Glenside resident Kathleen Harmer takes the role of the Turin family matriarch in “Dearly Departed,” at Allens Lane through December 12, Raynelle Turpin. With her future always on her mind, Harmer said she hopes to get good roles and bigger roles.
“Dearly Departed,” a play about the dysfunctional Turpin family living in the backwoods of the Bible Belt, proves that living or dying in the South is seldom tidy and often hilarious, as we have learned from Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and others. Despite their earnest efforts to pull themselves together for their father's funeral, the Turpins' other problems keep overshadowing the solemn occasion. Amidst the chaos, they find comfort in friends and neighbors, an eccentric community of misfits who just manage to pull together and help each other through their hours of need and finally, the funeral.
The play, presented by Allens Lane Theatre, continues through Dec. 12 and is the work of David Bottrell and Jessie Jones. Directed by Dakota Adams, Glenside resident Kathleen Harmer takes the role of the Turin family matriarch, Raynelle Turpin. In her best Southern accent, Harmer describes Raynelle as someone who has been married to her husband for 40 years, is a church-going woman who has raised two sons and now must face life without her father.
Bottrell is also an actor best known for playing Lincoln Meyer on the ABC-TV series, Boston Legal. Bottrell and Jones later adapted “Dearly Departed” into a movie called “Kingdom Come” starring Whoopi Goldberg, LL Cool J and Jana Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith.
“It's a sad time when someone in your family dies, but life goes on,” Harmer said. “And that's what we're seeing in 'Dearly Departed.' Sure, we're dealing with a dysfunctional family, but what family isn't?”
Harmer, originally from Cheltenham and a graduate of Cheltenham High School, said she always wanted to be an actress but never had the courage to try to reach her dream. “In school I never acted in any productions. I was a shy, scared young girl who didn't know how to overcome those things and do the things I really wanted to do. So I settled for a job as a secretary.”
But in adulthood, Harmer finally found the courage to give acting a try and follow her heart. She enrolled at Philadelphia Community College and later went on to Temple University to receive her B.A. in Communications. “While studying, I continued to do office work and try my hand at acting at night. Of course, all that gets harder as you grow older, but for me it was worth it,” Harmer said.
Since taking the plunge toward achieving her goals, Harmer has done some TV and film work and appeared at community theaters in the area. She said, “When I am given a role, I try to find something in my own life I can draw on. When I get a script, I get excited. I love the process of acting, but I still keep my day job at the Temple University School of Medicine, where I've been for many years. I work in a small office where everyone is very supportive of what I'm trying to do.”
Harmer said that in addition to loving acting itself, she loves the process of rehearsing. “It gives me focus, a purpose. I'm always nervous on opening night, but I just love the whole process.”
With her future always on her mind, Harmer said she hopes to get good roles and bigger roles. “I'm drawn to female characters who are a little different. Aside from being on stage, I'd also like to add more TV and film work to my resume. Someday, I'd like to have a role in something like 'Law & Order: SUV,' playing a detective, a therapist, a victim — even a dog walker who discovers the body! Anything at all! Having finally achieved my dream of acting, I will tell you this - life is good.”
Allens Lane Theater is located at 601 Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy. For additional information, call 215-248-0546 or visit allenslane.org. Rita Charleston has been interviewing theatrical personalities, both famous and not-quite-famous, for the Local and other publications for many years.