from the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim
produced at the ActorsNET of Bucks County
directed by George Hartpence
April 19 thru May 12, 2013
Carol Thompson as Lotty Wilton
Kyla Mostello Donnelly as Rose Arnott
Cat Miller as Lady Caroline Bramble
Virginia Barrie as Mrs. Graves
C. Jameson Bradley as MellersH Wilton
Curtis Kaine as Frederick Arnott
Michael Wurzel as Antony Wilding
Cheryl Doyle as Costanza
Marco Newton as Marco
set design by George Hartpence
lighting design by Andrena Wishnie
sound design by Hayley Rubins-Topoleski
ACT I Synopsis
It is 1922, just a few short years following the end of World War I. In a London ladies‟ club, lonely and miserable house-wife Lotty Wilton discovers that Rose Arnott is also reading an advertisement in the London Times, offering the rental of a small castle on the Portofino coastline in San Salvatore, Italy for the month of April. Lotty is immediately taken with the idea of renting the castle with Mrs. Arnott (but without their husbands) and having the opportunity to take a break from her life in cold, dreary England.
We move to the Wilton home as Lotty and her husband, Mellersh, get ready for an evening business engagement. Mellersh, a solicitor, is very exacting about his appearance in public, and wishes to use every social opportunity to get ahead in his profession. Though Lotty is not comfort-able attending the business events, Mellersh suggests that it is not so important that she enjoy herself, but that she simply is there. Lotty gently raises the issue of a vacation, but Mellersh is more interested in “the sureties of home.”
In the Arnott home, Rose's husband, Frederick, is also preparing for a social engagement. It is a party for Frederick's new book, Madame DuBarry, which he has written under the pen name of Florian Ayers. Frederick invites Rose to come with him on his book tour, but she is reluctant. Rose disapproves of his "romantic" novels and the tension is causing tremendous strain in their marriage.
Some days later, after church, Lotty informs Rose that she has received a reply to her inquiry about the castle, and that she has already sent in a deposit. To help defray the cost of the trip, Lotty and Rose recruit two traveling companions: Lady Caroline Bramble, a young socialite who has developed a reputation for “dancing on tables,” and Mrs. Graves, an elderly, regal woman who has no interest in idle conversation. Lotty and Rose then meet with Mr. Antony Wilding the villa owner to finalize the arrangements, at which point Mr. Wilding is smitten with Rose. The ladies inform their incredulous husbands of their imminent departure for a spouseless holiday and then are off to the train station for the first leg of their journey. Act 1 closes as the ladies pull up to the train station late at night in San Salvatore, Italy.
ACT II Synopsis
The ladies are overwhelmed by the beauty of the villa, but following their arrival at San Salvatore, the women experience a bit of tension as they adjust to one another. Lady Caroline and Mrs. Graves had arrived the day prior and claimed the best rooms for themselves and stuffed the "extra" beds into Lotty's and Rose's cramped quarters.
On the terrace, nine days later, Mrs. Graves sits, sleeping in the sun. The other three women emerge on the terrace. The appearance of the women has changed - softened - as they take in the beauty of their surroundings. Even the crotchety Mrs. Graves kindly compliments one of her companions. The women discuss their surroundings, their husbands and their lives. Lotty realizes that she has been a “miser” with Mellersh, rationing her love. She reveals that she has invited him to the castle, and encourages Rose to invite Frederick. Later in the scene, Mrs. Graves and Caroline have a heart-to-to-heart in which Caroline reveals that she was married and that she lost her husband in the war. The castle's young owner Antony Wilding arrives for a visit, and Mrs. Graves is immediately delighted by his charm.
