Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Austin Pendleton and Katharine Cullison Head Cast Of Five In THE DARK OUTSIDE By Bernard Kops


World premiere for latest play by one of Europe's most admired playwrights.

Austin Pendleton and Katharine Cullison Head Cast Of Five In THE DARK OUTSIDE By Bernard Kops

In "The Dark Outside" by Bernard Kops, a birthday celebration for a one-armed East London tailor, who is in a life crisis, brings home his three grown children.

All are facing traumatic changes. It falls to his wife--the family matriarch and unfailing strength--to hold the clan together. Songs and poetic outbursts are inspired because plain speech is insufficient for the family's powerful feelings. This piece is the latest work for the stage by one of England's greatest contemporary playwrights and is thematically similar to his most recent works of poetry.

Theater for the New City (TNC), 155 First Ave., will present its world premiere November 6 to 28, starring Austin Pendleton as the tailor and New York actress Katharine Cullison, for whom the part was written, as his wife. Jack F. Serio directs.

Playwright Bernard Kops, now 95, is one of Europe's best-known and most admired playwrights. In 2009, the Queen awarded him a Civil List pension on the recommendation of Downing Street for his services to literature. The award has been given to England's most important writers and puts Kops in the company of Lord Byron, Wordsworth and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He is its first Jewish recipient.

London's East End is a poor neighborhood that, in the 1950s, was rich in nascent playwrights including Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker and Bernard Kops. Kops' body of work now includes over 40 plays, nine novels, ten books of poetry, numerous radio plays and two autobiographies. The youngest of seven children of an immigrant Dutch-Jewish family, he left school at 13 during the Blitz, cut his theatrical teeth as an actor and dabbled in the second hand book trade. Drifting through the then-bohemian world of Soho, he earned unexpected fame in 1957 with "The Hamlet of Stepney Green," a comedy of the dying working-class community there. It has been performed all over the world. His other standout plays include "Ezra" (1981), about the anti-Semitic poet Ezra Pound; "Dreams of Anne Frank," which looks at the famed Holocaust victim's private life while she was incarcerated; "Enter Solly Gold," which had a 1965 production in Playhouse on the Mall in Paramus, NJ starring Jackie Mason; and "Playing Sinatra," whose American Premiere was presented by Theater for the New City in 2013.

The late Michael Kustow, the Polish-born critic, scholar and philosopher of theater, was a leading commentator on Kops' work. He wrote in The Times of London, "If [Arnold] Wesker began as the realist Edward Hopper of British Jewish theatre, Bernard Kops was and remains its dreamlike Chagall." Kustow rated Kops as a playwright with Sean O' Casey and Arthur Miller and as a poet Lorca, comparing their passion, directness and lyrical intensity. Reviewing the latest master collection of Kops' poetry, Kustow stated, "His poems about nuclear war, about the Holocaust (in which many of his family perished) and more recently about his love for his wife Erica and his immediate family, will be remembered for their shapely form and their personal force."

Insight on family informs Kops' work at every level. In 1975, suffering from drug addiction, he made a suicide attempt. He writes about the incident and his successful journey to sobriety--grateful that his family has always been an anchor for him--in his second autobiography, "Shalom Bomb: Scenes from My Life." Redemption and strength from his family are major themes in his later verse, together with something very Jewish but rare in Western literature: declarations of passionate, lifelong matrimonial love. All are powerfully present in this play.

Paul, the central character of this play, is a Savile Row tailor with the soul of a poet, who lost one arm when he was struck down near Fortnum and Mason's by a drunk in a Jaguar. His house in London's East End contains a yard with an ancient, large Mulberry tree where his family has learned to go for solace. Surrounding the house are the crime and chaos of the outside world; inside is the chaos of the family. His son, Ben, has been abandoned by his wife, who took their twins away from him. Paul's daughter, Sophie, has fallen into addiction and desolation while in college. His eldest daughter, Penny, has been offered a career-making job in New York and her separation may be the most dangerous of all to the family's solidarity. Paul's wife, Helen, must be the strength of last resort for the clan. She is modeled on Kops' own wife, Erica: mother of his four children, who is also Bernard's muse, lover, friend, editor, mentor and manager. Bernard's latest volume of collected poetry, "This Room in the Sunlight" (2010), is dedicated to her. A short poem from it might as well be Paul's anthem in the play:

For You
How long, how long can lovers last?
the days, the weeks, the years fly past
And only dreams can stem the flow
As crowds and clouds just come and go.
Come and hold me, close my eyes
And open my heart and calm my cries.

Just about every day, most of Bernard's own family comes to visit him in their South Hampstead home of 67 years. Visitors describe the place as warn and wonderful; actress Katharine Cullison calls it "the most peaceful place I have ever been in my life." It's the model for Paul's home in the play. Music is present, as a rule, in Kops' dramas. In this one, the family members erupt into song whenever feelings become too powerful to hold down. Their songs are everything from lullabies to Arlo Guthrie hits to Communist party anthems. Nature, a calming force for them, is symbolized in the play by the family's garden with its huge Mulberry tree.

The play had a staged reading at London's National Portrait Gallery just before the Covid pandemic broke out. Now, those associated with that reading relate that it anticipated feelings of the shutdowns, when families under stress have struggled for unity and equanimity.

Austin Pendleton and Katharine Cullison were leading cast members of Kops' "Playing Sinatra," which Theater for the New City presented in 2013. In the play, grown-up siblings in Streatham, London resist their lonely future by idolizing Ol' Blue Eyes. Regarded by the author as one of his best plays, it may never have come to our shores except that Cullison, a New York actress, met Kops in a playwriting workshop in 2005. The New York Times' Ken Jaworowski commended Cullison's performance especially. The part of Helen in "The Dark Outside" was written for Ms. Cullison.

Director Jack F. Serio most recently directed Misha Brooks in "solo happy & grateful" at Ars Nova. Born and raised in Boston, he was the founding Artistic Director of The Boston Teen Acting Troupe, a nationally recognized professional teen theatre company. As an assistant director, he has worked under Austin Pendleton, Alex Timbers, Lee Sunday Evans, Jason Eagan, Knud Adams, Rory McGregor, Gabriel Barre and DJ Mendel. He was an assistant in Tom Kirdahy Productions for the Broadway productions of "It's Only A Play" and "The Visit" by Terrence McNally. He is an artistic consultant to actor/comedian Aasif Mandvi and occasionally writes for HowlRound. He earned a BFA at NYU and is a member of the 2019 Lincoln Center Directors Lab and the 2019-2021 SDC Foundation Observership Class.

Ben is played by Jesse McCormick. Sophie is played by Brenna Donahue. Penny is played by Kathleen Simmonds.

Scenic Designer is Walt Spangler. Lighting Designer is Keith Parham. Costume Designer is Ricky Reynoso. Props Manager is Kathryn (China) Hayzer.  Stage Manager is Helen Thornton.

Production Coordinator/Assistant Stage Manager is Paulina Tobar.

Katharine Cullison writes, "As an artist, finding a theater that is supportive of my creative vision can be a challenge. TNC provides their actors, directors and creatives the artistic freedom and reigns to bring their visions to fruition. TNC is where honest art thrives and, thereby, where community forms. So I am very grateful to Crystal, TNC's Co-Founder and Artistic Director."

Related Articles View More Off-Off-Broadway Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You