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'Weeds' coming up all roses for area native/playwright

July 28, 2003|by BONNIE HELLUM BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On the day her play "Crystal Weeds" opened, Chambersburg native and playwright Jennifer Kreyl received a call from Act II Playhouse, a prestigious playhouse in Philadelphia, according to her husband and co-producer, Mike Shoeman.

Kreyl submitted the play to Act II in December, and "they called that day of all days to say they're interested in producing it," Kreyl said.

Kreyl's first full-length play, "Crystal Weeds," opened Friday and ran for three performances.

The 88-seat Allen auditorium in Wilson College's Warfield Hall was nearly sold out Friday and Saturday nights, Kreyl said, and the play received a standing ovation Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

The 21/2-hour play recently was chosen as one of 10 finalists out of 300 plays submitted to the American Theatre Co-Op's National Playwriting Competition. Kreyl holds a bachelor's degree in theater arts from Temple University, and directed this production of "Crystal Weeds." The play officially will be produced in Philadelphia in February.

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Local people have been very receptive, Kreyl said.

"We got a good response about the actors, and to the idea. People are confident it will go beyond here," she said.

The English teacher who helped Kreyl learn to write at Chambersburg Area Senior High School, Anne Branham of Chambersburg, came to the play on opening night.

"She was my inspiration to keep writing, and she was here to support me," Kreyl said. "It meant a lot."

Four local actresses portrayed 21-year-old characters rooming together while trying to succeed as actresses in modern times in New York City. Each aspiring actress was based on a legendary star.

Elizabeth Ruth, played by Krista Bruno of Chambersburg, was based on Bette Davis; Natasha Gurdin, played by Lindsey Happel of Chambersburg, was based on Natalie Wood; Billie Cassin, played by Laura Sweeney of Chambersburg, was based on Joan Crawford; and Mary Slaton, played by Ann Davis of Greencastle, Pa., was based on Dorothy Lamour.

Kreyl spoke highly of the four young women chosen to portray the famous actresses.

"They are wonderful. People can't believe I didn't bring them in from New York or Los Angeles. They captured the characters."

At one point, the Davis character says, "These four friends are the only ones I have. They're it. I love them but in the same heartbeat I hate them." The animosity between her and the Crawford character is intense, and convincingly played.

When the actresses rent an apartment together, they make a "sacred pact" that they would all be famous in one year, "all or none. We are all crystals because we are still pure, but colors come through, too, sometimes billions of them in split seconds. We're weeds, too, because there are so many of us."

Ruth describes their living situation as "a demented 'Little Women.'" Later, Cassin tells her, "Your ego is our fifth roommate, it's our food, it hogs the blanket at night."

Local playwright Marcus Steinour, who has had 20 plays produced, was impressed with the poetic language and clever metaphors and figures of speech.

"It was very philosophical, and that's amazing for such a young author," said Steinour, of St. Thomas, Pa. "It's very theatrical and dramatic. It should be a hit, wherever it goes."

Bruno may have been fated to play the lead in "Crystal Weeds."

"My mom used to call me Bette Davis when I was little because I was very dramatic," she said after the last performance. Rehearsing the play this summer reawakened her passion for the theater, Bruno said.

"I worked with an excellent director, playwright, cast and crew," she said. "It was an incredible experience. I won't know what to do with myself now that it's over." Bruno said she didn't do anything else during the solid month of rehearsals, and that she worked on her lines "in the shower, in the car. I had to."

Happel, 19, has been going to theater camp since she was 10, and has had one year of theater in college, according to her mother, Debra Armstrong. Happel will be a sophomore at Shippensburg (Pa.) University in the fall.

"This was a good, positive thing for her to do this summer," Armstrong said. "She hopes to be an actress, and she loved working with Jenny and Mike. She respects their talents."

Audience member Jessica Hallock of Chambersburg said the cast did "a great job. The acting was good, and they did a nice job of portraying modern versions of those characters."

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