Several days later, Lady Caroline has still not warmed towards Wilding, though he repeatedly attempts to befriend her. Caroline receives a visitor—Mr. Florian Ayers—and does not realize that he is actually Frederick, Mrs. Arnott's husband. After Caroline leaves to change clothes for dinner, Rose enters, sees her husband and mistakenly believes that he is there in response to her own invitation. Rose is overwhelmed with joy at the sight of her husband, and showers him with affection—an enormous change from previous scenes. Frederick is confused by the events, but pleased with the change in his wife's behavior. Lotty's husband, Mellersh, also arrives at the castle. Lotty is thrilled to share the transforming power of the holiday with her husband. Mellersh leaves to take a bath and mayhem ensues.
The play concludes on the terrace, later that evening, with all the couples enjoying one another's company. Lady Caroline, however, feels lonely. Mrs. Graves encourages Wilding to spend time with Lady Caroline, and is very pleased with the final pairing of the young people.
Lotty closes out the show with a monologue on how springtime in San Salvatore has resorted love and happiness to everyone's life and of their future years basking in the Italian sunshine.
Carol Thompson as Lotty Wilton
Enchanted April is adapted for the stage from by Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel into a 2003 Tony Award Nominated best play by Matthew Barber.
A recipe for happiness: four women, one medieval Italian castle, plenty of wisteria, and solitude as needed.
The women at the center of The Enchanted April are alike only in their dissatisfaction with their everyday lives. They find each other—and the castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon. The ladies expect a pleasant holiday, but they don’t anticipate that the month they spend in Italy will reintroduce them to their true natures and reacquaint them with joy. Now, if the same transformation can be worked on their husbands and lovers, the enchantment will be complete.
It is a delightful romantic comedy - something of a change from the more serious dramas often performed at the ActorsNET, whose repertoire is dedicated to great American and classical plays. It’s also a play with 4 strong female leads and where the men play supportive roles, another abnormality from so many of the plays presented in community theater, where the shows can be men heavy & don’t often give our talented women actors a chance to shine in major roles. For this play is truly the story of the journey of these wonderful women as they escape the monotony of their daily lives, boldly breaking with convention and in the process rekindling the joy of life which they once had but somehow had lost.
It is a beautiful story of hope and love – both rekindled and newly found. A heart-warming story of the human spirit as people cope with personal tragedies and lost romance/love that romps to a life-affirming conclusion in this witty, sweet and funny script.
I knew we had the actors in the ActorsNET “stable” to do this show extremely well and so I proposed it at the Play Reading Committee last year and offered to direct, if the play was selected for the season. We have assembled the finest cast of actors for this show that you’ll see in any theater – community or professional.
The show runs the last two weekends in April and the first two weekends in May. It is the perfect play to recharge your joy of both life and the theater. It’s funny and sweet and the ideal play to see with your significant other, a group of friends, or your mom – the final performance is on Mother’s Day. (But don’t wait till the final performance to see this show… you won’t want to miss it if that last performance sold-out, which we hope it will be.)
Be sure and join us for an “Enchanted April.”
Lotty tempts Rose with "Wisteria and Sunshine"
Princeton Packet TIME-OFF
Date Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 5:23 PM EDT
By Bob Brown
It may be an unusually chilly spring, but it’s a warm April over at the Heritage Center in Morristown, Pa., where Matthew Barber’s Enchanted April is playing through May 12. Mr. Barber’s 2003 play is one of several theatrical adaptations of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s 1922 novel. Mike Newell’s popular film of 1992 won three Oscars and a few Golden Globes.
This is a light comedy with a simple message: When marriages turn south, a restorative trip to an idyllic Italian retreat will set things right. If that were true, Perillo Tours would put marriage counselors out of business.
The characters in this play are uncomplicated, but they are each very distinctive. Lotty Wilton (Carol Thompson), a woman of a certain age, is depressed by the dreary London weather, which perfectly reflects the state of her marriage to Mellersh (C. Jameson Bradley). Spotting an advert for a castle to let on an Italian island, Lotty is emboldened to ask a fellow ladies’-club member Rose Arnott (Kyla Mostello Donnelly) if she would go in on the rental with her.
