Dayton Theatre Guild presents
“Stella and Lou”

Dayton Theatre Guild’s Adam Clevenger playing Donny, Geoff Burkman playing Lou,
and Amy Taint playing Stella in “Stella and Lou”

By Jaqui Theobald

January is the perfect time to enjoy the story of a relationship between two mature adults. There’s a funeral for nostalgia, a younger man’s upcoming wedding for contrast, there’s a bit of humor, and finely drawn characters.

Gary Thompson directs the 90-minute, surprisingly complex, wise play by Bruce Graham.

It feels like eavesdropping to sit in Lou’s bar in South Philly, on a night when most of the regulars have gone to the shore. Proprietor Lou, played by Geoff Burkman, has spent the last few years caring for his ill wife. Now that she has died, he is purposeless and depressed. He tries hard to maintain his game face at work.

Stella, portrayed by Amy Taint, is a regular patron who stops by after returning from a vacation, seeking the comfort of the familiar. Their conversation indicates an easy level between old friends until…she tells him their relationship has to move to a different level, or she’s going to move to Florida.

Donny, played by Adam Clevenger, is the young man that hangs out at Lou’s and is almost like a son to him. He has some big doubts and questions about marriage.

In an online interview, Bruce Graham said “I’ve always lived in Philadelphia. It makes us blunt.” His plays tend to deal with essential life issues, with characters like people we know. They are not rough or harsh or blunt, but more inclined toward being realistic even in tender situations that require an understanding of the human condition. He says he wants audiences to get involved with the people in his plays, to care about them, and wonder about their tomorrows.

He is an exceedingly prolific playwright, with more than a dozen shows in production all over the country. Theatre Guild patrons will remember his recently performed, Outgoing Tide.

“The main theme is loneliness,” Burkman said. “I’m working on making [Lou’s] pain real and on why he’s like he is, stuck in a place and routines of another time.” He called it “a funny, touching ‘dramedy’.”

Taint talked about how much she respects and admires Stella’s profession, nursing. “Stella’s tougher than I am. This is an opportunity to put all I’ve learned into her. She wants to change and is willing to take risks. I’m more self- protective. As for Donny; the young may ask for advice, and we may offer it. But really they have to learn life for and by themselves.”

Donny has to bring his serious questions and second thoughts about marriage and the future to the bar, of course. Lou is quite positive, having experienced a long and satisfactory union. On the other hand, Stella, as a long time divorcee, is much more cautious, perhaps even sardonic.

Loneliness, change, and risk-taking are serious issues to ponder on a warm night in South Philly. Stella and Lou reminisce about the recent funeral of their friend, Riley, and his quality of life. He made the choice to spend most of his time at the bar, silently drinking, ignoring his family.

Thompson, Burkman, and Taint are very mysterious about the great revelation at the end of the play. They are determined to hold tight to their secret, teasing preview readers.

The set is a working bar, complete with electricity, appliances, running water, and beer taps. It was designed by the always creative, Tristan Cupp, Artistic Director of Zoot, the puppet theatre. Many Guild-faithfuls worked on bringing it to completion.

An old bar is full of memorabilia and collections of “stuff.” Heather Martin has done a mammoth job of finding eye catchers and oddities to conjure nostalgia.

Thompson is quite impressed with the skills of the crew. The unseen backstage experts can make all the difference in the success of a show. Dawn Roth Smith is Stage Manager, and “so much more” he adds. “She brings an understanding of acting and directing and is wonderfully competent, managing all the small details.”

Barb Jorgensen is the producer and costume designer. She often wears other hats, including prize winning actor.

The lighting designer was Scott Wright, who runs the light booth himself. Thompson handled the sound design, and the board was run by Sarah Saunders.

Playwright Graham is also an actor, making him aware of what it means to be onstage. He’s sensitive to the actors’ needs. He has also taught at Drexel University in his beloved Philadelphia.

Thompson said, “I feel so honored to be directing for the first time at the Guild. Such a talented, earnest, and focused group, all working together to make good shows.”

“There were thirty people trying out for each of the major roles.”  He found auditions overwhelming and exhausting, as he struggled to make the right choice.

“Finally” he said, “I had to go with chemistry. There has to be that indefinable ‘something’ between the actors when the play is essentially a duet.”

“Stella and Lou” will be performed at The Dayton Theatre Guild from Jan. 19 through Feb. 4, 2018. To buy tickets or for show times and scheduling, please go to The Dayton Theatre Guild is at 430 Wayne Avenue, 45410. The phone number is 937.278.5993.   

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Jacqui Theobald
Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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