Front L-R: Rowan Howard, Francesca Bianchi, George Werther, Stephanie Gonelli, Sandy Green, Helen Ellis
Back L-R: Chris Baldock, Brett Turner, Trevor Hanna
Sunday 13 December was one of the most successful Cordell Days ever! Thank you to the 72 people who jammed into the theatre for the formalities and then into the courtyard for the wonderful meal in festive and convivial atmosphere.
Adjudicators Ray Hare, Deborah Fabbro and Shane Ryan began with their critiques of the five plays of the year, each gave their individual Adjudicator's Award, and then moved on to the formalities of nominations and winners of the three major awards: the Win Stewart Award for Best Perfornance in a Supporting Role; the Cordell Award for Best Performance in a Principal Role; and the Craven Award for Best Production.
The GRAHAME MURHPY AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE is the award given by the Committee of Williamstown Little Theatre in recognition of outstanding contribution in any area other than performance. This year the award went to GRAEME COPE for his many years of valuable contribution in the Play Selection Committee. The work of this committee plays a major role in our success as a company, with the hours of reading and deliberation that goes into the setting of the annual season of plays. Graeme was for many years the convenor, and remains part of the PSC, now convened by Damian Coffey.
Adjudicators’ Presentation – 2015 Cordell Day
1. INTRODUCTION ( Ray Hare)
Welcome once again to our lovely silly season celebrations of all good things “Willy”. It has been a pleasure and a challenge for us to assay the 24 carat from the 18 carat in another year of gold.
For their invaluable contributions toward arriving at our determinations, I thank Deborah Fabbro and Shane Ryan, in their inaugural year in the adjudicator’s harness. Such determinations, as I’m sure you would expect, often began at odds, but were never inflexible with the calming lubrication of a flat white or similar. The variety and strength in the productions on offer was again testimony to our committee’s mission to maintain Williamstown Little Theatre’s position among the very best in our field - and therein the dedication of the play selection sub-committee. I want to take this opportunity, my last in this capacity, to thank the committee for the privilege they’ve afforded me, and the trust they’ve placed in me.
This year’s productions were:
1. The Other Place by Sharr White; directed by Kris Weber
2. Visiting Mr.Green by Jeff Baron; directed by Brett Turner
3.Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies ; directed by Ellis Ebell
4. Buffalo Gal by A.R.Gurney; directed by George Werther
5.Over The River And Through The Woods by Joe Dipietro ; directed by Helen Ellis
2. The Other Place (Ray Hare)
is a dark, puzzling, and ultimately heart-breaking tale of a brilliant mind succumbing to the crippling ravages of Altzheimer’s. The puzzling aspects for the audience stem from within the first pages of the play as the protagonist, Juliana, is seen as narrator, lecturer/marketer, patient, and wife/mother, in “time-slips” or flash-backs without pre warning, segue, or subsequent explanation. And they just keep on coming! The terrible irony is that Juliana’s fierce intelligence has placed her among the top in her field; originally in the genetic research of the chemistry, and now in the marketing of the pharmacology of the very products designed to combat the disease that is devastating her.
As Juliana, Janine Evans is at the top of her craft, realistically playing the elite professional with the smug conviction of her status one moment and in the next, convincingly depicting all the frustration, anger, confusion and fear likely suggestive of an infant in a tantrum; or in less PC speak “going nuts”. As her harangued and desperate husband, Ian, an oncologist, Chris Baldock provided sympathetic support, also in a role demanding a widely varying range of emotions. Immediately preceding the movement of the story to ‘the other place’, his hysterical revelation of the loss of their daughter is one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the play and is finely controlled. In multiple roles each, Clare Hayes as The Woman, and Wesley Forke as The Man, provided a sense of stability in the delineation of their separate characters amid the chaos surrounding Juliana’s decline. We particularly enjoyed Clare’s nuanced performance as the home owner meeting Juliana in ‘ the other place’.
The set design by John Burrett was strikingly evocative of weathering and deterioration, and the sound , lighting, and projections, were suitably effective.
Thanks to director, Kris Weber, and her cast and crew, for this complex, provocative, and challenging opening production for 2015.