The two hardly know each other. Lotty is impulsive. But Rose is reluctant, even though she has her own frustrations with husband Frederick (Curtis Kaine). Screwing up their courage, the two find a couple of more women to spread the costs: Lady Caroline Bramble (Cat Miller), a gorgeous, aloof young socialite who wants to escape London’s tedium; and Mrs. Graves (Virginia Barrie), a proper bluestocking who name-drops her father’s connections to the greats of a previous era.
The weather and the mood brighten considerably when everyone arrives at the castle in Mezzago. The only challenge is communicating with the caretakers Costanza (Cheryl Doyle) and Marco (Marco Newton), who speak no English, but are amused at the Brits’ cultural naiveté.
Lotty is the cheerleader, urging everyone out to enjoy the sun and sea, lifting Rose out of her blue funk and pushing against Mrs. Graves’ natural tendency to find fault everywhere. The castle’s owner, Englishman Anthony Wilding (Michael Wurzel), joins the women and develops a special affection for Rose.
Although they have come to get away from London, the carefree, florid setting and the blue skies inspire Lotty to invite Mellersh — and in turn to urge Rose to invite Frederick — to join them at this enchanted retreat. The results are, not surprisingly, rewarding both romantically and psychically.
Under the sure-handed direction of George Hartpence (who also designed the magically transforming scenery from Act 1 to Act 2), the play blossoms beautifully. In fact, of the many productions I’ve seen at Actors’ NET over the past few years, this is one of the most polished and entertaining. Casting has a lot to do with it. As Mr. Hartpence says in his director’s note, “We have assembled the finest cast of actors for this show that you’ll see in any theater — community or professional.” I’ll forgive his bias in that Ms. Thompson is his wife and also co-directs. But I have to agree wholeheartedly. She’s infectiously upbeat as Lotty, bursting with joie de vivre. As a counterpoint, Ms. Donnelly’s Rose is hesitant and cautious, gradually transforming in the course of the play to become a passionate creature who rediscovers love for the man she married. Ms. Miller is the picture of haughty indifference — except that she’s hiding a deep hurt.
This is really the women’s play, but Mr. Bradley and Mr. Kaine undergo their own character transitions as their hearts and minds are melted by their spouses and the setting. We see that Mr. Arnott must have had a history with Lady Caroline, but it’s snuffed out by the overwhelming affection of the rejuvenated Rose. Finally, although their roles are small, Ms. Doyle and Mr. Newton are spot-on and amusing as the Italian caretakers. Aaron Gutter is credited as “Italian Language Coach,” and he does a bang-up job. Costumes, eye-catching and plentiful, are designed by Arlene Kohler. The mood is also enhanced by scene-shifting background music.
I want to reemphasize what Mr. Hartpence says about the quality. Having seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway recently, and from expensive seats that were miles from the stage, I was delighted to enjoy Ms. Barber’s play in an intimate setting with superb performances. It’s really a treasure to have dedicated local producers like Joe and Cheryl Doyle, who can present such quality productions with local talent at a fraction of Broadway prices. It’s one enchanted evening.
Enchanted April continues at the Heritage Center, 635 N. Delmorr Ave., Morrisville, Pa., through May 12. Performances: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Tickets cost $10-$20; www.actorsnetbucks.org; 215-295-3694
Posted by Walter Bender April 22, 2013
There are times when being a reviewer can be a complete pleasure…we so often look at a play with a critical eye, seeing the blemishes in a production, and so rarely can just sit back and be entertained. I had the exception on Saturday night, when I went to Actors’NET of Bucks County to see their production of ENCHANTED APRIL.
