in my humble opinion

The play’s the thing

Posted 11/8/23

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that I had made a commitment last weekend to catch River Rep Theatre’s evening of one-act plays at the Delaware Valley Opera Center (DVOC) for a …

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in my humble opinion

The play’s the thing


To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled that I had made a commitment last weekend to catch River Rep Theatre’s evening of one-act plays at the Delaware Valley Opera Center (DVOC) for a couple of reasons. For one, I’m still dealing with elbow/arm/hand issues that have me vexed, to say the least—and make it extremely difficult to navigate using my computer, the keyboard, the mouse and, oh yeah—driving. Yes, it hurts.

Secondarily, I’ve seen a couple of River Rep’s offerings of late, and while I’ve been able to appreciate the talents of all involved, the material chosen thus far has left me kind of cold. I’ve discussed this with artistic director Christopher Peditto in some detail—yet my reviews, to date, have somehow met with his approval. 

“It’s clear that we simply have different tastes,” I said last Saturday prior to the show, to which he nodded in agreement. 

“I know you’re a fan of musical theatre,” Peditto said in response, “and sometimes I am too.” He then went on to mention two musicals I absolutely loathe. “Boy, you’re tough to please,” Peditto said with a twinkle in his eye. “I hope you enjoy tonight’s offerings.”

The plays, “Sea Wall,” written by Simon Stephens, and “The Catastrophist,” by Lauren Gunderson, are contemporary works and were unfamiliar titles to me. Both feature one actor delivering what could be considered (in simplistic terms) a monologue, and I was nervous. I’ve seen both men (Charlie McElveen and Arthur Aulisi, respectively) in previous River Rep productions and as mentioned…

While I should have known better, I feebly attempted to scribble a few notes in my program during the show, but I can’t really decipher what amounts to chicken scratches by the light of day. That said, I was more than impressed with both plays—enough to not have to rely on notes. What I could make out in the margin of the “Sea Wall” portion of my program was this: “Insanely well written” and “intensely, thoughtfully, grippingly, movingly, beautifully performed” by McElveen, who held the audience rapt with attention throughout the hour or so of the character’s storytelling. Stephens’ play is (IMHO) an actor’s dream, allowing for great range and subtlety, but only in the hands of someone as skilled as McElveen (he’s really, really good) and director Peditto. Bravo.

Not to be outdone, Arthur Aulisi is equally skilled (what are the odds?) and “The Catastrophist” is yet another great example of fine, fine writing coupled with a subtle, layered, deeply moving performance from Aulisi. 

Described by playwright Gunderson as “a play about a pandemic specialist, written during the height of the pandemic,” it is about her husband, virologist Nathan Wolfe. “Though not a play about COVID19,” she writes, “it is a true story of a pandemic expert, and a deep dive into the profundities of scientific exploration, the lengths one goes for love and family, the bracing truths of fatherhood and discovery, and the harrowing realities of facing your own mortality.”

In fact, those themes run through both plays and it’s abundantly clear why director Peditto paired them as he has and thoughtfully chosen the actors that he did. Honestly, I was blown away. 

Both plays are incredibly well crafted, both actors superbly suited to their roles, and both are so well staged and directed that I wanted to shake everyone’s hands following the performance, but it hurts to extend my arm. “It’s like a master class in acting, writing and directing,” I wisely dictated into the phone on my way home to a bottle of ibuprofen and That Dog Named Gidget. “Catch it while you still can!” 

Performances of “Sea Wall” and “The Catastrophist” at the DVOC are slated for Friday through Sunday (November 10-12) and tickets are available through

For more on River Rep Theatre, visit

Fun Fact: “The play’s the thing” appears to be “a part of a soliloquy in William Shakespeare‘s ‘Hamlet’. But it is much more than that. Shakespeare always placed a layer upon another layer to hide the actual meaning beneath the complexity of lateral meanings.” Hmmm.  (

river rep theatre, delaware valley, opera center, imho, arthur aulisi, gunderson, play, show, performance, review


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