Celebration Theater Re-enters the Local Cultural Scene with a Double Bill

by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Deanna Daugherty and Terry Baraldi in TRIFLES at Celebration Theatre in Lansdowne PA.

Billed as an evening of “chilling murder and mystery,” Lansdowne’s Celebration Theater is presenting TRIFLES by Susan Glaspell and Lucille Fletcher’s SORRY, WRONG NUMBER November 4th thru the 13th.
Celebration was founded in 2000 by local actor Geoffrey Berwind and has been presenting productions at the historic 20th Century Club throughout its history. Appropriately, the Club was started by a group of local women to promote social causes and the study of science, literature and art. The Borough of Lansdowne purchased the building in 1979 and has made it a community center. In addition to Celebration Theater, the site hosts the Lansdowne Folk Club and the annual Fall Arts Festival. Celebration is an initiative of the Lansdowne Main Street Program, a project of the Lansdowne economic Development Corporation.

I must confess here that, unfortunately, I missed the first piece, TRIFLES, due to a misunderstanding of the curtain time. Celebration is starting their performances at 7pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, and 3pm for the Sunday matinees. I’m not sure why this choice, as both pieces are only about 30—35 minutes long, so length of the show is not an issue. As someone who has gone to and participated in theatre for most of my life, 8pm curtain times are ingrained in my DNA. I have never been late for a curtain in my life—and abhor those that do come in late. I apologize profusely to the theatre and the cast of TRIFLES—some of whom I have seen in other productions and I know them to be solid performers. I will give you an overview of the plot:

Written in 1916, Susan Glaspell’s one-act play TRIFLES is loosely based on true events. As a young reporter, Glaspell covered a murder case in a small town in Iowa; years later, she crafted a short play inspired by her experiences and observations.

Farmer John Wright has been murdered. While he lay asleep in the middle of the night, someone strung a rope around his neck. And that someone might have been his wife, the quiet and forlorn Minnie Wright. Though Mrs. Wright is the central figure in the play, she never appears onstage. She is only referred to by the on-stage characters. The sheriff, his wife, the county attorney, and the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Hale, enter the kitchen of the Wright household. Mr. Hale reveals that he paid a visit to the Wrights on the previous day and Mrs. Wright behaved strangely, eventually informing him in a dull voice that her husband was upstairs, dead.

The men immediately suspect Mrs. Wright and exit to investigate the crime scene in the Wright’s bedroom. The sheriff’s wife, Mrs. Peters and the neighbor, Mrs. Hale are left in the kitchen. As they chat to pass the time, the women notice things that reveal the bleakness of Mrs. Wright’s emotional life—unlike the men, who are looking for forensic evidence to prove their suspicions. The ladies discuss how Mr. Wright’s cold, oppressive nature must have been dreary to live with. Mrs. Hale comments about Mrs. Wright being childless: “Not having children makes less work – but it makes a quiet house.” Simply trying to pass the awkward moments with civil conversation, Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters unveil for the viewer a psychological profile of a desperate housewife.

Celebration’s cast includes Deanna Daugherty as Mrs. Peters, Terry Baraldi as Mrs. Hale, Vincent Ali as Mr. Henderson (the attorney), Andrew Mooers as Sheriff Peters and Matthew Paul as Mr. Hale.

After a brief intermission, the slate concludes with SORRY, WRONG NUMBER by Lucille Fletcher. A mystery/thriller, this is the story of a neurotic invalid, Mrs. Stevenson, whose only contact with the outside world is the phone by her bed. At rise, she is attempting to reach her husband who is working late. After a couple of busy signals, her line gets crossed with another and she overhears the sketchy details of a murder plot. Her subsequent calls to the phone company and the police to report the murderous scheme—and hopefully save the intended victim—are brushed off. Eventually, Mrs. Stevenson and the viewer realize the ugly truth. Upon researching this piece, I discovered it was written as a radio play—which explains a lot. For the stage, it came across as a bit static. First performed on the Suspense radio program in May of 1943, the piece has gone thru a number of adaptations, including film and television, as well as the stage version on display here.

Donna Kelly Romero in SORRY, WRONG NUMBER at Celebration Theater in Lansdowne PA through November 13.

Donna Kelly Romero plays the main character, capturing overwrought very well. It is extremely difficult to act when one is forced to stay in one spot, with basically only your upper body and voice to convey things. Ms. Romero handles this well. She is supported by Vincent Ali, Clare Hughes, Andrew Mooers, Lauren Burdey and Matthew Paul as assorted phone operators, police officers and the murderous gangsters.

Linda Squibb’s sound design and Jeff Gallagher’s lighting supported this piece nicely. And Josselyn Byrnes’ costumes were appropriate to convey the 1940s. First-time director Cassy Pressimone Beckowski handled the material well, and her staging on her simple set was well done.

By Susan Glaspell
By Lucille Fletcher
Directed by Cassy Pressimone Beckowski
November 4-13, 2011
Celebration Theater
at The 20th Century Club
84 S. Lansdowne Avenue
Lansdowne, PA

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