BOX OFFICE 610.644.3500

Stella & Lou

By Bruce Graham

Directed by Pete Pryor

July 15-August 23, 2015

Steinbright Stage

On a quiet night in Lou's South Philadelphia bar, two lonely spirits arrive at a shared crossroad. This funny, wise, and tender love story from the author of Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown is a later-in-life portrait of friendship and taking the next step.

Approximate run time is 75 minutes with no intermission. This show is best enjoyed by ages 12 and up.

Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip

People’s Light continues its Scoop program, now on Wednesdays! Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30 pm performances. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale will host an artist from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6:00 in The Farmhouse Bistro on July 22, July 29, August 5, August 12, and August 19. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500.

Dinner & A Show Packages

Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $73 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $82 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price! Call 610.644.3500 or order online.



Media Sponsor:

Stella: Marcia Saunders*
Lou: Tom Teti*
Donnie: Scott Greer*
Director: Pete Pryor
Set Design: James F. Pyne, Jr.
Costume Designer: Bridget Brennan
Lighting Designer: Greg Miller
Sound Designer: Christopher Colucci
Production Stage Manager: Kate McSorley Fossner*
Dramaturg: TBA
Line Producer: Zak Berkman


* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.



Explore STELLA AND LOU


JUMP TO:
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS PRODUCTION
WHY IS PEOPLE'S LIGHT DOING THIS PLAY?
THE STORY
WORLD OF THE PLAY
THE PLAYWRIGHT
STAYING POWER: Straight Talk about 40 Years in Show Biz with Stella and Lou



HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS PRODUCTION

  • This is a regional premiere, so our audiences will be the first in the area to see it
  • The production is directed by Associate Artistic Director Pete Pryor, who has worked frequently in the past with the playwright and the three actors in the cast
  • The play is written by the very well-known and successful local playwright and Philadelphia native, Bruce Graham; People’s Light produced his Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown in 2012 and The Philly Fan (created by Theatre Exile) in 2011
  • The play is set in our proverbial backyard, in a South Philadelphia bar
  • Company members Marcia Saunders and Tom Teti will be joined by guest artist Scott Greer, a dynamic and well-respected actor in the Philadelphia theatre community; this will be Scott’s second production with People’s Light



WHY IS PEOPLE'S LIGHT DOING THIS PLAY?

This is a deeply romantic play about people that we rarely see on stage in a deeply romantic play. And I don’t mean love-struck romantic, or star-crossed romantic. I mean a view of the world that says love is possible at any age, that we find ourselves better through love than through isolation, that friendship can be intense and profound and extend beyond the definitions we normally give it. We care about the flaws of these people as much as their charms, which is trademark Bruce Graham.

Producing Director Zak Berkman

Bruce Graham is widely considered the dean of Philadelphia writers. I have been honored to work with him on Any Given Monday and the People’s Light production of Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown Bruce has a strong, funny and unique voice. He’s also a master storyteller. Stella and Lou is one of his most sensitive works. I am very excited to be bringing this wonderful story to our stage with long-standing company members Marcia Saunders and Tom Teti, and my friend and colleague, Scott Greer.

Director Pete Pryor



THE STORY

Plot Summary

The play is set at Lou’s Bar in South Philadelphia, a neighborhood corner spot in a very blue-collar neighborhood. It’s around midnight on a summer night.

Photos of James F. Pyne, Jr.’s set model for STELLA AND LOUPhotos of James F. Pyne, Jr.’s set model for STELLA AND LOU

Donnie, a bar regular, doesn’t want to end up alone with an empty life, but is having a rough time with his fiancé as they prepare for their wedding. Lou’s bar has become his sanctuary

Stella is a nurse in the ER, where they call her “Give-‘em-hell-Stell,” and she thinks the worst thing she sees at the hospital is when people come in alone with no one to care for them. She met Lou while caring for his wife, Lucille, in the hospital, and was attracted to his kindness. Needing a life change, Stella is considering moving to Florida, where her daughter and granddaughter live.

