The Grand Manner
by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Judy Corderoy
Reviewed by Graham McCoubrie – 9 February, 2013 for Theatrecraft
We are taken back in time with this piece of work based upon the life experiences of a young A. R. “Pete” Gurney who, hailing from Boston, goes to Manhattan from his New England Boarding school just to see star and legend Katherine Cornell playing Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Martin Beck Theatre in1948.
It could be termed an autobiography of prolific playwright Gurney but it is written about an event set in one small part of his life. It is the younger Gurney’s encounter with a world of fantasy where being merely life-size isn’t enough.
MTC’s team from Dad’s Army put Steve Trevan’s very much art deco set design together to create the Green Room of the theatre. To subtly emphasize the location, two scenes of New York skyline were set above the ceiling line either side of a billboard highlighting the season of Antony and Cleopatra. The open stage was furnished with an art deco side table and an upstage bar, while centre stage a luxurious chaise lounge was the focal point for most of the work.
Both men were costumed well by Marie Skitt in the 40s style while Ms Cornell’s several changes of costumes were commanding and, while matronly, did add to her status as a diva of the times.
Pete, played by Connor McCrae, opens the performance by explaining his reasons for wanting to meet with the star of stage and screen, that they both had their upbringing in Buffalo and he wanted her autograph to show to his school peers that he actually did get backstage to achieve his dream. His youthful exuberance shone together with his determination, although there was a touch of awkwardness and naivety in his performance. His desire to meet Cornell overshadowed his reason for coming to New York, that of “meeting his girlfriend” when in actual fact he didn’t have a girlfriend and he really wanted to play out his fantasy of meeting and getting Cornell’s autograph.
To get to see Cornell meant having to run the gauntlet with Cornell’s husband, manager and producer Guthrie McClintic, played strongly by Geoff Arnold. McClintic has directed dozens of her plays, many well beyond their use-by date. He was a fiery foulmouthed entrepreneur and showed desires for Pete by inviting him to their country residence where he could join them swimming nude while promising him a job in theatre.
The underlying sex didn’t stop there as Gert, played by Cheryl Richards, was Cornell’s “great and good friend” and confidant who travels eternally with her and, while having an air of gruffness, was able to give Cornell the devotion and boost she needed whenever she was down and challenged. Such relationships back in the 1940s were only allowed to flourish in the world of permissive theatre.
Katherine Cornell with all of her frailties was played superbly by Vicki Smith, who took us on a journey of her life where she said “lt’s a terrible thing to be trapped in the wrong role.” Young Pete exposes her to her past roots in Buffalo at the very time she doubts herself as an artist. Vicki Smith showed all the empathy and grandeur of a great diva, commanding us throughout until the very end where Cornell re-enacted her last great scene of Cleopatra in her dying moments, but doing so with the close attention of Gert.
After Cornell’s “final curtain” we were taken back to the beginning with Pete completing his dialogue, reflecting on the events that we witnessed that were now part of his history, leaving an indelible mark in his life.
A richly staged piece of work with four actors and a director leaving us well entertained once again at the Shirley Burke Theatre.
Moonlight and Magnolias
by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Gaetano Santo
Reviewed by Bruce Cochrane – 15 November 2012 for Theatrecraft
By now the story behind the making of mega-movie Gone With The Wind is widely known and the play about it has been popular with many theatre companies, offering as it does a blend of comedy and nostalgia. As a prologue a newsreel from 1939 set the scene in showing the publicity build-up to the premiere of the biggest blockbuster to that time.
In the male roles, this production featured three of Mordialloc’s finest and was particularly physical, more so than other interpretations I’ve seen. It was also more macho in the interaction between the characters, emphasising an inherent aggression which at times tended to reduce the potential for laughs. This was the old problem of actors shouting to convey anger or frustration and now allowing enough variation of expression for an audience to maintain their engagement with each character.
Opening on an attractive and functional set (Martin Gibbs’ design) which served admirably as the office of a Hollywood movie mogul of the thirties, the play set off at the required breakneck speed. With the shooting deadline fast approaching, David O. Selznick, played by Shane Ryan, is urging Ben Hecht (Adrian Gertler) to take on a rewrite of the script where others have failed to deliver. In the process of coercion Shane hit an early peak of energetic aggression, which he maintained for most of the first act and set the pace for the other actors. Ben Hecht has probably the best lines in the play and Adrian Gertler had the right tone and inflexion to get the sarcastic humour in his lines before doing his share of shouting. As veteran director Victor Fleming, Stephen Shinkfield was uncharacteristically subdued at the outset before warming up with the action sequences. A lot of work had gone into these scenes of frenetic wrestling, running and slapping episodes that accompany the playing out of action as part of script development. The actors threw themselves into these exhausting routines which got plenty of laughs and were executed with maximum effort and timing.
