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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

Timmendequas,

the confessed rapist and murderer of Megan Kanka, the 7-year-old

Hamilton

Township girl whose death in 1994 spurred a national "Megan’s

Law." In mid-1998 she retired after 18 years in the public

defender’s

office.

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

rehearsals.

But she had never written a play until earlier this year. After

retirement,

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

winter-spring

of ’99. "I discovered I’m a better playwright than an actor,"

she says.

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

titled

"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

scripts

being performed, "Cops and Robbers," is a drama about a

corrections

officer, Joe, who robs a bank. Obviously the idea comes out of

Lependorf’s

professional life.

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

scripts

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,

too.

"Klutz has a hairball and is gagging all over, Grace is a

snob,"

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

Buffalo)

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,

"fairly

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

Buffalo,

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

believer

in individual rights." And, she finds defense "more

challenging."

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

another

short play, "Coffee Break." All are comedies. After "Cops

and Robbers," a serious play, "I wanted to have some fun,"

she says.

"Most of our one-acts are light comedies," Dixon says. While

two plays are by Lependorf, the other seven are each by a different

playwright.

Summer Golden’s "Cocktail Party" deals with social issues

and a bag lady. Nina Shengold’s "The Lives of Famous

Waitresses"

is about how waitresses look at their profession. Kate McGrath’s

"Lulu

and Gigi" deals with a pregnant woman who comes alone to a

restaurant

she used to frequent with her husband. "Don’t Think So Hard"

by Hope Gatto is about a newlywed couple. Stephen F. Skolits’

"Silk

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

San Diego.

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

oriented,

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

Festival of One Acts , Theater Guild of New Jersey,

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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