3. Visiting Mr Green (Deborah Fabbro)
Visiting Mr Green is a two-hander tracing the development of the relationship between the elderly Mr Green, who has become reclusive since the death of his wife, and the young man Ross, who has been sentenced by the court to make weekly community service visits to Mr Green following a reckless driving incident involving them both. It is possible that this play could become overly mawkish and sentimental, but under director Brett Turner’s sure hand we were given a moving piece of theatre.
Trevor Hanna captured the physical frailty of Mr Green and conveyed the feisty stubbornness of the character who through clinging to the past and his strongly held religious beliefs has maintained an estrangement with his daughter.
Kieran Tracey gave a good performance as Ross, a young man who is trying to come to terms with who he is and his family’s lack of acceptance of that. As each weekly visit passed, we saw the growth of trust between the two men as they gradually revealed more about themselves and ultimately are able to make compromises to accept each other and their respective family situations.
George Tranter’s set gave the actors a good space to work in and was dressed in a manner befitting an elderly man living on his own, though perhaps it could have been a little less pristine. Lighting and sound were suitable to the production although we did feel that the rain sound effect was not quite appropriate given that the apartment would have accessed from a hallway inside the building not directly from the outside. While the scene changes were a little overlong they were well handled by the stage crew under Shirley Sydenham’s stage management and the play still flowed well. This was a poignant evening of theatre.
4. Time Stands Still (Shane Ryan)
Time Stands Still is a play for our times. A four- hander, the play centres on two journalists who’ve spent their lives covering war and human misery. Sarah is a photographer returning home injured to reunite with her partner James, already home after suffering a breakdown and unable to write. Their editor, Richard, balances supporting the work and lives of his friends while managing the changing media landscape. His new, much younger girlfriend Mandy is, initially at least, the naïve outsider.
Despite the title, the play explores the inexorable march of time, the wounds inflicted and the impact of choices made. Sarah and James are complex characters dealing with infidelity, shame, guilt and the struggle to be truthful to themselves and their relationship. Pauline Constantine as Sarah convincingly showed us the idealistic, passionate woman struggling with domestic life, while Tim Constantine skilfully found the humour and likeability of James as he dealt with his past and an uncertain future. Their divergent paths created conflict and a lack of connection that made them harder to like but was an essential part of the plot.
Rowan Howard was possibly a little young for the role of Richard. However, he managed to convey the dignity of an ethical man who has made different choices than his friends. Stephanie Gonelli, as Mandy, seamlessly took the character through the arc from nervous balloon-holding ingénue to confident woman expressing her optimism in the choice to have children.
The set, including a functioning kitchen, was generally excellent, although the positioning of doors sometimes made it difficult to understand the layout of the apartment. The skylight was a highlight and allowed the understated but effective lighting design to enhance the mood. The sound design was generally good, however the initial soundscape was confusing and perhaps a lost opportunity to reinforce the themes of the play.
Time Stands Still is a complex play that is not an easy night at the theatre. However, it’s non -judgemental style in the hands of a capable team produced a rewarding and thought provoking production.
5. Buffalo Gal (Deborah Fabbro)
It is always nice to see a play that is new to one, so thank you WLT and George Werther for presenting this A R Gurney play.
Hollywood diva Amanda returns to her home city of Buffalo, NY, to play the lead in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Buffalo Little Theatre. The parallels between Amanda and Mme Ranevskaya are cleverly written by Gurney, and Venetia Macken had good energy and theatricality though we could have perhaps seen a little more differentiation. Chris Perkins as Jackie, the director of The Cherry Orchard, gave a sound performance conveying the character’s ambition and frustration. In the role of the stage manager, Gavin Williams was likeable and gave a good portrayal of this character’s calm and reliable presence. As his ASM, Karolina Surawski conveyed the enthusiastic newcomer, a recent graduate of Drama School, who was eager to please and show her knowledge of theatre. Wem Etuknwa played James Johnson, an African-American actor newly cast in Buffalo Little Theatre’s production of The Cherry Orchard cast. It turned out that he was an old friend of Amanda’s. Wem had a charismatic presence on stage and good understanding of the role. Completing the cast was Ken McLeish in the role of Amanda’s former boyfriend who still carries a torch for her. His was a likeable characterisation and he was most believable in his final scene.
Laurice Banwell’s set design clearly established the space of the play and the set dressing by her, Shirley Sydenham and Judi Clark was effective and contributed well. Lighting (Maureen White) and Sound (Patrick Slee and Neil Williamson) were very effective in setting the tone of the play. Shirley Sydenham and Kirsten Willoughby costumed each of the characters appropriately, particularly Amanda. This production expressed the wit of the play but also conveyed the desperation and sadness, in true Chekhovian manner.
