by Karen Plourde
Martin Lentz’ first staged play may have been his most successful to date, but he’s looking to get back some of that early glory with any of his subsequent works, one of which played to a decent-sized crowd at Stagecrafters earlier this month.
Lentz, 73, a retired attorney who grew up mostly in Chestnut Hill, sketched out “The Recruiter” and performed it along with members of his 82nd Airborne platoon in the mess hall at Fort Bragg, N.C. in 1961 or ‘62. It was a smash hit, but closed after one performance.
“We did the fellas at the recruiting station being sold a bill of goods, and in the next scene, they were, I believe, cleaning the latrine and dealing with the reality of it. But the GIs loved it; it shook the rafters. We were given an award which consisted of a battered hubcap that someone had grabbed off the side of the road.”
More than 50 years later, another of Lentz’ plays, “Bad Girl,” had a one-time (for now) performance at Stagecrafters on Oct. 8. The one-act deals with an upwardly mobile family in turmoil in 1950s’ Chestnut Hill. That night marked the first time any of Lentz’ plays had been performed in an actual theater. It also marked his debut as a director.
“I learned a great deal in the process, but I don’t think I would do it again,” he said. “I think for a playwright, it’s a good experience to direct and be in that part of it. The benefit aside from that was that the play was significantly improved because we made a lot of changes which I was able to make on the spot.”
Another Lentz play, “D-Day, Again,” a one-act work, revolves around a pair of veterans in their 80s who meet in a retirement home and form a bond after they find out they both had parachuted onto Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. The play debuted at The Mermaid Inn in April of this year, has been put on twice since, and it will be performed in front of a veterans’ group in Wilmington early next month. Lentz’ oldest daughter, Kim, a professional actress and director who had a small recurring role in the TV series “Twin Peaks” and who worked in film and theater, has directed those performances.
“When I sent ‘D-Day, Again’ to the Mermaid, the fella there who at that time was doing the selecting [of plays] contacted me,” Lentz said. “He asked if I wanted to direct it; otherwise, he would, and I said that’s fine for him to direct it…he started and did some casting and then informed me that he was very sick. And Kim at that point was going to play the social worker, so she said, ‘I’ll direct it.’”
Lentz the elder felt comfortable leaving his “baby” in Kim’s hands. “She handled it well. I did ask her not to change words without talking to me, and that was really not an issue. I became sort of the prop guy. I ran down the props.”
After spending several years living in Los Angeles and then Livingston, Montana, Kim came back to the Philadelphia area a year ago. Like her father, she’s been active with the Philadelphia Dramatists’ Center in West Philadelphia. Martin credits the writers’ circle of that group with helping him through the playwriting process.
Lentz and his wife, Bonnie, have lived in Ambler since the early 1970s and raised five children there. He retired in 2009 after 38 years of practicing labor and employment law in the firm Pelino & Lentz. He was a co-lead partner for 32 of those years. Lentz sees a connection between the law and playwriting.
“Trial is theater, and when I did work of that type, I always thought of it that way,” he said. “Not only what they [the principals] had to say, but what they would wear, where they would look — the theatrics of it. More importantly, playwriting is great because you get to make up all the facts, and what I say about the law is that, unfortunately, some lawyers don’t wait to retire to begin making up facts.”
Lentz considers himself an early riser and does his writing in the morning in the front room of his home. “I’m trying to decide what to do next,” he said. “I think I’m primarily going to go back now to some of my earlier plays. I think if I were writing them now, I’d write them differently because I’ve learned a lot, and I think some are worth revising and rewriting.”