ENCHANTED APRIL is an adaptation of the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April. While visiting her women’s club Lotty Wilton (Carol Thompson) reads an ad in the paper about an Italian castle for rent for the month of April, as she sees Rose Arnott (Kyla Mostello Donnelly) sitting at a table near her. She recognizes Rose as a member of her church, which she has classified as having a “face like a disappointed Madonna” and sees in her a kindred spirit, in need of a holiday to escape a dissatisfying home life. After a bit of convincing, Lotty and Rose agree to rent the castle, and place an ad for other ladies to share the expenses. They meet and agree on Lady Caroline Bramble (Cat Miller) and Mrs. Graves (Virginia Barrie) as companions for the trip. Lady Caroline is a beautiful socialite, and Mrs. Graves is a stern Victorian woman very set in her ways.
Director George Hartpence has done a stellar job with this production, starting with perfect casting. Thompson plays Lotty as the perpetual optimist, always looking at the beauty of any situation without getting cloyingly sweet or annoying. Donnelly also nails her character as the pious disappointed Madonna as she is described who blossoms in the Italian environment. Miller is spot-on as the initially aloof and private Lady Caroline, yet allows her vulnerability to show as things progress. Barrie is hilarious as the elderly widow who is very set in her ways (with a penchant for English Walnuts) who learns tolerance and respect. The ladies work beautifully together, their interaction very believable.
The rest of the cast is also first-rate. C. Jameson Bradley plays Mellersh Wilton (Lotty’s husband) as the stern unyielding British gentleman who doesn’t allow anything to interfere with his orderly life, until he comes to visit Lotty in Italy. Curtis Caine is broad and blustery as writer Frederick Arnott, who (as his pen name Florian Ayers) comes to Italy to meet Lady Caroline, and finds his attempted assignation taking an unexpectedly happy turn for all. Michael Wurzel is Anthony Wilding the owner of the castle, and is the perfect gentleman and host. Cheryl Doyle is Costanza the cook and maid, and is hilarious in a role that does not allow her to speak a word of English, only Italian. Even with the language barrier (to cast and audience) she gets her point across to the delight of everyone. Finally, Marco Newton is Marco the handyman (an added character for this production.) Marco adds additional comic relief at the appropriate times.
The set adds to the beauty of the production. Act I is minimal setting, mainly 2 small tables, 4 chairs and a coat rack rearranged with props added as needed on the forefront of the stage. This minimal staging adds to the dreariness and claustrophobic feel of the ladies’ existence, and the audience is caught up in their need to escape, if only for a few weeks. During the intermission the stage is opened up to reveal the courtyard of the castle, with flowers adorning the walls, a beautiful vista in the background.
I loved this production. The characters were all allowed to show their vulnerability, losing that British “stiff upper lip” that so many other versions of this show have had. The cleverness of the action added to the fun…Mellersh trimming his formidable handlebar mustache while he and Lotty discuss their life, Frederick autographing copies of his book, Mrs. Graves using an antique nut cracker…I enjoyed all the little touches Hartpence and the cast added. This is a terrific production, and should not be missed.
April 5, 2013
by Tara Lynn Johnson
Morrisville Times and Yardley Voice – Times Publishing
promo article featuring Carol Thompson prior to the show's opening
On life’s stage, Carol Thompson has played (among others) the parts of daughter, sister, student, therapist, wife (she likes that last one a lot). But one of her favorite parts to play has always been Actor. She does so frequently and happily at smaller regional theaters.
This month, she stars as Lotty in the Actors’ NET of Bucks County production of “Enchanted April,” April 19th through May 12th.
Lotty is a nickname for Charlotte, which she prefers. Her husband does not. “That gives you a little flavor of the relationship between them,” Carol said.
It’s London, 1922. Lotty’s a tired, frustrated and depressed housewife. She meets another, Rose, and they become friends. The two see an ad offering a month in an Italian villa. Lotty insists they go and they find two other women to make the trip affordable.
The group sets off for sunnier skies, with no husbands allowed. When they arrive, a transformation begins.
“Lotty is overwhelmed by the beauty of [Italy]. She realizes she needs to share this with her husband, which comes as a shock to the other ladies,” said Carol, who lives in New Hope.
