Lover of Mt. Airy brings 'Sins' to local theater buffs

by Rita Charleston
Posted 6/11/21

Quintessence Theatre Group will present Thornton Wilder's “The Seven Deadly Sins" as an audio theater series.

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Lover of Mt. Airy brings 'Sins' to local theater buffs

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“Thornton Wilder carried with him the phrase, 'Religion is the emanation from an extinct star' … and yet he turned to religion in what turned out to be his final short plays,” said audio play director and Quintessence Theatre Group's artistic associate Lee Cortopassi.

Cortopassi, originally from Ocean City, NJ, is referring to Wilder's “The Seven Deadly Sins,” presented as an audio theater series from Mt. Airy's professional theater and slated for airing over the course of two weekends from June 10-20.

Part one of the series runs June 10-13 and includes “The Drunken Sisters” (Gluttony), “Bernice” (Pride), “The Wreck on the 5:25” (Sloth) and “A Ringing of Doorbells” (Envy). Part two, which runs June 17-20, includes “In Shakespeare and the Bible” (Wrath), “Someone from Assisi” (Lust) and “Cement Hands” (Avarice). The series features an 11-person ensemble cast, helmed by directors Steven Wright, Mattie Hawkinson, Paul Hebron and Cortopassi.

“I served as a director for the whole project,” explained Cortopassi, who also directed “The Wreck on the 5:25.” But, he added, “The plays are book-ended, and there's a theme to the series as a whole, so I was responsible for making the project cohesive and making it feel as one unit. They all work together in tandem.”

According to Cortopassi, when Wilder wrote these plays, he probably saw them as being presented in Theater-in-the-Round. “Now obviously, in the situation we find ourselves today, we couldn't do it that way, but I was trying to think of how to capture the essence of an all-encompassing performance. So the plays serve as a complete audio theater. They have their own soundstage. All the actors were professionally miked and recorded. I really wanted to make sure Wilder's voice was heard as he intended, so an actor performs as Wilder, reading a text before each play and then leading you into the piece.”

Lee's love affair with the theater began in the 7th grade when a friend asked him to join him in performing in a school production of “The Music Man.” Both boys were cast in the play, and Cortopassi had the time of his life. “Standing on that stage, hearing the applause from the audience, I felt more alive than I had ever felt in my entire life. I couldn't believe that feeling could be made into a career, but learning that it could, I fell head-first into that world and have loved it ever since.”

Lee attended the University of the Arts in Center City but dropped out in his second year. “I liked being there,” he said, “but I just wasn't good at things like going to class, preparing for assignments or giving a damn. I was 18, moved away from home for the first time to a city quick to offer any and everything an 18-year-old me could want, and I fell into the stereotype.
“I'm happy I did. My irresponsibility led me to the greatest decision I ever made, which was attending The William Esper Acting Studio two-year conservatory in New York City. My disaster (strictly academically speaking) of a freshman year was certainly a wake-up call. I did much better my sophomore year (still not anything to brag about though, I'll tell ya), but my heart still wasn't in it. Acting was still my deepest passion.

“The structure of the university just did not mesh with me, and I was young, arrogant and stupid. I wasn't good at it. I don't like not being good at things, especially when I knew I was at least somewhat capable of truthful acting.”

The 29-year-old Cortopassi now lives in Mt. Airy, around the corner from Quintessence, moving here originally because of his blossoming association with the theater group. “I like being close to the theater,” Cortopassi said. “but I also love the area itself. I love walking around Mt. Airy. The architecture, the ambience, the foliage just makes me feel very happy. It's an effervescent place. And I also think it's so different from street to street. I love that I can feel I'm in different parts of Philadelphia all within Mt. Airy. And I love the diversity that Mt. Airy brings.”

Audiences can hear the series through the Quintessence Theater webpage or via podcasting platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify.

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