Lou started working at the bar, which belonged to his father-in-law, to save money before going to college. Then his wife got sick with a chronic illness and his father-in-law had a stroke. Lou has run the bar ever since.

Late at Lou’s bar, we meet these three souls at a critical moment in each of their lives. Lou and Donnie have just returned from the sparsely attended funeral of one of the bar’s regulars, arranged and paid for by Lou. Donnie is considering calling his wedding off. Stella is gathering the courage to offer Lou the possibility of close companionship.

All of them face their anxieties and fears as they wrestle with taking big life chances.

Who's Who

Lou (played by Tom Teti) – The bar owner. He’s been a widower for almost 2 years. He sticks to what he knows and is reluctant to change or make himself vulnerable in any way. He puts barely 100 miles per year on his car. He has reached stasis in his life.

Stella (played by Marcia Saunders) – A nurse in a busy city emergency room. She was married for 18 years and then got divorced. She has two grown children, a son and a daughter. She’s ready for a change, as she has a lot of life left to live.

Donnie (played by Scott Greer) – In his late 30s, a little out of shape, one of the bar regulars and a friend of Lou’s. He’s 10 months from his wedding date and feels extremely uncertain about committing himself to his fiancée and to married life in general.



THE WORLD OF THE PLAY

Stella and Lou takes place inside a small bar in South Philadelphia, an area of the city known for tightly-knit, even insular, neighborhoods delineated by economic and ethnic boundaries.

A Blue Collar Town
South Philly is bounded by South Street to the north, the Delaware River to the east and south, and the Schuylkill River to the west. It began as a satellite town to Philadelphia and officially became a part of the City of Philadelphia in 1854. Historically, the area has always been a vital part of the city’s industrial growth, attracting Black Americans from the southern U.S., immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Poland, and more recently, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Russia, and Mexico.

Geno’s Steaks, an iconic (and well-lit) South Philadelphia eatery.Geno’s Steaks, an iconic (and well-lit) South Philadelphia eatery.

“Mom-and-Pop” Businesses
Many immigrants opened shops soon after arriving here, and family-owned businesses are still a mainstay of commerce in South Philly. One can opt to shop at either large grocery stores (like Acme and ShopRite), or stop by a butcher’s, a pasta-maker’s, a neighborhood bakery and a fishmonger’s, then buy fresh produce out of a farm truck parked outside the local post office.

Termini Brothers Bakery in the heart of South Philly.Termini Brothers Bakery in the heart of South Philly.

Catholic Order
National and ethnic identities were often strongly attached to religious identity for immigrant populations coming to Philadelphia. New citizens from Ireland built a system of Catholic schools and churches across the city. That system later expanded to include Italian and Polish communities. This created a network of neighborhood parishes that identified by national traditions. In South Philly, Italian and Irish Catholic churches are particularly prevalent, and despite recent closures, residents joke that it is difficult to misbehave in South Philly, since it feels like there is a Catholic church on every third corner.

Ethnic Diversity
South Philly has perhaps been best known for its especially sizable Italian-American population, but other ethnic groups continue to settle here, diversifying the neighborhoods, businesses, restaurants, schools and churches. Even among the vendors of the Italian Market along South 9th Street – the heart of Philadelphia’s Italian-American community – Asian and Mexican influences are strongly apparent.

A Mexican shop in the Italian Market.A Mexican shop in the Italian Market.

Neighborhood Bars
If there’s a church on every third corner in South Philly, there are 3 bars per block. Many of the bars occupy former rowhomes, meaning that they are notably small and attract a localized and loyal clientele. Here are some sample South Philly bars to give you a feel for the setting of this play:

The Royal TavernThe Royal Tavern

Bob & Barbara’s LoungeBob & Barbara’s Lounge

Ray’s Happy Birthday BarRay’s Happy Birthday Bar



THE PLAYWRIGHT

Bruce Graham is a Renaissance man.

An ex-high school teacher of English and Creative Writing, Graham has taught graduate-level playwriting at The University of Pennsylvania, Villanova and Rutgers, and has conducted playwriting workshops in high schools and colleges across the country. Currently he teaches playwriting and film at Drexel University.

