RANDOLPH, NJ – The intimate play “The Park Bench” received a premiere at the County College of Morris on Jan. 9. Performed in the college’s television studio, the space was just right for this gentle, touching view of intersecting lives, written by John Glenville.
Directed by Chase Newhart, the cast of three complements each other, bringing their stories to vivid life. Robert Mackasek as Sam is an outgoing, friendly man who strikes up a conversation with Katherine, played by Lauren Klemp. Sam manages to get her to share her concerns with him which, he rightly deduces, involve a young man. Katherine wants him to notice her, but doesn’t know how to go about doing that. After suggestions from Sam, she finds a way.
Peter Kendall is Phillip, the person who finds he is indeed attracted to Katherine. But all does not go smoothly when she unexpectedly disappears. The playwright has a way of building suspense as he explores the various motives behind the action. Glenville says in program notes that so many conflicts are displayed on stage through hysteria and harsh words, rather than the quiet desperation that all too often speaks to disturbing thoughts. It’s a relief to see a play that doesn’t depend on throwing props or destroying the furniture. And so many recent productions seem to associate yelling with emotion.
This play, happily, has a much more subtle take. A charming ingredient is Sam’s tendency to sing phrases from Cole Porter songs, everything from “Don’t Fence Me In” to “True Love.” The younger couple eventually picks up on some of his favorites and the play concludes with hope for the future.
With minimal staging, costumes by Fran Harrison, lighting design by Ahmed Bennane and produced by Eric Hafen, “The Park Bench” could well have an afterlife in other venues.