by Hugh Hunter
The Old Academy Players in East Falls is now running “The Pearl” by local playwright Barbara Pease Weber, a comedy which premiered in Oregon in 2012. It is her fifth play (most have been published by Samuel French), and a few have been staged in places as far away as Australia and South Africa.
Ms. Weber is a lifelong Philadelphia area resident (she grew up in Germantown and Roxborough area) and earned a degree in Business Administration. Though her job in the corporate world keeps her on the go, she always has time for the theater.
Since childhood Weber dreamed of being an actress. As a teenager she won roles in various community theaters. During one production that she met John, her husband of 32 years. Following a lengthy hiatus to raise her two children, Weber returned to the theater, especially Old Academy, which she calls “home.”
Again, she saw herself strictly as an actress, and it never occurred to her to try playwriting. But husband John saw matters differently. “You should write a play. I think you’d be good at it”. So, 15 years ago Weber started to write because “John kept badgering me.”
Most of her work involves the problems of aging people, a generally neglected area. (My Oscar pick for Best Picture was “Nebraska” but I knew it wouldn’t win). Her thematic concern also answers to the needs of oodles of underemployed older actors and strikes a chord with the older adult theater audience demographic.
Weber is especially concerned with the lives of aging women. In “The Pearl” the main characters are sisters Coral (Catherine DeRemigio-Fichera) and Oceana (Loretta Lucy Miller), a pair of former mermaids. Unlucky in love, they now run a modest bed and breakfast in an unnamed New Jersey beach town.
It is winter time. A blizzard is brewing, and the sisters struggle to pay bills. Adding to their troubles is the presence of Marina (Michele Loor Nicolay), their cold-hearted cousin mermaid. All three warn young mermaid Pearl (Lauren Jones) about the dangers of loving a human, but Pearl has ideas of her own.
Director Helga Krauss (a Chestnut Hill resident) comes up with a cozy diner set complete with a month’s worth of seashells and a glass door that opens out onto a stormy ocean world. Fichera, Miller and Nicolay are finely animated mermaids. Bob Toczek and Ivo Becica play forlorn male lovers Floyd and Nathan, while Michelle Moscicki rounds out the cast with her portrayal of Sheila, the salty town mayor.
All the older mermaids are in the grip of fate. Their fortunes turn for the better because of coincidence and changing tides, not on the strength of anything they do. The best aspect of “The Pearl” is its setup — comedic, fanciful and entertaining. If you are looking for something else, you will be disappointed.
Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “The Pearl” will run through March 16. Reservations available at 215-843-1109 or www.oldacademyplayers.org.