His textbook The Collaborative Playwright: A Practical Guide to Getting Your Play Written, co-authored with dramaturg Michele Volansky, has been published by Heinemann.

On the small screen, Graham has written for Roseanne, Leg Work and multiple soap operas. TV movies include The Christmas Secret, Right on Track, Tiger Cruise, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Trading Christmas and Cedar Cove. Big screen credits include Anastasia, Dunston Checks In, the Abbie Hoffman biopic Steal This Movie and Ring of Endless Light, which won the Humanitas Award for Best Children’s Screenplay.

Graham started out as a stand-up comic, and his acting career continues to this day. Stage appearances include the Black Cat Husband in Haunted Poe (Brat Productions), Lenny in his own play Any Given Monday (Act II Playhouse) and Richard in Time Stands Still (a co-production between Delaware Theatre Company and Act II).

His playwriting career launched at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays (PFT) in 1984 when the theatre produced his play Burkie. Soon after, he accepted the post of playwright-in-residence at PFT and later, served two years as Artistic Director.

Graham has received grants from the Pew Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. He’s won the Princess Grace Foundation Statuette, the Rosenthal Prize for Coyote on a Fence, two consecutive Barrymore Awards for Best New Play for Something Intangible and Any Given Monday, and Chicago’s Jefferson Award for The Outgoing Tide. He is the first American playwright to be invited two years in a row to the Galway Arts Festival, which produced both The Outgoing Tide and Stella and Lou.

Graham’s plays include:
Burkie (1984)
Early One Evening At The Rainbow Bar & Grille (1989)
Minor Demons (1991)
The Champagne Charlie Stakes (1992)
Cheap Sentiment (1996)
Moon Over The Brewery (1998)
Belmont Avenue Social Club (1998)
Desperate Affection (1998)
Coyote on a Fence (2000)
According to Goldman (2004)
The Philly Fan (2005)
Dex and Julie Sittin’ In A Tree (2006)
Full Figured, Loves to Dance (2007)
North of the Boulevard (2009)
Something Intangible (2009)
Any Given Monday (2011)
The Outgoing Tide (2011)
Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown (2012)
The Ahhhhh Factor (2012)
Stella and Lou (2013)

The Gritty Heart of Bruce Graham

Bruce Graham’s plays have been called “blistering” and “gritty”. Reviewers say the playwright “asks a host of tough questions.”

For example, his play Coyote on a Fence, set on death row, features a racist predator who forges an unlikely alliance with an educated and erudite fellow prisoner.

North of the Boulevard examines friends in a dying neighborhood who stumble onto a once-in-a-lifetime chance to prosper by doing wrong.

Mr. Hart and Mr. Brown, produced at People’s Light in 2012, pits mob boss Al Capone against his equally flinty brother in a ferocious and bloody battle of wills.

This playwright doesn’t shy away from confrontation. His characters scramble to get what they desperately want any way they can. As they do, Graham offsets their brutality with humanity and humor. Even the grimmest of his characters is unexpectedly, delightfully funny.

The balance of grit and wit has served Graham well over a long and prolific career. But he’s restless, and resists repeating himself.

“I change from play to play,” he says. “I get really bored writing the same thing.”

Constantly searching the growing edges of his work for new ideas, Graham moved into softer, more intimate territory with Stella and Lou. At first glance, the play looks like a radical departure for Graham, a rom-com with a pair of middle-aged protagonists. But on closer inspection, it’s clear that he’s navigating rich and murky territory here. The fear of growing old and being alone butts up against the uncertainty of change and the painful question, Why risk exposing your needs and desires when it’s unlikely they’ll ever be met?

This full-bodied commitment to the issue at hand is vintage Graham. Just as his other plays confront racism, corruption, loyalty and betrayal, Stella and Lou takes on aging. He orchestrates a face-off between two mature, capable, stubborn adults with strong views about how to live in an unpredictable world. Between them he inserts Donnie, Lou’s friend and a bar regular. On the verge of marriage and plagued with doubts, Donnie’s fears of commitment and compromise echo both the larger themes of the play and the voices in Lou’s head. Because Lou knows that change is knocking at the door of his bar. But he’s wholly unprepared when it walks right in.

