Curtain up! After a 20-year hiatus, live, professional theatre returns to Lititz

By on May 8, 2019

It’s a new era for live entertainment in Lititz.

After countless months of pre-production and rehearsals, Springs Park Playhouse made its inaugural debut in downtown Lititz on May 3 with “Screwtape ReWired: School’SIN.” The reimagined tale, originally conceived by Gillette Elvgren, is a contemporary spin on C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters. But this updated version adds several new twists and turns along the way to say the least.

And we were there to catch the first performance.

A cloudy and rainy opening night set the perfect tone for the subject matter of the show. Once the house lights went down, guests were treated to an immersive, dark underworld that’s one part Tim Burton and one part Steampunk.

The play centers around Professor Scapegloat (Tim Stanlake, who also directed), who is the teacher of a class known as Sin 101. In this institution, evil is celebrated and the word “love” is struggled to be spoken.

Accompanied by live music provided by a piano and drum, Stanlake belts out “Demon Street” as the opening number, which brings the audience closer in for the ride. He prances, dances, and slinks up and down the aisles like a snake, occasionally looking right into an audience member’s eyes, or saying “Hey, you look familiar” to an unsuspecting customer in the crowd.

Stanlake (who serves as the Executive Director of Springs Park Playhouse) is fully committed to this devilish character, and brings the “wow factor” from the very first line. His portrayal is dark, scary, mysterious, and intimidating. His character is an ego-driven maniac that will do almost anything to get his way.

Tim Stanlake (left) plays Professor Scapegloat and Haley Harter (right) portrays Dismal in Springs Park Playhouse’s Screwtape Rewired: School’SIN which is currently playing at Snavely Family Theatre at Linden Hall. Photos by Jenny Foster.

Enter Dismal (actress Haley Harter), who is Scapegloat’s understudy. As the teacher’s pet, this ferocious wannabe works hard to win her instructor over. She’s also filled with angst, and trades quips (and eventual blows) with Scapegloat, all the while texting on her smartphone. Harter plays this role perfectly, with just the right amount of snarkiness and attitude.

Meanwhile, on earth, a couple — Charlie and Christy — are shown throughout various stages of their lives. Across the decades, they experience many ups and downs. From down below, Scapegloat and Dismal are watching, and intervene from time to time, working hard to introduce sin, temptation, and turmoil into the couple’s lives through actions like subtle whispers or rainstorms. Local actor Joe Anthony plays the role of Charlie, a loving, yet insecure and doubting boyfriend. Actress Erica Joy Wolgemuth Johnson is Christy, Charlie’s loving companion. The pair have instant chemistry, and as the play presses on, your feelings for them grow. Both actors shine in their roles, and you’ll be convinced that they are actually a real, local couple who somehow found their way onstage.

The show extends farther than the other side of the proscenium arch. This innovative use of space creates a set within a set, and Stanlake takes full advantage of it — in front of the first row of seats lies many pieces of the story including the teacher’s desk. There’s also a stool, which serves as a small “throne” where Dismal perches and learns the teachings of her master. She’s a character you grow to love throughout the show as she moves through the different phases of her story arc. By the end, you can’t help but cheer her on.

Will Charlie and Christy overcome temptation and live happily ever after, despite the meddlings of Scapegloat and Dismal? Only time will tell. Stanlake has all the ingredients for successful local theatre: outstanding actors, a dedicated tech crew, amazing set design, and compelling music. Everyone involved in the production is passionate about their craft and it shows.

Joe Anthony (right), plays Charlie and Erica Joy Wolgemuth is Christy in Screwtape: Rewired. In the show, the actors portray a couple who struggles through life across several decades.

Screwtape Rewired: School’SIN is weird, crazy, dark, funny, outlandish, and brilliant. It’s also very colorful and has a lot of heart, and leaves the viewer with a positive and uplifting message without being overly preachy. You will have to look far and wide to find another show like this anywhere in Pennsylvania.

It’s now up to the community of Lititz, as well as residents all over Central Pennsylvania, to embrace Springs Park Playhouse. It’s evident that with Stanlake’s vision, passion, and drive, interest will only build as the word continues to get out about this new, local treasure.

The next production for Springs Park Playhouse is Charlotte’s Web, which is slated for August. After that, The Snow Queen will end the 2019 season in December.

There’s still opportunities to catch Screwtape Rewired: School’SIN. Remaining performances will be held May 8-11 at 7 p.m. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets, visit springsparkplayhouse.com.

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

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