn A. Skelly and his pride, little Andie, portrayed by young newcomer Anna Chandless, who is not thwarted in the actions she takes by her limitations.

Into this family come two American returnees, Pvt. Vizzaro, just a guy from Brooklyn, played with some finesse by Patrick Albanesius and Sgt. Decker, played by veteran Brian Jason Kelly who unfortunately, to me, portrays neither the sound nor the look of a mid-1940’s post dust bowl Oklahoman, U.S. Army Air Corps Sergeant.

The stock Nazis are John Helmke as “The SS Officer” and William H. Schnakenberg IV as “The German Soldier” who offer the right uniform colors; but not the chill in the air their presence should create. It was unclear as to how they arrive at this remote farm. We never hear a motorcycle, truck or car approach.

Technically there were some sound problems, which made an important opening voice-over almost impossible to understand and which telegraphed some later action in the play. I’m sure the theater will rectify this in later performances. One thing, which did have me confused, was following the time of day. The lighting remains the same through most of the play and there are no on set light sources to indicate how this rural farmhouse is lit. Also, there are no lights coming in from windows in the set. Set Design by C. Jameson Bradley with Lighting Design by Andrena Wishnie and Sound Design by Cheryl Doyle.

Actors’ NET seems to have been interested in presenting World War II story lines for a number of seasons now and, with some tightening and focusing of the action, RIDING THE COMET will be a strong addition to its notable list of plays in this genre.

by Mark Violi
Directed by Kyla Mostello Donnelly
September 16 -October 2, 2011
The Actors’ NET of Bucks County
635 N. Delmorr Ave (Route 32)
Morrisville, PA 19067
Tickets: 215-295-3694
Web: www.actorsnetbucks.org

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