Without giving away the ending, Carol reveals that the play affirms the love between husbands and wives, as well as female friendship, connecting with others, letting go of grief and going forward in love.
Carol’s performance as Lotty is just her latest – she has been acting most of her life.
“Does ‘The Great Pumpkin’ in sixth grade count?” she said.
Carol, who comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers and teaching missionaries, was born in Cairo and lived there with her parents (dad taught at a seminary and mom taught at a girls’ college) until she was 12 and the family moved to Princeton, N.J.
Her parents always took her to the theater. She credits that with her lifelong love of the stage.
After high school, Carol planned to return to Cairo for college. Her parents suggested she stay in the U.S. so she visited a friend at the University of Wisconsin and liked its open atmosphere and large international community, she said. She majored in philosophy first, then theater.
After graduation, she went to Berlin, Germany, to teach English and to study dance and theater. She returned to Wisconsin for her master’s in counseling psychology. As a therapist, she utilized theater therapy and psychodrama. She also has worked for non-profits and as a voiceover performer.
But theater has been a constant in her life.
And for more than 10 years, her husband, George Hartpence, who directs “Enchanted April,” has been a constant, too. He also has been her frequent acting partner.
At Actors’ NET of Bucks County and other local theaters, the couple has performed in “My Fair Lady,” “Love Letters,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “The Sound of Music” and more. This is the first time George is directing her, though.
“Carol has an amazing range and a charismatic attraction,” he said. “Carol is also surrounded by an equally talented and creative cast of actors.”
“I feel so fortunate. We have such a great cast. I’m delighted to work with
them,” she said.
And she loves bringing theater to local communities, especially through Actors’ NET, an actor-driven, not-for-profit regional theater company, which performs at the Heritage Center on Delmorr Avenue in Morrisville.
“Theater is a community experience where you’re in the moment and experiencing the story unfold,” she said. “It can change people’s lives and bring people together.”
To make that happen, she focuses on one goal, which she repeats to herself: “Just tell the story.” That’s what actors do. And Carol hopes to keep playing the role of Actor for many years to come.
Three of the nominees in the Tony Awards 2003 Best Play Award category — Richard Greenberg, Rupert Holmes and Nicholas Wright — are veteran dramatists, having composed many plays before their recent Broadway efforts. The fourth, Matthew Barber, however, has one credit to his name. That's right. Enchanted April, which was nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for Best Play, was young Matthew Barber's first dramatic effort.
A graduate of UCLA and a former arts editor of the San Franciso Independent, Barber one day received a copy of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel The Enchanted April. "I thought it would be a good dramatic property," said Barber, "with lots of good roles for women." He immediately set about adapting the work for the stage. Hartford Stage produced the play in 2000. The Broadway production came three years later. When asked how he endured the wait in between, Barber quipped, "I sort of entered a Zen state."
This successful playwright with the short resume is looking forward to productions in England, across Europe and throughout the U.S. Barber is also at work on two new plays — original works this time, but again with plenty of roles for women. "I grew up in the Midwest with a lot of interesting, strong women around me," stated Barber. Although it did not win a Tony Award, Enchanted April did win the prestigious 2003 John Gassner Award for Outstanding New American Play.
Elizabeth von Arnim (`May’) was born 31 August, 1866 at Kiribili Point, Sydney, Australia. Her father was Henry Herron Beauchamp a merchant , and her mother Elizabeth Weiss Lassetter. Arnim had four brothers, a sister and an adopted cousin from New Zealand, Kathleen Beauchamp, who would later marry John Middleton Murray and write under the pen name Katherine Mansfield.
In 1871 the Beauchamps left Australia to live in Switzerland for a time before settling in England. Arnim attended the Blythwood House School in London, then Queen's College School in Horn Lane, Acton in 1881. The Arnim household was a happy one, though somewhat disrupted by their various household moves and so many children. The shy and blonde young May turned into a voracious reader and she took organ lessons from the Royal College of Music.
