The cultural hub of Liberty, Missouri, The Corbin Theatre, followed their jaw-dropping comedy, “Sordid Lives,” with a heart-warming dramatic piece that illustrates the personal isolation and thick walls individuals construct to protect themselves from the outside world.
The one-act play, “Stella and Lou,” introduces the audience to three characters–Donnie, Lou, and Stella–all needing to demolish the barriers that separate them from taking the first step on their personal “Yellow Brick Road.” All three characters face personal problems and find themselves stuck in their personal hell on earth.
Donnie opens the play speaking at a funeral for a man he barely knew. His eulogy, funny but painful, tells the isolation of a man recently deceased with no apparent family, friends, or close acquaintances. The funeral sets the tone for each character’s pain–including his own.
As the next scene opens, Lou, the bar’s owner listens to Donnie’s laments about his fiancé who envisions a wedding like the socially connected plan–big church, six bridesmaids, horse-drawn carriage–the works. As Donnie drinks, he complains more and more about the costs of a wedding and the seemingly high maintenance fiancé.
Soon, a regular Friday night parton enters and the mood shifts as Stella comes in to visit with Lou and set a plan in motion that may affect her decision to stay in Philly or move to Florida to be near her young grand-daughter. Stella’s story drives the plot and offers interesting turning points as the story develops.
The play opens with Mitchell Flottmann’s clumsy speech and he introduces a character, full of doubts and struggling with his own reality and fears. Flottmann calls on his comedic talents to create and develop a flawed character full of fears about his impending marriage and future. His character surfaces throughout the play; and, with each scene, he builds on the character and exposes a kind, but scared young man who needs an awakening to find his direction. Flottmann navigates the trick character with a balance of comedy, fear, and heart.
As for bar owner Lou, Greg Smith displays a man caught in his own cage. His world exists only in his bar with a few regulars. No wife, no social life, no family, adds to his isolation as he walks the same daily path with no outside world influences. Smith takes the likeable bartender from a placid, easy-going, low-key person to a raging fire-storm when his world is challenged by Stella. Smith slowly increases his character from a dying ember to a raging flame as his character changes, challenges, and confronts his past, his present, and his future. Watching his character change can send chills at his apex.
The spark plug to Lou’s drab existence, Stella, comes regularly to the bar, but tonight, she’s got a new agenda. Portrayed by Janet Shelman, Stella comes to visit and talk about plans to move to Florida. She realizes her Philly life is isolated, but a Florida life may lead to a similar situation down the road. Where would she be most comfortable? That’s Stella’s dilemma. However, Stella won two tickets to an Atlantic City show, and the opportunity to take Lou along for an evening out just might help her make the right decision. Shelman builds her character as the play progresses. She slowly opens the character up to reveal the inner feelings and pain suffered. Her part rips open the loneliness of those who have no one to share their lives. Shelman gives a strong presentation of her character.
“Stella and Lou” gives the audience a heart-felt play about people who need acceptance and understanding. The loneliness and isolation come in three different situations in this case. Each of the characters needs a missing element to find their security. The play develops slowly yet ends with rapid-fire resolutions. Strong acting gets the audience engaged from the beginning. With only 90 minutes, each line needs to move toward the end, and it does.
The show definitely entertains and gives patrons a reason to buy season tickets and also tell their friends. The set is well designed and the staging works well. The lighting, sound, and costumes are very appropriate for the show’s theme. When the acting and technical come together like this, every patron comes out smiling. Great production in a small-size venue.
The cast is: Mitchell Flottmann as Donnie, Greg Smith as Lou, Janet Shelman as Stella. Ernest L. Williams directed the 90-minute one act play written by Bruce Graham. The crew for “Stella and Lou” included: Caleb Baily, stage manager and sound operator; Derek Pettus, light board operator; Greg Smith, set design; Greg Smith, Linda Levin, Jane Boswell, Kim Smith, Nikki Kruse, Laura LaCour, set construction; Jack Giacornetti, lighting design.
“Stella and Lou” opened Oct. 25 and runs two weekends through Nov. 3 at The Corbin Theatre in Liberty, Missouri. Ticketing and more information can be found at The Corbin Theatre website.
Tags: “Stella and Lou” review, Corbin Theatre, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment