Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quick Hit Theater Review: And a Nightingale Sang -- Westport Country Playhouse

Jenny Leona and John Skelley.  Photo by Carol Rosegg
And a Nightingale Sang
By C.P. Taylor
Directed by David Kennedy
Westport Country Playhouse
Through June 27

What's It All About?
a love story surrounding a working-class British family during World War II. Inspired by the 1940s popular song, “And a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which, among other music of the war years, is included in the play.

It is set in Northern England from 1939 to 1945. As the world rushes toward the brink of war, the Stott family copes on the home front. At the center of this domestic chaos is Helen (Brenda Meaney), who thinks herself unattractive due to a limp, but who finds herself unexpectedly awakened to the possibilities of love by Norman (Matthew Greer), a soldier home on leave. It is Helen who helps narrate the story.

Patriarch George (Sean Cullen), escapes into songs played on the piano, much to the displeasure of his wife, Peggy (Deirde Madigan), who repeatedly urges him to be quiet.  Her father, Andie, (a very engaging Richard Kline), an aging war vet, keeps showing up looking for a place to stay. All this while other daughter, Joyce (Jenny Leona) tries to decide whether to accept a proposal of marriage from Eric (John Skelley), who is about to ship overseas for action in the war.

Problems occur as war and the reconsideration of marriage vows separate the young lovers and family bonds are tested when Helen makes a surprising choice and Peggy shares a haunting secret.

What Are the Highlights? 
  • Well developed characters give us a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in wartime England. They hold our attention despite a slow moving plot.
  • Kline is a hoot and gets laughs with practically the same line delivered time and time again.
  • Director Kennedy ably stages the action with characters seemingly stepping into a new room or location without needing scene changes or prop additions to Kristen Robinson's set of the family's kitchen and living area.
What Are the Lowlights?
  • The action is pretty slow, with not a whole lot driving the plot (at intermission, audience members were kind of hoping someone would die in the war....). An opening scene has Meaney on stage well before the curtain, prompting an uneasy silence from the audience which begins to wonder whether they are supposed to be paying attention or not. This is followed by the curtain speech about sponsors and cell phones, which interrupts any sense of entering the 1940s. 
  • The strange dialect of Newcastle has characters referring to themselves in the plural and had audience members questioning each other about whom the dialogue referred. The dialogue drags and could use an edit. Lines like, "I trust you. You trust me. We trust each other, don't we?" had me sighing.
More Information: 

Playwright C.P. (Cecil Philip) Taylor, author of more than 70 plays, was born in Scotland in 1929 and spent his last 20 years in Northumberland, in Newcastle-on-Tyne. He was closely associated with the Live Theatre Company for which he wrote “And a Nightingale Sang” in 1977. He also wrote “Bring Me Smiles” and “Good.” In 1981, C.P. Taylor died suddenly at the age of 52.

The design team includes Lisa Gajda and Mary Ann Lamb, choreographers; Kristen Robinson, scenic design; Michael Krass, costume design; Matthew Richards, lighting design; and Fitz Patton, sound design.

And a Nightingale Sang plays through June 27 at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. Performances are Wednesday at 8 pm, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.; 203-227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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