In 1889 she travelled abroad to Rome with her father when she met a German nobleman, Count Henning August von Arnim (1851–1910). Two years later they married in London at St. Stephen's, Kensington, 21 February 1891. Arnim would later refer to her domineering husband as the `Man of Wrath'. The Arnims moved to Berlin where they would have four daughters and one son.
Writing was the refuge for Arnim in her, what turned out to be, incompatible marriage. They were now living on the vast and somewhat neglected von Arnim estate, Nassenheide, in Pomerania. Arnim’s husband had increasing debts and was eventually sent to prison for fraud. This was when she created her pen name `Elizabeth' and launched her career as a writer by anonymously publishing her semi‐autobiographical, brooding yet satirical Elizabeth and her German Garden. (1898) It would be such a success as to be reprinted twenty times in it's first year. A bitter‐sweet memoir and companion to it was The Solitary Summer, (1899) and The Benefactress (1902) was also semi‐autobiographical. In 1908 Arnim left Nassenheide to return to London. She was all too aware of the lack of feminine power in a male‐dominated world, and did not lack for sympathy of human frailty. She would sign her next twenty or so books simply as written "By the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden" and later simply "By Elizabeth". Debt forced the Arnims to sell the estate and in August of 1910 her husband died. Arnim left London to move back to her beloved Switzerland, where she had such great memories from her youth. She built Château Soleil near Randogne sur Sierre, Valais. By this point Arnim had many admirers and friends, including H.G. Wells, with whom she had a three year affair.
In 1914 Arnim fell in love with John Francis Stanley Russell. They moved back to England and on 11 February 1916 she became Countess Russell. She almost immediately regretted this whirlwind marriage and fled to the United States. In 1916 Armin had left Russell for good. Vera, (1921) is a condemnation of Russell. It would not be the last time she caricatures him. The Enchanted April (1922) again contains themes of feminine protest and male tyranny.
In the 1930s Arnim lived in London, Switzerland and at her villa in France, `Le Mas des Roses' at Mougins, outside of Cannes, she would entertain many friends and continue to write. When World War II broke out however she travelled to the United States to reside there. On 9 February 1941 Elizabeth von Arnim died from complications of influenza at the Riverside Infirmary in Charleston, South Carolina. Her cremation took place at the Lincoln Fort cemetery in Washington, D.C. Arnim's ashes were mingled with her brother Sydney's, in the churchyard of St. Margaret's Church Buckinghamshire, England in 1947. As a magnolia tree shelters it, Arnim's marker stone reads: "Mary Annette, Countess Russell, "Elizabeth", Died February 9th 1941, and the epitaph reads: "Parva sed apta" or "Small but appropriate".
Other Works by Elizabeth von Arnim
The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight (1905), Fraulein Schmidt (1907), Mr. Anstruther (1907), The Caravaners (1909), Priscilla Runs Away (1910), The Pastor's Wife (1914), Christine (1917), Love (1925), Father (1931), The Jasmine Farm (1934), All the Dogs of my Life (1936), and Mr. Skeffington (1940)
ActorsNET of Bucks County production
October 31 - November 16, 2014
directed by Cheryl Doyle
Andrew James Gordon
Dale Simon as William Shagspeare
Stage Manager : Kelly Allen
Asst Stage Manager : Julie McMillan
Set Design : George Hartpence
Lighting Design : Andrena Wishnie
Costumes : Cheryl Doyle
(above: Dale Simon as William Shagspeare and John Bergeron as King James I)
Neil Zorin in "NealsPaper" blog:
November 11, 2014 (excerpts)
Garnet is placid and shrewd. He presents as a benign and peaceful man of God, but he has an encompassing mind and knows how to twist any story, incident, or controversy to his benefit. George Hartpence finds every nuance in Garnet’s cleverness, as keen and as honed as Cecil’s but revealed with more tact and class. Notice how Garnet is willing to share his meager prison repast, even his wine, with Shagspeare. Hartpence is also excellent as the beset Richard Burbage, whose company comes close to mutiny in supporting Shakespeare over him when doing the Gunpowder play or its replacement comes to a vote.
