A tale of metaphysical healing and redemption

March 04, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - At the Singapore Inn, "Everything is as it should be and nothing is as it appears."

Those words set the stage for acclaimed playwright Stephen Levi's "The Ramplings," a metaphysical farce that will make its debut at the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg on Friday, March 5.

A tale of redemption, "The Ramplings" tells the story of drunken Irish race car driver Hector Rampling and his snobbish wife, Clarice, whose marriage moves from rocky to blissful during a strange stay at a magical Maine inn on a snowy Christmas Eve. Philosophical innkeeper Arden Pelfrey and goofy spiritual medium Tweety Brickle help to create a fast-paced piece filled with surprises.

"The inn is truly a state of mind," said Berryville, Va., resident Levi, who also is directing his play at the Apollo. "The innkeeper could be called an angel or Obi-Wan Kenobi. He could be God or the universal spirit. This inn is where people come to be healed."


The story Levi tells about his inspiration for "The Ramplings" and four other plays in the Singapore Inn series share the works' mystical overtones. The playwright planned to sketch out his ideas for a new animated children's TV show while vacationing in Maine about four years ago. While driving back to his lodgings from a favorite lighthouse, Levi passed a Victorian-style inn.

"I heard a voice in my head that said, 'Make a U-turn.'"

Levi went back to the inn, which seemed empty, put his quarter in the slot for a postcard and left. He thought nothing else of the strange stop until he was back at his keyboard in California. That's when he heard the voice again, this time telling him to stop working on the TV script and start writing a play about the inn. Levi did. He wrote five plays in five weeks, in fact, a series that features recurring character Arden Pelfrey and his inn working their magic on a rotating cast of guests.

"They're all metaphysical plays," said Levi, who "workshopped" several of the plays at the California Institute of the Arts. "Two farces, two dramas and a comedy."

Levi assembled a seasoned ensemble cast to portray the quirky characters of the "The Ramplings" at the Apollo - Roger Hulme of Martinsburg as Pelfrey, Cliff Kurt Sr. of Martinsburg as Hector Rampling, Robin DePietro-Jurand of Shepherdstown, W.Va., as Clarice Rampling and Dorothy Flagg Keys of Bunker Hill, W.Va., as Brickle. Working with such a small cast enabled the actors to really get to know each other, share ideas and hone their roles during tight-knit rehearsals at the historic theater, DePietro-Jurand said.

She described her character as an initially angry woman with a "kooky" side. Like her husband, Clarice - who holds Hector responsible for her mother's death - experiences a metamorphosis during her stay at the quaint inn, DePietro-Jurand said. Audience members might be surprised by the play's humor, she added.

"It's really a funny show. People are going to have a good time," said DePietro-Jurand, who most recently served as assistant director for a production of "The Crucible" at The Old Opera House in Charles Town, W.Va.

Co-star Kurt - who has performed locally in "Annie Get Your Gun" and "Mister Roberts" - mined the gregarious, fun-loving nature of his own personality to portray a character he described, in part, as a "John Candy kind of guy." But alcoholic Hector Rampling also is known to erupt in angry outbursts - displays of intense emotion that were a stretch for the easy-going actor, he said.

"I'm not an angry person by nature," said Kurt, who adopts an Irish brogue for the role.

Hulme, a Brit who moved to the United States as a child, found a few parallels between his personality and that of his alter ego, Pelfrey. The actor and the innkeeper share a pacifist attitude, Hulme said. The seemingly ageless Pelfrey attempts to defuse the Ramplings' explosive exchanges as he scurries around an eclectic, antiques-filled set designed to look like the intimate lobby of a rural Maine inn.

"I just get up there and piddle around," quipped Hulme, who has acted locally in such plays as "King Lear," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "1776" and "It's a Wonderful Life" since moving to Martinsburg less than two years ago. "It's cheaper than therapy."

In "The Ramplings," Keys returns to the same stage on which she won the Miss Berkeley County crown in 1986. She portrays the wacky medium Tweety Brickle, who attempts to channel the spirit of her husband to tie up some emotional loose ends. Keys said the role has changed the way she looks at life.

"Life is short," she said. "Sometimes people need to soften their hearts."

Cast members credited Levi's skills as a director with helping them to understand their characters' motivations - the key to nailing believable performances.

"He's such an excellent director," Keys said. "He really helps you to think about your character and draw on their feelings and what motivates them."

The Herald-Mail Articles