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This article by Joan Crespi published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
November 3, 1999. All rights reserved.
The Defense Never Rests
You know her as Barbara Lependorf, public defender.
In her most notorious case, she handled the defense of Jesse
the confessed rapist and murderer of Megan Kanka, the 7-year-old
Township girl whose death in 1994 spurred a national "Megan’s
Law." In mid-1998 she retired after 18 years in the public
Now Lependorf, who lives in Princeton, is the author of two one-acts
to be presented on the next two weekends by the Theater Guild of New
Jersey in its Festival of One-Acts. Although Lependorf decided early
that she wanted to be a lawyer — "I was always sympathetic
to the downtrodden" — she calls theater her first love.
"I went into trial work because of my love of theater," she
says. "In my work I was always writing of emotional issues."
Growing up in Buffalo, New York, her father was a playwright, actor,
and director for community theater groups, and he took her to
But she had never written a play until earlier this year. After
she took a course in acting at the Princeton Adult School with Jeff
Davis in the fall of ’98; she then found McCarter Theater’s adult
playwriting course, taught by Jeff McCulloch, and took that in
of ’99. "I discovered I’m a better playwright than an actor,"
At one of McCulloch’s sessions, he requested a short piece for the
next meeting. Lependorf couldn’t think of a theme. A friend suggested
two women arguing over a dress: who will look better in it and other
such questions. So Lependorf wrote a one-act, "The Millennium
Reunion," then later wrote another play with the same characters.
That became the second act. The whole piece, her first play, was
"Spanning Time." Not yet produced, Lependorf notes.
But her second and third plays, both one-acts, will be produced, and
in the same year she wrote them. Lependorf saw a newspaper article
about TTGNJ’s seeking scripts and sent hers in. The first of her
being performed, "Cops and Robbers," is a drama about a
officer, Joe, who robs a bank. Obviously the idea comes out of
The script was picked for production by TTGNJ’s Diane Dixon, managing
director and main motive force of the guild, after the 70 to 95
submitted were winnowed down to 10. But two required senior citizens
actors; none came out to audition, so she had to drop them. Meanwhile
Dixon, herself an animal person, kept thinking about Lependorf’s other
script, "Klutz and Grace," and decided to produce that play,
"Klutz has a hairball and is gagging all over, Grace is a
Lependorf reveals. The play is about two cats discussing which of
them will be homeless when their human moves to a place where, they
think, he can only have one cat. (Yes, Lependorf has almost always
had cats. But never more than one cat at a time.)
Lependorf learned dramatic structure in playwriting class, but found
she had been doing it all along because it’s strikingly similar to
an attorney’s courtroom summation. An attorney, like a playwright,
must build a case, put facts together, trying to convince by appealing
to reason and to the emotions. Lependorf, a longtime fielder of words,
can also write dialogue. "I’ve got a good ear," she says.
"Her plays have a clever sharpness," says Dixon.
Lependorf attended University of Buffalo (now SUNY
and earned her B.A. in 1959 and her law degree in ’61. Women were
not routinely accepted in the professions then, and Lependorf did
encounter negative reactions from some of her law professors,
early on, but then, no."
She bucked anti-female prejedice again in the early ’60s when she
went for her first job. "How am I going to explain to my wife
that I hired a woman?" the interviewer asked her. "Lots of
men graduated this year." But she did hold jobs at private law
firms in Buffalo.
She married Stanley Lependorf, a psychotherapist, in 1962. The family
lived in Kansas for a couple of years. After they moved back to
she became assistant district attorney, the only job of her career
on the prosecutor’s side. But she prefers the defense side. "I’ve
always sided with the underdog," she says. "I’m a firm
in individual rights." And, she finds defense "more
The family moved to Princeton in 1969 and Lependorf had a private
practice for about five years before she became a public defender.
Often she was invited to speak at the university and to young women’s
groups as a role model. Along with her demanding career, she has three
children, both of the oldest two are lawyers; her youngest is working
toward a doctorate in psychotherapy.
Recently Lependorf completed two new 15-minute one-acts: "Always,
Right" and "The Doctor Is In." And she’s working on
short play, "Coffee Break." All are comedies. After "Cops
and Robbers," a serious play, "I wanted to have some fun,"
"Most of our one-acts are light comedies," Dixon says. While
two plays are by Lependorf, the other seven are each by a different
Summer Golden’s "Cocktail Party" deals with social issues
and a bag lady. Nina Shengold’s "The Lives of Famous
is about how waitresses look at their profession. Kate McGrath’s
and Gigi" deals with a pregnant woman who comes alone to a
she used to frequent with her husband. "Don’t Think So Hard"
by Hope Gatto is about a newlywed couple. Stephen F. Skolits’
Flowers," probably the most serious of the group, deals with a
mother-daughter relationship, Diane Freidel’s "Be Sure to Get
a Number" is about a woman who brings a man home from a bar and
wishes she hadn’t, and Alex Wilkie’s "Commitment" deals with
a husband’s brother, his sister-in-law, and an unraveling marriage.
Six of the playwrights are from New Jersey; Summer Golden is from
The play reading group "looked for quality plays that weren’t
too heavy. Not too serious," says Dixon. "None of the plays
are violent, and all are entertaining. They’re kind of family
kind of traditional, and not far out, not, say, about aliens. And
they’re very easily staged."
Of necessity. TTGNJ doesn’t have its own theater. A traveling company,
it is housed for its fall season in the Yardley Community Center.
There’s no wing storage space, says Dixon, so the same furniture must
be onstage for all nine one-acts. Cast and directors include Dean
DiNardi, Tracy Cross, Debbie Ryan, and Diane Freidel.
The plays run from 8 to 16 minutes each; and each has at least 20
hours of rehearsal. "The plays are being rehearsed seven nights
a week for two hours a night," says Dixon. "And none of us
have screamed at each other. As long as I keep chocolate cakes and
juices here for sugar fixes, we’re fine."
— Joan Crespi
Yardley Community Center, 64 South Main Street, 609-586-1774. Opening
night reception. $12. Saturday, November 6, 8 p.m. Performances
continue Sunday, November 7, 3 p.m.; Saturday, November 13, 8 p.m.;
and Sunday, November 14, 3 p.m.
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