STELLA: You still open?
LOU: Hey, stranger. Didn’t think ya were showin’ up.
STELLA: It’s Friday.
LOU: I know. Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
STELLA: Set your calendar by me.
LOU: Wow…
STELLA: What?
LOU: Nothin’. You just…. You look very nice.

The characters hide in small talk because they’re terrified. And perhaps that particular element lifts Bruce Graham’s plays from the specific to the universal. His good guys, his bad guys, his thieves and his lovers experience uncertainty about their next steps, and whether they’re really equipped to cope with the challenges of life. They fight their fears with sharp senses of humor and rapid-fire talk, bluffing to cover any weakness. Like many of us do. Daily.

Stella and Lou can be seen as a new gesture from playwright Bruce Graham, an unexpectedly sweet exploration of love among the middle-aged. But as always, his ferocious and funny characters dive boldly into the gritty heart of things.

Dramaturg Mary Elizabeth Scallen



STAYING POWER: Straight Talk about 40 Years in Show Biz with Stella and Lou

We sat down with the actors playing the title characters in Stella and Lo, long-time company members Marcia Saunders and Tom Teti, to ask what initially brought them to People’s Light so many years ago and what has compelled them to stay.

Marcia Saunders was four years into a burgeoning New York acting career in 1976 when she got a call from People’s Light co-founder Danny Fruchter to come act in a play that would tour to area prisons.

“That was, to this day, one of the most important and life-changing experiences for me,” she remembers.

The play, Tigers by Kendrew Lascelles, centered on a couple divided by the death of their young son. Marcia found the role and the post-show discussions with prison audiences deeply fulfilling.

And to top it off, the newly minted theatre had made its home “in Eden!” she marvels. “I had lived in this area all my life and I didn’t even know [Chester Springs] existed.”

Dazzled and invigorated, she decided, “That’s it, I’m not going back.” She sublet her New York apartment and dove into company membership: making props, cleaning toilets, sticking mailing labels onto envelopes and acting in play after play.

So if People’s Light wooed Marcia Saunders with an excellent script, evocative community conversations and a lush physical setting, how has it managed to hang on to her for nearly four decades?

“The people, the people, the people! It’s family,” Marcia says. “And the integrity of the work is just constant. I deeply love and respect People’s Light, which I call home for me, which is where I grew up, which has given me not only my chops but also my values,” like collaborating with an ensemble and seeking honesty in her acting.

She pauses in her recollection, moved.

“It makes me teary. People’s Light is so deep in me. It’s hard to separate the theatre from who I am.”

* * * *

When we asked Tom Teti why he first agreed to work with People’s Light, he said,

“Before the Theatre opened at Strode’s Mill in the summer of ’74, there was about a year’s worth of meetings and organization, location scouting, and I was in all that… So I didn’t actually come to People’s Light. I was there at the birthing of People’s Light.”

At the time, Teti was a Special Ed teacher who was taking acting classes at Hedgerow Theatre. When a small band of Hedgerow artists broke off to form their own company, they invited him along.

What made him commit so much time and energy to a fledgling endeavor, which was, statistically speaking, as likely to fail as to succeed?

“Danny was doing a daring thing and I recognized it,” he remembers. He also notes that professional theaters were few and far between in Philadelphia. “There weren’t that many places to go. So you had a choice to do it all and to do it together and to do it with him because you believed he could be successful.”

As an early company member, Tom, like Marcia, pitched in wherever he could. As the Theatre grew, his sense of ownership grew and with it, the conviction that the Theatre could successfully weather change. He started to believe that People’s Light “was this thing that would endure because it was created by so many people.”

40 years later, why is he still here?

“Because I grew it. Because I watered it and grew it and stood there with the plant in my hand,” he says. “And there’s a lot of good feeling between people here, largely… the feeling that we’re all doing this together.”