As the days pass the need to demonstrate the degeneration of the office requires a build up of screwed up paper and peanut shells as well as discarded clothes. For this production a decision had been made to close the curtain for several minutes to achieve the transition. This took away from the flow of the story and suspecting that interval had arrived led some of the audience to clap half-heartedly. We are well adjusted to the practice of effecting scene changes without losing momentum by bringing the actors into the process. When the curtain closes it closes us off from the actors.
The fourth character in this scenario, Miss Poppenghul, is a challenge which calls for maximum result from minimum lines. Michaela Smith was a good choice for the role of long-suffering secretary to Selznick. Well directed and with an appreciation of the comedy potential of her part, Michaela extracted humour with her walk and her talk but especially her facial expressions. This was an area of the men’s performances which seemed to have been mostly lost in the helter-skelter of action.
Jeff Saliba was a major contributor to the production as assistant director, sound and lighting design (with Kyle Smith) and voiceovers (with Peter Newling) and was too busy to be a member of the large set construction team. Overall this was a good standard production which seemed to hit the mark with the Mordialloc audience.
Prelude to a Kiss
by Craig Lucas
Directed by Tim Long
Reviewed by Jill Watson – 20 September, 2012 for Theatrecraft
Program notes tell us that this is a modern day romantic fairy tale. Peter and Rita meet, fall in love and marry, all in a short space of time. A supernatural event happens at the wedding, brought on by the bride kissing an old man who turns up unexpectedly. The result of this kiss (good stage effects, I must say, with electricity flashing through hands) tests the strength of their love and commitment to each other. Won’t say any more, as it could spoil the play for future performances, but suffice to say the event changes the personality significantly of Rita.
The work is set mainly in 1990s New York, with various locations: Rita’s flat, her parents’ place, a hotel poolside in Jamaica. The device used to depict scene changes was a large open book upstage, with page turning by various cast members. The paintings of these places were done in a childish fashion and the whole exercise worked successfully. The other props were a bar stage left and two chairs downstage right.
Various characters pass through Rita and Peter’s lives. Matt Mirams as Taylor, the friend who introduces Peter to Rita, has a strong stage presence and portrayed a hippy New Yorker very well. The interaction between Rita, Peter and Taylor at the beginning of the play was well done, with annoying, well-sustained twangy New York accents!
Roger Poynder and Lyn Laister as Rita’s parents worked strongly together, showing the dissension on how they dealt with their daughter. I did, however, have an occasional problem in understanding Roger; he swallowed some of his lines.
Michelle Murphy made a strong impact with her two small parts, the Minister and Leah (the old man’s daughter); clear diction and quite different in each part. Sheila Balis and Connie Bram played Aunt Dorothy and Cousin Fiona, who attend the wedding.
I was very impressed with David Dodd’s portrayal of the old man. He seemed to come from nowhere in the wedding scene, quietly standing at the bar while the other guests mingled. People were asking who he was and a good amount of tension was built up, coming to a head when Rita is drawn into his gaze and responds to his request for a kiss. David’s later scenes with Peter, after the latter’s return from honeymoon, showed the rapport between the two, despite the strange circumstances.
Elisabeth Gertner as Rita believably portrayed the rather intense, communist-leaning young woman (I noted the picture of Che Guevara on the wall in her flat), coping with insomnia. She unexpectedly (for her) falls in love with Peter and later on experiences a change of personality. Not to be too critical, as Elisabeth did particularly well, but I missed some of her lines now and then (I have excellent hearing).
Tim Long as Peter gave a wonderfully sustained performances, depicting a kind, gentle young man slightly out of his depth with happenings, but possessing a practical strength to pull through. I liked the way he handled the intermittent conversation with the audience, explaining things and carrying us along with how he felt. Well done Tim, you totally turned around my opinion that directors should not appear in their own play!
This play is deeper than it first appears and has a lot to say about tolerance and how people deal with adversity without going into a panic.
Thank you, Mordialloc, for an excellent evening’s entertainment.
Life & Beth
by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Martin Gibbs
Reviewed by Phyll Freeman – 1 July, 2012 for Theatrecraft
Mordialloc, now back in their recently renovated theatre, gave us the latest Ayckbourn play in Life & Beth. As with all, or most of his plays, the central theme was family. Here we have a whimsical take on the ‘newly departed’.
