Curtain Rises: ‘Topsy Turvy’ returns Crowded Kitchen Players to comedy roots
It’s a change of pace for Crowded Kitchen Players (CKP) and a return to the Lehigh Valley troupe’s comedy roots.
“I knew I wanted to do a comedy because we did a show about rape, PTSD and child sexual abuse,” says Ara Barlieb, CKP cofounder and writer of “Topsy Turvy,” in its world premiere, 8 p.m. June 7, 8, 14, 15 and 2 p.m. June 9, 16, Charles A. Brown IceHouse, 56 River St., Bethlehem.
CKP’s most recent plays were “A Softening of Her Eyes,” which dealt with the topics of rape and PTSD, and “Unspeakable,” which dealt with child sexual abuse.
Barlieb has written 11 plays, including eight comedies, performed by CKP, now in its 20th season. “Topsy Turvy” is CKP’s 80th production.
“The cast said, ‘Can we do a comedy?’” Barlieb says.
Continues Barlieb, “Trish [Cipoletti] said, ‘Can you write a part for a character who doesn’t sit down?’ She played roles where she was seated for both shows [‘A Softening of Her Eyes,’ “Unspeakable’]. In this one, she doesn’t sit down once. She has the lead. I hear about that at every rehearsal.”
A press release for “Topy Turvy” describes it thusly: “A very new farce that tells a very old story.”
The synopsis, as stated in the press release is: “In early 1930s Hollywood, having grown tired of the vapid romantic comedies and historical dramas that made her a star, Louise Antoinette strikes a self-compromising bargain with a rapacious movie studio boss, Max Steinberg, that will enable her to direct and play the lead in a motion picture intended to help liberate and empower women, a screen adaptation of the bawdy Greek anti-war comedy, ‘Lysistrata.’”
The fictional Steinberg Studios is headed by the equally-fictional, but not too fictional, Max Steinberg.
“Max Steinberg [played by Tom Harrison] is based very, very liberally on Harvey Weinstein,” Barlieb says.
Weinstein headed Miramax and, later, The Weinstein Company, until forced to resign and sell the movie stuido following allegations of sexual misconduct, charges that largely sparked the #metoo movement.
So, “Topsy Turvy” deals with a serious topic, Barlieb is asked?
“Oh, yes, very much so,” Barlieb says.
“When the studio’s big star, Louise Antoinette [played by Trish Cipoletti], whose been under contract with the studio for a long time, asks if she can direct a movie, Max basically tells her, he’ll let her direct the movie, but she must complete it in six weeks or she has to go to bed wth him. And then he proceeds to do everything in his power to sabotage the production.
“She’s allowed to do a movie of her choosing. She decides to do ‘Lysistrata,’ set in Ancient Greece as it was written.”
“Topsy Turvy” is a two-act play that includes projections on a video screen.
“It’s a really wacky farce that I hope most people will find funny, provocative and, at times, overtly offensive,” says Barlieb.
“We try to make fun of just about every sensitive interest group.”
All this, and togas, too.
“There’s a lot of cross-dressing in this show,” Barlieb promises.
“The first act is basically trying to make this movie. And the second act is the making of the movie, ‘Lyistrata.’
“‘Lyistrata’ is one of the raunchiest plays I’ve ever seen.”
Of ‘Topsy Turvy,” Barlieb says, “It’s pretty ambitious. The actors have a really hard job. They are onstage nonstop. It’s very, very fast-paced.
“This is probably not for small children. And there are numerous gunshots in the show. This play is loaded with stupid humor.”
The press release explains the source of the play’s title: “Take my advice, my fellow-countrymen, our envoys should always be drunk! We go to Sparta and enter the city sober. We don’t understand what they say to us. We imagine a lot they don’t say at all. And we report home all wrong, all topsy-turvy.” - Aristophanes, “Lysistrata”
The press release further states, “We felt we and our audiences needed a laugh. And a ‘big’ one. Meanwhile, here and around the world, the drums of war grow louder, shooting wars abroad and cultural and political strife at home.
“Well, if one is to believe Aristophanes, this sort of thing has been going on since at least 411 BC when he scribed the low comedy classic, ‘Lysistrata,’ his play about a pledge by the women of Athens and Sparta to boycott their husbands and lovers until the men of Greece stop their ceaseless warfare and return home for good.
“Lysistrata, the leader of this plan to withhold ‘wifely duties,’ believes this is the only way in which to save their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons from the inevitable wages of constant warfare.
“Toss in Harvey Weinstein and the surge in reports, new and old, of sexual misconduct by men in the workplace, and you have a cocktail of comedic possibities.
“And for good measure, stir in The Legion of Decency, which forces filmmakers and audiences to pledge not to patronize motion pictures that do not meet their Biblically-inspired, German-friendly standards.
“And, there are the cross-dressing, gender-bending cast and crew.
“If that doesn’t make everything seem topsy-turvy, what will?”
The ”Topsy Turvy” cast, in addition to Thomas Harrison and Trish Cipoletti, includes Todd Carpien, Carla Hadley, Brian Wendt, Bruce Brown, Dan Ferry, Florence Taylor, Julisa Trinidad, Tatiana Torres, Jerry Brucker, Nancy Welsh, Emily Kreiger, Michelle Star, Don Swan Jr. and Alexandra Racines.
Tickets: The Charles A. Brown IceHouse box office, Sand Island, 56 River St., Bethlehem; ckplayers.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; 610-395-7176
“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater and stage shows. Email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, email@example.com