Only four performances remain this weekend: Oscar Wilde’s comedy “The Importance of Being Earnest” is from the same Victorian period as The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s season ending production “Trelawny of the Wells” by the Victorian playwright Sir Arthur Wing Pinero known for writing strong parts for leading ladies.
Unlike Wilde’s iconic comedy of the late 1800’s, “Trelawny of the Wells” has been rarely produced on this side of the Atlantic. Its last major New York production was at Lincoln Center in 1975 with Meryl Streep and Mandy Patinkin. The play was adapted in 1928 by M-G-M as an early sound film for Norma Shearer.
“Trelawny” is an amusing, affectionate “bonbon” for anyone who ever experienced the cry “curtain” from behind it, or ever dreamed of a life on stage. Or as Bonnie J. Monte states: “it is a love letter to artists, their admirers, and the art of theatre all at once! If you never had the “bug” to act, don’t fear, there is much to enjoy in this relatively straight forward plot. No need for Sherlock Holmes’ skill of observation to recognize the plot’s obvious, but charming and romantic direction.
Briefly, it is a tale of two seemingly incompatible worlds: the relatively lowly world of the theatre and the snobbery of the British aristocracy who enjoyed the talents of the actors, but considered them social inferiors. At the center is the young actress, Rose Trelawny, who gives up a promising career to marry a wealthy young man, per the advice of her late mother. His aristocratic, and incredibly boring-from Rose’s viewpoint-family is strongly against the grandson’s plan to marry someone as lowly as an actress. Meantime, life on the stage is changing with a more realistic, natural depiction of people rising in popularity and the older performers being push aside or reduced to secondary positions. Most of the play is set in the theatrical lodgings of the members of the “Wells” theater troupe.
The play is flawlessly cast. Director Bonnie J. Monte has assembled a marvelous cast led by one of our STNJ favorites Nisi Sturgis as the beautiful young actress Rose Trelawny who finds love beyond the footlights. Sturgis had leading roles in the recent productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Capture the Castle” and “Arms and The Man.” Fans of television’s “Boardwalk Empire” will recognize Nisi as Nuckie’s sister-in-law.
The 12 other cast members cover 20 roles; Jordan Coughtry plays Arthur Gower, Rose’s fiancée; John Patrick Hayden plays Tom Wrench, a bottom rung actor and playwright; Edmond Genest plays Sir William Gower, Arthur’s pompous grandfather; Jennifer Harmon plays Mrs. Mossop, the landlady of the theatrical lodgings housing most members of the “Wells” theatre, and Arthur’s spinster great-aunt, Lady Tralfagar Gower; Jon Barker plays the flamboyant actor Ferdinand Gadd; Caralyn Kozlowski plays Imogen Parrott and Miss Trafalger Gower; Elizabeth Shepherd is Mrs. Telfer, a regal former theatrical giant; JohnFitzGibbon (a late addition to the cast) as Mr. Telfer, who, with his wife, has found that their once exalted place in the theatre is fading; Matt Sullivan as Ablett, Captain DeFoenix and Mr. Denzil; Connor Carew as Augustus Colpoys; Rachel Fox as Rose’s good friend Avonia Bunn; and Erica Knight as Sarah,Clara and Miss Brewster.
The play, again from the actor’s viewpoint, is remarkable in that it provides every member of the cast, from the butler to the Lord and Lady, with at least one standout scene: from Matt Sullivan as Mr. Ablett and the mismatched gloves in the first scene to Edmond Genest as Sir Gower discovering his late night uninvited guests. Adding to the humor are Rachel Fox as Avonia Bunn, a particular ‘hoot” in her unwelcome entrance in her gaudy harlequin “panto” costume and Jon Barker who plays her full-of-himself husband Ferdinand Gadd. John Patrick Hayden impresses as Tom Wrench. He is perfect in projecting the warm, sympathetic and supportive nature of Wench. Caralyn Kozlowski shines as the star actress Imogen Parrot who proves a great friend to both Rose and Tom Wench.
“Trelawny of the Wells” is a very pleasant, amusing play, blessed with a marvelous cast led by Nisi Sturgis, John Patrick Hayden, Caralyn Kozlowski and Edmond Genest. The sets are excellent and the costumes are gorgeous. Fine light-hearted holiday entertainment.
Director Monte, in addition to directing, also contributed to the excellent set design. Her creative staff includes; set designer Anita Easterling, costume designer Hugh Hanson, lighting designer Tony Galaska and production stage manager Kathy Snyder.
The play is presented in four acts with one intermission. Total time is about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Performances continue through December 30th at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Ave. (at Lancaster Road) in Madison. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at973-408-5600 or by visiting www.ShakespeareNJ.org.