And a Nightingale Sang
Written by C.P. Taylor, Directed by Nora Hussey; Stage Manager, Lisa Wondolowski; Sound Designer, George Cooke; Costume Designer, Nancy Stevenson; Set Designer, David Towlun; Lighting Designer, Ken Loewit; Choreographer, Colleen Royal; Properties, Dahlia Al-Habieli; Company Manager, Margaret Dunn
CAST: Will Bouvier, John Davin, Margaret Dunn, Lisa Foley, Ashley Gramolini, Will Keary, Derek Stone Nelson
Performances through June 24 by the Wellesley Summer Theatre Company in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Alumnae Hall on the Wellesley College campus, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA; Box Office 6781-283-2000 or www.wellesleysummertheatre.com
The Wellesley Summer Theatre Company has a knack for creating the world of its plays in the intimate confines of the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre. Using simple sets with period furnishings and costumes of the era, playing old-time recorded music, and casting actors who can adopt strong accents of the locale, Director Nora Hussey and her design team of David Towlun (Set), Nancy Stevenson (Costume), Ken Loewit (Lighting), and George Cooke (Sound) transport the audience from the suburban college campus to the ambiance of World War II Newcastle-on-Tyne to meet the Stott Family in C.P. Taylor’s And a Nightingale Sang.
Helen (Margaret Dunn), the younger of two daughters, is the narrator in the manner of John Boy in The Waltons, bringing us right into the story and introducing the members of her somewhat eccentric family. At the high end of the oddball spectrum is her maternal Grandpa (John Davin) who spends weeks at a time with his daughter before being farmed out to another offspring’s home. He is an old soldier who carries around his recently deceased dog in a sack, and later negotiates for a baby gas mask to protect his cat. In the hands of a pro like Davin, Grandpa comes across as crazy like a fox and is endearing despite, or because of, his wackiness.
Older sister Joyce (Ashley Gramolini) is flighty and indecisive, struggling to make up her mind whether or not to accept a ring from Eric (Will Keary) before he goes off to battle. They are both immature and their romance has little of the passion that exists between Helen, whose plainness and mild limp have made her feel unattractive, and Norman (Will Bouvier), a comrade of Eric’s who is drawn to her by her good heart, her intelligence, and her inner beauty. Their star-crossed story is the most compelling aspect of the play, and Dunn and Bouvier convey every emotion truthfully. The girls’ parents are their devout Catholic mother Mam (Lisa Foley) and her piano-playing, air raid warden turned Communist husband George (Derek Stone Nelson).
And a Nightingale Sang is a love story within a war story, featuring the type of relationships that germinate in the Petri dish of chaos, fear, and a live in the moment mentality, when all emotions are heightened by a sense of urgency. It is funny and dramatic, like life, and infused with earnest warmth by this solid ensemble. The playwright gets many of the touches right, including the day-to-day challenges of living with wartime shortages and air raids, the insecurities of first love, and the generational divides within a family. Taylor succeeds in writing characters we care about, with flaws that make them interesting and human. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is being said because of the thick accents, and the sound of the women’s heels on the wood floor, as well as the father’s incessant piano playing, drown out bits of conversation.
Without glorifying war or sacrifice or the choices people make, Taylor and the WST production make us nostalgic for a simpler, albeit dangerous, time when human connections stood in the place of today’s social networks. Each of the members of the Stott family is willing to take a personal risk for love of someone or something, driven by the feeling that they have nothing to lose and the opportunity to gain some happiness in the midst of the chaos of war. They don’t necessarily get what they want, but, for the most part, they get what they need.