Elements company strives for authenticity in 'Pillars'
Nov 22, 2012 (Cape Cod Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
When publicist Kate Shannon walked onto the set for "Pillars of the Community" last week, she felt like a few more steps down one of the "hallways" would actually lead her into bedrooms in another part of the house.
The set seemed that real, and it is a sense of reality that is driving much of this first production of a Henrik Ibsen play by Elements Theatre Company in Orleans. Realism was a genre that the company -- which has previously produced Shakespeare, Chekhov and other work in its 20 years -- hadn't yet explored. Members went through a month of training with teachers in Chicago this summer, then here this fall, on Ibsen and his work, as well as stage combat and various aspects of acting.
The cast and crew want to make audiences feel that they're almost a part of what is happening in a small Norway seafaring community in the late 19th century.
"The language has so much poetry and metaphor, but it's people in a real-life setting having real-life conversations," says actress Rachel McKendree. "You're not watching a lesson but being invited into the lives of these characters."
Of the Ibsen canon, Elements chose this lesser-known work, says Shannon, in part because the universal issues of the play -- including keeping secrets, what is expected of a leader, and exploration of a man's character -- seemed so relevant to today's audiences. This particular translation by Samuel Adamson, which premiered in 2005 at the National Theatre in London, also seemed less dry than some Ibsen adaptations, Shannon says, and better "able to communicate to today's audiences what Ibsen is saying."
McKendree plays Betty Bernick, wife of a man who has built his life and business on lies and misdeeds yet has hidden the reasons behind his success well and is an important man in the community. His world threatens to crumble, and he is tested when people who know the truth return to the area.
"Rippling through Ibsen's text is the theme from Apollo's Temple at Delphi -- 'Know Thyself,'" director Sister Danielle Dwyer says in a director's note for the program. "It is with this perspective Ibsen pleads in his writing for honesty and equality in all relationships -- providing a hope for a future without secrets or lies, no matter who you are in the community."
McKendree has been particularly struck by this version's rich exploration of not only Bernick, but all of the characters in the story. "You get a full picture of who everyone is," she says. The translation "doesn't sound so academic. It sounds like today."
That authenticity has been continued, through research, into the floor-to-ceiling set of the Bernick home and to the period costumes (all handmade by six seamstresses), the women say. Those also help to tell the story, as the set has many corners and doorways, Shannon notes, to give the feel of many secrets. (If you want to see the set and how a team of 30 volunteers put it together, check out a time-lapse video on the company's website at www.elementstheatre.org/now-playing.html.)
With the seaside community setting, Shannon believes Cape audiences in particular will relate to what happens in this small Norway town. And to give them even more insight, the company is putting background on Ibsen and the play on its website and will set up various informational displays in its Paraclete House lobby.
There will also be talk-backs with the actors and director Dwyer following performances Saturday, Sunday and Dec. 1.
Were you kicking yourself that you missed the recent production of "Eleemosynary" at Cotuit Center for the Arts The three-actress production of the Lee Blessing play about a family is coming back for one performance only -- at 2 p.m. Sunday -- at Sandwich Town Hall. This is the first performance brought to Sandwich as part of the newly designated Glass Town Cultural District, which is partnering with the Cotuit center.
You may feel like you know the indomitable Dolly Levi. Or the eccentric Auntie Mame. Or the good-hearted diva who is Albin. But what if the Jerry Herman music that swirls around those kinds of memorable characters applied just as well to different circumstances and types of people
That's one of the ideas of "Showtune: The Words & Music of Jerry Herman," a revue that's being staged by Chatham Drama Guild. Instead of showy set pieces, there are three men and three women in formal dress, and both Herman's well-known and more obscure music is used to tell the story of various stages of male-female relationships.
"It's an emotional journey that also has relationships in it," director David McCarty says, noting, though, that there isn't conversation to set up a plot. The songs say it all. "The way things fall one after another create the story line, and it's a story of three different kinds of relationships. "" It makes sense without dialogue or explanation."
McCarty knew most of the songs gathered for "Showtune" and had been in various Herman shows himself, but was convinced to direct and choreograph the show by this new perspective and the new orchestrations. "I was just so struck with it," he says. "It's a beautiful pastiche of his work."
Music director Chris Morris is set up with a parlor baby grand on the middle of the stage, in fact, McCarty notes, "because it's all about Jerry's music."
"Showtune" features large production numbers, but also more reflective moments. and each of the six actors -- Larry Marsland, Celeste Howe, Kim Mitchell, Jeff Dexter, Anthony Teixiera and Rebecca Banas -- is given his or her own chance to shine. While a number of songs are from Herman's biggest successes -- "Hello, Dolly," "Mame" and "La Cage Aux Folles" -- there are also songs from the lesser-known "Mack and Mabel" (just presented at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster) and "Dear World," which hasn't been produced in the area for years.
"There are some fun numbers, and some heartfelt ones that will really grab at your heartstrings," McCarty says. "His songs are very emotionally honest and very emotionally accessible."
Even with an intermission, the revue lasts only about 90 minutes, and McCarty thinks the length and style of "Showtune" is perfect for the holiday season. "Come ready to laugh," he says, "but maybe bring a hanky."
"Showtune: The Words & Music of Jerry Herman" will be presented at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 9 at Chatham Drama Guild, 134 Crowell Road. Tickets: $22. Reservations: 508-945-0510.
For more theater-related news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor or follow KathiScrizziDriscoll on Twitter.
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