'Family' theme gives insight to Westport Playhouse's 85th season
Published 8:18 am, Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Westport Country Playhouse's slogan for its 85th season is "Theater Worth Talking About." And its artistic director, Mark Lamos, started the discussion during a recent program that previewed the coming five-play season.
Lamos -- along with a playwright, directors, an actress and a set designer -- ramped up a conversation the theater hopes will continue until after Arthur Miller's "Broken Glass" closes Oct. 24.
Lamos said the season "is all about family." Each of the plays, in one way or another, is about the conflicts and controversies, joys and sorrows, that vitalize and vitiate families -- in the broad sense of the word.
Lamos' use of the word "family" extended beyond the plays chosen. Many of the actors and creative team members in the five upcoming productions have worked at the playhouse before, and some of the playwrights have previously been featured on its stage.
Lamos said his concept of "family" also includes audiences -- the people for whom casts and crews will work and from whom their rewards and satisfaction will be garnered. From playwrights to actors to directors to creative team members to audience, it is a community eager to communicate on a human, visceral level, he said.
More InformationWESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE 2015 SEASON
May 5-23: "The Liar," by David Ives
June 9-27: "And a Nightingale Sang," by C.P. Taylor
July 21-Aug. 8: "Love and Money," by A.R. Gurney
Aug. 25-Sept. 13:"Bedroom Farce," by Alan Ayckbourn
Oct. 6-24: "Broken Glass," by Arthur Miller
Playwright A.R. Gurney -- whose new play "Love and Money" is third on the playhouse schedule -- attended the preview and echoed Lamos' extended view of "family."
He called Westport and the playhouse an "unusual situation: a town outside of New York with a theater of this magnitude." The theater, he said, is "the last artistic place where a community can get together ... the last way a community can be created."
Truths about `The Liar'
Opening the 2015 season will be David Ives' "The Liar," an updated version of Pierre Corneille's 1644 farce. Director Penny Metropulos spoke to the preview audience via a taped video. The play is about an inveterate liar, a man named Dorante who not only disdains the truth, he laughs at it.
The director called the play "one of the funniest, brightest of contemporary comedies," one that Ives wrote, in the spirit of the original, in rhyming verse. Allowing that verse might be off-putting to some, she said it is "completely accessible."
Although Dorante is a prevaricator of the first order, Metropulos said, his skill is such that "in the end we are completely mesmerized" by the high-wire act in which he engages. The fun is seeing if this scamp can pull it all off.
In the end, Metropulos noted, quoting Ives, the play "seems to be made out of nothing but ends up being about so much."
Second on the schedule is C.P. Taylor's "And a Nightingale Sang." The play spans World War II and focuses on how a family in northern England copes on the home front. In a taped video, director David Kennedy called it "warm, funny and poignant."
"It's a series of domestic scenes showing how the family deals with rationing, air raids -- and a burgeoning love affair," Kennedy said.
The love affair is "kind of an ugly duckling story," the director said. Helen, the family's much-put-upon daughter, is in her early 30s and sees herself as plain and unlovable. But when a solider on leave suggests otherwise, Helen begins to blossom.
Kennedy said the play "observes life as it is actually lived," offering the audience "the full spectrum of the human experience."
The world premiere of Gurney's "Love and Money" will star Maureen Anderman as a woman who has come to a point in life when she must decide what she will do with the wealth that surrounds her.
Anderman called her character, Cornelia Cunningham, a "wealthy WASP" who "describes things beautifully and completely." But she is coping with "the desire to expiate for the crime of having too much money."
The play is a co-production with New York's Signature Theatre, where the play on March 16 had a reading that Gurney attended. "I thought it was terrible," Gurney said, and he plans to do some rewriting.
It is one thing to write words, the playwright said, but another thing to hear them spoken as a play is brought to life. Now, Gurney said, he knows where the play's laughs and "feelings" are.
"I knew I had a hell of a lot to do," he said. "Plays are not written, they are rewritten."
Gurney is busy doing that now.
Farce in 3 bedrooms
The lineup's fourth production is Alan Ayckbourn's "Bedroom Farce."
When director John Tillinger was asked at the previews to comment on the play, he straightened up in his chair and said, "Well, I haven't read this play."
It was a feigned indifference that captured the play's farcical nature. He has, in fact, read the play and said the "operative word is farce."
Although the play takes place in three bedrooms, he said, "There's absolutely no nudity, I'm afraid."
Chronicling the antics of four couples in three bedrooms over the course of one Saturday, the play is quintessential Ayckbourn. The pain of human foibles and failures is the touch point for much of the humor -- with the audience taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.
"It gets to the truth about how people behave when their backs are
to the wall," Tillinger said.
Miller play is finale
The season will end with Miller's "Broken Glass," one of his later plays, written in 1994. Lamos, who will direct it, described the play as both "powerful" and "dense," constructed as a mystery.
Set in Brooklyn in the time leading up to World War II, it focuses on Sylvia Gellberg, the wife of what Lamos called a "self-hating Jew."
Reading in the newspapers about the horrors of "The Night of Broken Glass" -- when Nazis smashed the windows of Jewish businesses and terrorized Jews across Germany -- Sylvia suddenly becomes paralyzed. A doctor is brought in to determine the cause of the paralysis, and his investigation opens up dark closets containing "guilt, intolerance and personal tragedy," Lamos said.
The set will be designed by Michael Yeargan, a Yale professor who also will design the set for Gurney's play. In most productions, Lamos said, after the director has read the play, his first discussions about its staging are with the set designer, whose visual take on the words in the script helps the director in the initial stages of bringing the play to life.
"Broken Glass" won't be boarded until early fall, and Yeargan does not yet have any specific design idea, but he's thought about the play.
"It's the play's title," he said, "the broken glass. You can't get away from that," suggesting that motif will be reflected in the set.