As Beth, we were treated to a well-rounded character from the experienced Christine Bridge. She showed us the gradual awakening from the role of an unassuming wife to a person ready to make her own decisions, with a little setback along the way. Beth’s sister-in-law, Connie Bunting, was played by Christine Taylor, whose grief at her brother’s demise was loud, continuous and helped along by a glass or two of red wine. Playing an inebriated character is not easy, but Christine did it well. As this was a Christmas get-together, Beth’s son and his girlfriend arrived. Paris Romanis as Martin, the son, took control of the arrangements. Jackie Kosmak as the girlfriend, Ellie, seemed so overcome by all the fuss that she was
unable to utter a word! David Dodd as Gordon, the late husband, appeared to Beth every now and again. He was dressed in his business suit and his manner was still as dictatorial to poor Beth as ever. The prime mover of this visitation was the local vicar, Rev. David Grinseed, amusingly played by Alan Dilnot, who had a ball with the role. Connie, between drinks, had her eye on him, his entrances lifted the pace.
The setting was a living room of a house somewhere in England. A light brown settee doubled as a bed for Beth, with older style furniture elsewhere. A dining setting was upstage audience right just in front of a two-door hatch into the kitchen. This was used to good effect throughout the play. A Christmas tree was produced and garlanded with great aplomb by Martin. The back wall had a wide curtain across through which the red light of the Christmas reindeer flickered continually. The lighting was excellent, especially when Gordon came to visit. Costumes were present day. Music was upbeat and English accents were acceptable.
This play was not as ‘in depth’ as Ayckbourn’s previous plays but was enjoyed by the large audience.
by Ruth and Augustus Goetz
Directed by Vicki Smith
Reviewed by Alison Campbell Rate – May 16, 2012 for Theatrecraft
Based on a Henry James novel of 1880, this play concerns Catherine, the painfully shy daughter of a wealthy widowed doctor whose emotional detachment and poorly concealed disappointment with his daughter’s lack of social accomplishments has dominated her life. Along comes Morris Townsend, offering Catherine the love and acceptance she craves. Is he sincere or merely a fortune hunter as her father suspects?
First impressions were all about Vicki Smith’s sumptuous set – gorgeous! Dr Austin Sloper’s front parlour featured a seven-piece striped satin suite, side tables, desk, knick-knacks, lamps and flowers (nice to see these change as time passed). Dividing the parlour from the entrance hall upstage was a ‘wall’ of separated panels, each slightly angled and papered to match the room. This allowed us to see ‘through’ the wall as characters moved beyond. Warm, rich colour and a sense of elegant order prevailed. I loved the large portrait above the mantelpiece of Catherine’s mother, symbolically commanding the attention denied to the daughter. Two tiny quibbles: the big sash windows remained obviously closed even on a hot summer evening, and they also had no side drapes or dressing of any kind. This seemed at odds with the realistic opulence of the rest of the room.
As Catherine, Anna Rodway gave a lovely controlled performance. Her character travelled believably from the gawky, socially inept, submissive girl to the self-possessed woman who coolly deals the final card in the ‘game’ Morris has fully expected to win. Catherine’s emotional journey was clearly conveyed and nicely understated. The final scene where she stands listening to him knocking and calling for entrance, and deliberately walks away carrying the lamp, leaving him, and us, in darkness, was one of many lovely moments and indicative of Vicki Smith’s intelligent direction throughout. Geoff Arnold played Dr Sloper with a sure hand, displaying a complex blend of genuine concern for Catherine’s happiness overridden by frustration and contempt at her perceived shortcomings. Geoff gave the scene where he interviews Morris as to his intentions an enjoyably restrained ‘cat and mouse’ quality, and I liked his domestic moments with the maid, Maria, played with energy and a sense of fun by Hayley Lawson-Smith.
Julie Arnold was Dr Sloper’s romantically inclined sister Lavinia. Julie imbued her character with unsquashable optimism and delivered some very funny moments: an engaging performance. Kieran Tracey as the ingenuous Morris Townsend employed a diffident, plausible manner that effectively kept us wondering about his motives. I liked the way Morris expanded in Lavinia’s company, physically and vocally, revealing more of his true nature. His calling out to Catherine at the end from off-stage hit just the right note of entreaty and disbelief. I would like to have seen just a little more polish and definition in Kieran’s way of moving and sitting. Smaller roles comprised the doctor’s other sister, sensible Elizabeth, played with warmth by Juliet Hayday; Catherine’s cousin Marion, a delightful performance from Taryn Eva; Morris’s cousin Arthur, played competently by Matt Mirams; and Morris’s sister Mrs Montgomery, a confident portrayal by Jennifer Piper.
Top marks to Christine Bridge and Sheila Balis for the magnificent costuming, especially Catherine’s red dress for the last scene – it said it all. Gordon Boyd’s lighting design was very effective; I loved the cold light from the street while Catherine was waiting for the faithless Morris, and the subtle use of the hand-held lamps. Sound design, also by Vicki Smith, added to the atmosphere. All in all, an intriguing story well delivered by everyone involved.