6. Over the River and Through the Woods (Shane Ryan)
Over the River and Through the Woods is a comedy that explores the struggle for identity amongst the ties of family. Nick, played by Rowan Howard is an anxious New Jersey marketing executive , who dutifully visits his four grandparents for dinner each Sunday. One Sunday Nick announces that he has landed his dream job that will take him to the other side of the country: Seattle, Washington.
His four loving grandparents: Aida, played by Sandy Green, who is sure that any moment is better with food; her husband Frank, played by Richard Pannell, a man fearing his own loss of independence; Nunzio, played by Robert Harsley, a romantic who keeps his ill-health secret; and his wife Emma, played by Carol Shelbourn, the leader in their schemes to keep Nick at home. The main scheme comes in the form of Caitlin, a young friend of Emma’s, played by Francesca Bianchi, as a confident, good-hearted nurse whose appreciation for family outweighs her attraction to Nick.
The cast did a wonderful job. The grandparents’ almost Rousseauian love, good humour and ease contrasted with the near Hobbesian, rational, suffering Nick. Each of the grandparents delivered the energy, sense of home and care (and some singing talent) crucial to the success of the show. And although Nick managed to resist his grandparents for most of the play, the audience fell for them straight away. Rowan as Nick managed to stay likeable despite his resistance, and brought a depth to the role in the moments of pathos that could easily have been missed. Francesca made the most of the role of Caitlin, fleshing out her character’s complexity and hinting at her own troubles and vulnerability. All cast showed timing with the comedy and deft touches in the heartfelt moments and it was a pleasure to see new faces on the Willie stage.
The technical aspects of the play were relatively simple. George Tranter’s set design managed to fit half a house and a porch comfortably in the confines of the Willie stage and evoked a simple New Jersey house. The lighting was appropriate and to the naturalistic play and sound, whether instrumental or the songs between scenes helped establish a sense of place and time. The set was possibly a little underdressed, giving little sense of the faith that Nick states is so important to his grandparents. Helen Ellis’s direction ensured that the play skipped along, with energy and humour. Scene changes were minimal, the character’s movement fluid and natural. Less than 20 years old, Over the River and Through the Woods is an old fashioned play exploring familiar themes. However, the cast and crew worked as a true ensemble, creating a very enjoyable night at the theatre.
2015 Cordell Day Nominations and Awards
(Winners in caps)
Each year we are delighted by something innovative and vibrant that enhances our theatregoing experience. Very often these bonuses are created peripherally, however integral to the production, and may escape the plaudits of those for whom the night out begins with “Lights up” and finishes with “Final Curtain”. We wish to take this opportunity to recognise and thank, in a small way, just a few of these invaluable contributors.
Ray Hare’s award:
To ERIN AUSTIN for her beautiful program designs, especially for Time Stands Still and Over The River And Through The Woods.
Deborah Fabbro’s award:
To GEORGE WERTHER AND THE CREATIVE TEAM for the successful and effective conversion of WLT to BLT
Shane Ryan’s award:
To WLT – Set conception and construction. For continually creating a rich, textured, three dimensional space that adds another character for the WLT audience to enjoy.
The Win Stewart Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role
The nominations are:
Chris Baldock as Ian in The Other Place
STEPHANIE GONELLI as Mandy Bloom in Time Stands Still
Rowan Howard as Richard Ehrlich in Time Stands Still
Chris Perkins as Jackie in Buffalo Gal
Karolina Surawski as Debbie in Buffalo Gal
Ken McLeish as Dan in Buffalo Gal
Francesca Bianchi as Caitlin in Over The River And Through The Woods
The Cordell Award for Best Performance in a Principal Role
The nominations are :
Trevor Hanna as Mr. Green in Visiting Mr. Green
Kieran Tracey as Ross in Visiting Mr. Green
ROWAN HOWARD as Nick Cristano in Over The River And Through The Woods
Janine Evans as Juliana in The Other Place
Sandy Green as Aida Gianelli in Over The River And Through The Woods
The Craven Award for Best Production
The nominations are:
Visiting Mr. Green directed by Brett Turner
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS DIRECTED BY HELEN ELLIS