George Hartpence exudes great patience and intellect as Garnet and great impatience and gut feelings as Burbage. Hartpence alters the physicality and tone of both characters. His performance shows his vast experience as an actor and his ability to bring his characters to the forefront.
(above from left) George Hartpence as Father Garnet, Andrew James Gordon as executions & Dale Simon as Shagspeare
Dennis Bloh in Stage Magazine
November 5, 2014 (excerpts)
George Hartpence, in addition to designing a wonderful and thematically appropriate set, portrays the pivotal roles of Richard Burbage and Father Garnet. As Burbage he captures the difficulty of running a troupe of egotistical actors in a time of political turmoil. As Garnet he provides a clever conscience for the unsure Shakespeare as he explains to him the true meaning of “equivocation.”
Dale Simon as Shag & John Bergeron as Sharpe/James I
Adapted from Charles Isherwood’s review of the 2010 MTC production
In Bill Cain’s “Equivocation” Shakespeare yanks “Macbeth” - his great tragedy of overweening ambition - from the discard pile at the last minute, as a substitute for a drama commissioned by the king about the treasonous Gunpowder Plot.
Shakespeare, or Shagspeare or Shag, as his friends call him here, has been struggling to balance his loyalty to the crown with his conscience and his commitment to creating richly complicated human beings, not pasteboard heroes and villains. Fortunately for posterity he gave up on the Gunpowder Plot play, according to Mr. Cain’s intriguing fancy, and the world gained many an immortal soliloquy.
Mr. Cain, a playwright who founded a Shakespeare company in Boston, brings a scholarly dedication and an impish humor to his portrait of history’s most famous playwright at work. But “Equivocation” has more on its mind than playing what-if games with the theater’s past. It also explores the moral obligation of artists to resist the manipulations of those in power. Parallels between then and now glare in neon, cutting through a fog as Mr. Cain depicts the brutal lengths to which the crown will go to investigate acts of supposed treason.
“Torture is completely against our laws,” says Robert Cecil, King James’s ruthless right-hand man, in response to a question from his ruler about the methods used to gain confession.
“So it does not happen,” the king responds with satisfaction.
“We are a country of laws, Majesty.”
“So there is no torture,” the king repeats, closing the discussion firmly. Sound vaguely familiar?
“Equivocation” suffers from its own overweening ambitions, as Mr. Cain aims to write a political allegory in Jacobean drag; a playful comedy amply stocked with audience-flattering in-jokes; a backstage tale of conflict amid Shakespeare’s unruly company of actors; and an emotionally engaging family drama in which Shakespeare’s daughter Judith is portrayed as the neglected child who never earned the love Shakespeare lavished on the twin son who died.
Aside from Shagspeare and Judith, the performers double as members of Shag’s acting troupe and as players in the larger political drama unfolding around them, into which they are drawn when Cecil gives Shag the highly secretive commission.
Initially flattered to be commissioned, Shag reluctantly agrees to set aside his current project, which he hopes to be his masterwork. Told that it’s about a king (the play turns out to be “King Lear”), Cecil asks wryly, “How does this one die?”
“What makes you think he dies?” Shag asks, taken aback.
“You’ve killed more kings than any man alive,” Cecil replies sourly.
But then Cecil has king killing on his mind, since the play Shag is asked to write is the story of the recent attempt by Roman Catholic conspirators to blow up the court by supposedly digging a tunnel under Parliament. The commission cannot exactly be refused, so Shag sets out to explore its potential as drama.
