Croce continuing comedic career in 'The Divorcees Club'


If he had followed his initial interest in environmental advocacy, Stephen Croce would have become a forest ranger, a vocation with an extremely identifiable wardrobe. Though he retains an infatuation with conservation, he has developed a preference for promoting the power of laughter. Through March 22, the 57-year-old is preserving levity through “The Divorcees Club,” a rollicking reflection on relationships in which his attire plays a vital part, as he is portraying Bridget, one of three members of the titular clique.

“She’s a gas,” the ex-Queen Village inhabitant said of his character, whom press materials have dubbed “The Country Girl” owing to her South Carolina roots. “She’s brassy, smart and funny, and I’m loving the role because it’s not often a performer can play someone of the opposite sex and because I’m establishing a rapport with the audience by breaking the fourth wall.”

Croce is crafting his portrayal of Bridget, whose roommates have also discovered the difficulties of forging fruitful unions, for the first time in the United States, having handled the original English translation of 2003’s “Le Clan des Divorcées in the ’06 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Calling the piece “a zany comedy,” he esteems its accessibility and lauds its lessons, particularly appreciating the rarity of making truly great friendships.

“We have to nourish and keep those because they keep us grounded,” the thespian mused. “Bridget, who’s almost like a cartoon, makes that so humorously apparent.”

Having learned late last summer of plans for a Philadelphia production, Croce, not immediately aware that brothers and show originators Alil and Hazis Vardar desired for him to reprise his involvement, scored the part on Halloween. With seasonal gardening work concluding in November, he commenced his comprehension of the revised text in December, with the first curtain rising occurring Jan. 14.

“It was an intense preparation period,” he said, noting that the body energy surrounding his execution had not dipped one bit. “Almost two months in, I have a much deeper appreciation for the role and am fortunate to be working with great people. That’s always inspiring.”

Overseers have dubbed the Penn’s Landing Playhouse offering, with action occurring within The Independence Seaport Museum, a look at “movin’ in and movin’ on,” with Croce, who finds himself thrilled with his assignment’s endowment of chances for reconnections with viewers whom he knows well based on their shared South Jersey roots, stressing that stressing over setbacks will rarely yield solutions.

“We have to recognize and sometimes reorder our priorities, especially with respect to love,” he said. “That’s another moral that people can take from the show. We might have many romances or one great one, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget about our friends along the way.”

As a Pennsauken-reared youth, the Camden-born individual benefited from connections comparable to those among his stage colleagues. Though a member of a very musically-inclined clan, he strayed from fully considering a calling within the creative realm, instead feeling he would find something more viable.

“I’m a bit of an idealist, so I thought protecting the environment would offer me a means to give back to society,” Croce, who acquired an environmental science degree from Stockton State College, now Stockton University, said. “Eventually, I realized I could do the same thing by entertaining.”

Catching a theater performance during Croce’s senior year of college, an agent inspired his move to New York, where science proved his premier siren, with the Garden State native finding work as a chemist. Singing and experimental theater occupied him next, but during a 1988 dry spell, he thought to broaden his reach by considering broadcasting thanks to a love for sports. Shortly before deciding to chronicle the feats of others, he heard from a Switzerland-situated theater entity, leading to European tours that gave observers opportunities to document his prowess.

“What great adventures I had!” Croce beamed of roles as Woof in “Hair” and Eddie/Dr. Scott in “The Rocky Horror Show.” “To have seen so many places and witnessed so much culture, that was unforgettable.”

Paris, another haven for history, served as his residence for 15 years and offered a plethora of triumphs, including Oz Theatre Co., employment on works such as “Dracula Rock,” “Melody for Murder” and “Trouble in Cactus County,” membership as Jake Blues in The French Connection Band, which also took him to Italy and Switzerland, and music and recording duties for film and television.

“Rarely a dull moment, right?” Croce, also a voice-over talent for cartoons and documentaries, said when reflecting on his credits. “By no means do I want to think I’m anywhere near the end, but when I look back, I think I’ve been very fortunate.”

Like his current embodiment, whose space mates, Bethany and Marie, offer gratitude for their exchanges, the actor values the value of friendship, noting the Vardar siblings have won his eternal respect for placing such trust in his skills. Centering on being the center of attention throughout his career, Croce regards “The Divorcees Club,” whose promotional poster indeed features him in the middle, not as an outlet for him to dominate but as a channel for championing camaraderie and artistic immersion.

“People are coming to laugh, obviously, and having me playing a woman in a woman’s world is going to help, but there’s more to it than that,” he confessed. “We’re not looking to be overly philosophical, but it does help that we’re touting love, romantic, friendly, self-infused, whatever you’d like.”

With regards to love in his own life, Croce, along with cherishing his chances to perform for acquaintances, is enjoying bliss with Tamara, his girlfriend of three years, and her two daughters, whom he has come to count as his own. A multiple-laughs-a-minute element of “The Divorcees Club,” he considers his real-life company the most compelling blessing and provider of perspective.

“Man, woman, whatever, we need support and people to support,” he said. “Love doesn’t stop the world; it makes it go round.” 

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