by Clark Groome
The press release People’s Light and Theatre wrote for its current production of local playwright Bruce Graham’s “Stella and Lou” says that this is a “deeply romantic play about people we rarely see on stage.” The operative word is “people.”
What distinguishes Graham’s work — and I’ve seen about 20 of his plays since “Burkie” premiered at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays in 1984 — is his ability to put people on stage. Not characters, people.
Graham’s ear for how people talk and his sensitivity to what makes them tick are what makes his work so appealing and so impressive. Graham’s approach to all his plays is similar, but each has an individual voice. Each is a unique exploration of people’s foibles, strengths or circumstances.
“Stella and Lou,” which is on the boards at Malvern’s People’s Light through Aug. 23, has the audience drop in on an encounter between Stella (the inestimable Marcia Saunders) and Lou (the absolutely natural Tom Teti).
Stella, an emergency room nurse, is a divorcee whose daughter lives in Florida, where she is considering moving so she can be with her young granddaughter. Lou is a widower whose life centers on the South Philly bar he inherited when his father died decades ago. He’s never gotten over his beloved wife’s death from cancer two years ago. Stella was one of the nurses taking care of his wife.
The encounter, which also involves the terrific Scott Greer’s Donnie, seems casual enough. Gradually it becomes apparent that between the banter and the chatter we’re watching two late middle-aged folk deal with a palpable loneliness that, until the 75-minute conversation in “Stella and Lou,” they have either avoided facing or danced around.
It’s extremely sensitive and honest. It’s also very funny at times, another Graham trademark. The humor grows out of the naturalness of old friends talking and reacting and never overpowers the feelings and issues at hand.
Thanks to the A-list cast director Pete Pryor has assembled, the evening is a great success. The production benefits big time from James F. Pyne Jr.’s bar set, Gregory Scott Miller’s lighting, Bridget Brennan’s costumes and Christopher Colucci’s sound.
For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org.