In doing his research he manages to interview the condemned ringleaders, most prominently the priest Henry Garnet. And Shag finds himself in sympathy with their instincts of rebellion against religious tyranny, a feeling partly inspired by his own father’s Jesuitical leanings.
Shagspeare is a man caught between equally unpalatable choices. Either he must bow to authority and betray both his aesthetic and his moral principles or risk his life and the lives of his men by telling the more complicated truth.
Bill Cain's play is written to be performed in period costume and on a bare Elizabethan stage setting. So I adapted a Globe Theatre-like set to fit into the confines of the ActorsNET space.
The play has numerous, rapidly changing scenes in each act, so the set design has to accommodate multiple location changes with minimal fuss.
All set piece changes need to be accomplished by actors walking in for the next scene.
I asked our master carpenter - Jamie Bradley - to construct a modular, 3 piece platform arrangement that would serve for the 3 main upstage entrances & allow for playing space on the "second" level.
The modular design is intended to become a reusable set that can broken down and reassembled in various configurations.
The configuration for this play - with columns added - is evocative of the Globe stage, while black-box enough to represent almost any setting.
The overall color-scheme - blacks and greys - presents a somber tone for this black comedy. Dale Simon lent a hand for much of the scenic painting for the floor & wood-tone effects.
Equivocation examines an important event in English History: the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an attempt by Catholics to kill King James I of England.
In the late 16th Century, England was divided by religion. Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and declared himself the head of the Church of England. Following Henry's death, his daughter, Mary I, reigned briefly, during which time Catholicism was restored in England. The Protestant monarchies of Henry VIII and his other daughter, Elizabeth I, however, oppressed Catholicism, forcing Catholics to practice their faith in secret. Priests, if caught, were executed as traitors. When Elizabeth died without a direct heir, James I ascended to the throne. Catholics hoped for increased religious tolerance under their new king. When James failed to significantly relax Britain's stance on the Catholic Church, a group led by Robert Catesby, and including the infamous Guy Fawkes, resolved to kill James and install a more progressive monarch.
With Guy Fawkes in charge of explosives, the conspirators planned to blow up both the King and the House of Lords during the next State Opening of Parliament. Before the attack could be carried out, however, authorities were alerted about the planned assassination attempt via an anonymous letter. On the morning of November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a storage room under the Houses of Parliament surrounded by 36 barrels of gunpowder. The conspirators were killed, some in the skirmish surrounding their capture, others in official executions. To this day, the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5th to commemorate the event.
The King's Men
William Shakespeare belonged to a troupe of actors known as the King's Men. Formed in 1594 as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the group was rechristened in 1603 when James I ascended to the throne and became the company's patron. The company was Shakespeare's creative home and is known to have presented the first performances of most of his plays. The company performed at the famed Globe Theatre and were frequent guests at court. The King's Men disbanded with the closing of the theatres in 1642.
Bill Cain, SJ, ’70 made his playwriting debut in 1989 with Stand-Up Tragedy, a withering look at inner city education that won six L.A. Critics Awards and the Joe A. Calloway Playwriting Award for its Broadway engagement. Television work followed, including the 1996 teleplay for the Gary Paulsen novel Nightjohn, which New Yorker film critic Terrence Rafferty called the “best American movie” of that year. Cain also wrote and produced the 1997 ABC series Nothing Sacred, about a Catholic priest who questions his vocation. The show won the George Foster Peabody Award but was cancelled after less than one season.
In 2009 Cain returned to the stage with Equivocation, a “cerebrally pyrotechnic” drama, according to the Los Angeles Times, about the 1605 Gunpowder Plot—when Catholic terrorists conspired to blow up the British House of Lords. He followed in 2010 with Nine Circles, the story of an Iraq War veteran accused of atrocities. Both earned the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, the first time a playwright has won in consecutive years. A Jesuit since age 18, Cain sees writing plays as part of his priestly mission. “My plays are funny, sometimes darkly funny,” he told the Wall Street Journal, “but they move to the light.”