Usually started in a vacant storefront, or somebody's church basement, by a few frustrated theater types, trying to give audience to their pent up artistic talent, these theaters, mostly operating on shoe string budgets, manage to turn in some credible and enjoyable performances.
In that world of "8 to 5 at work, home to a quick bite and off to the theater for rehearsal," occasionally a chain of events is set in motion which results in a happening of monumental significance.
Such is in the final stages of playing out right now at Kudzu Playhouse, just across the county line in Roswell. The current production "Chaim's Love Song" is, indeed, a unique and delightful play. However, the performance of this play is almost secondary to the captivating story of the events leading up to it.
Over two years ago Lane Teilhaber, the director, read the play, written by Marvin Chernoff. Deeply impressed and awed by the strong emotions the story evoked, he knew this was a story worth telling. Being unsure he was the right person to direct such a show, he put it aside. His expertise, after all, lay in the area of farcical comedy and the like.
However, Lane never quite forgot the play, nor the impact it made on him. Eventually he came to the realization that he had to direct this play. He contacted the Kudzu Playhouse, they scheduled the play and he was off and running.
Obsessed with a desire to do justice to the story, Lane contacted the author of the play, Marvin Chernoff, now retired from his career as a psychotherapist and counseling psychology professor at California State University. The two formed a friendship which has grown through phone calls and Email interchanges. Chernoff describes his conversations with Lane as "a joy." Teilhaber says that he and Chernoff "share 99 percent the same vision of the play."
Though slowed down by Parkinson's disease, Chernoff made plans to fly here for opening night. Unfortunately, he could not travel alone and his wife, had other commitments. However, he now plans to be here for the last weekend of the run, which ends with the Sunday matinee.
The most endearing and incredible thing about this scenario is his relationship with Teilhaber. It is a thing of beauty, even if they never meet in person.
The play evolves around the unlikely friendship between Chaim Shotsky, a retired Jewish mailman from New York, and Kelly Burke a young teacher from Iowa with an acute case of homesickness. Following their chance meeting on a park bench in Brooklyn, they are drawn together over the course of Chaim's relating of his life story and the memories of those he loved..
Lane knew the secret to this play would be in the strength of the two actors he chose for those two roles. To portray Chaim, he recruited Rial Ellsworth, a strong character actor with a commanding stage performance. Rial fell in love, immediately, with the play and the character.
Lovely and talented Jessica Crow was selected to portray Kelly Burke. In sharp contrast to Ellsworth, she is the picture of innocence and the epitome of charm, yet strong enough not to be overshadowed by Ellsworth. Jessica, a natural on stage, was an excellent choice for the role of Kelly. The chemistry is right between her and Ellsworth.
In speaking with Teilhaber, it is evident that he has strong emotional ties to this play. He says Chaim reminds him so much of his grandfather that it is like bringing him to life. In experiencing this play, your emotions will run the gamut from laughter to tears. That's the kind of story it is. Lane says he has never felt so strongly attached to an author and a play.
Ellsworth says, "There are scenes which still touch me deeply, make me cry." Crow was heard to say she thinks it is the best thing she has ever done.
Whether Chernoff is able to attend or not, it is abundantly clear that this is not the usual community theater "happening." It is an event, born of love, suckled in devotion and nurtured in dedication. It is something which people all over the area can experience.
Pete Borden is a mason and playwright in east Cobb.