A business trip to Las Vegas kept me from attending the opening weekend of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s new production, And A Nightingale Sang . . ., but I didn’t want to go without mentioning it to friends in the area, and encourage you to see it. A not-very-often produced play by Scottish playwright C.P.Taylor, it’s on stage for only one more week (through Sunday, July 30). Taylor was a native of Newcastle upon Tyne, and his characters speak with the broad Geordie dialect that must have been a bear for the actors to master (which they did!). This accent will be familiar to viewers of the television mystery series, Vera.
And a Nightingale Sang . . .the story of a northern England family during the Blitz and how, as one character says, Hitler changed their lives. There are lots of funny moments and sad ones too. The actors, particularly Monette Magrath whose role involves breaking the fourth wall and helping the audience understand how the pieces fit, do a remarkable job keeping up. Something—often more than one thing—is always happening.
Older sister Helen (played by Monette) believes she’s plain until she meets the friend (Benjamin Eakeley) of younger sister Joyce’s (Sarah Deaver) fiancé, Eric (Christian Frost). The men are in the army, training for battle, and the play’s six scenes take place at pivotal points in the war. The mother (Marion Adler) is religious—to a fault you might say—and her husband (John Little) distracts himself with playing the piano, including the title song, and politics. The grandfather (Sam Tsoutsouvas) always weighs in where he’s not wanted.
Retiring Shakespeare Theatre artistic Director Bonnie Monte chose this play for the aptness of its moment “as I read about what the Ukrainians are dealing with on a daily basis,” she says. Big world events affect individual people and families in a personal and private way.
Mention must be made of the set design by Brittany Vasta, economical in space for the small stage, but with multiple areas to hold the disparate action and suggestions of the war’s destruction. The lighting (Matthew E. Adelson) and sound (Drew Sensue-Weinstein) designs effectively evoked the terror as planes overhead drop their bombs nearer and nearer. Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey productions are hosted at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (easily reachable from NYC by train). For tickets, contact the Box Office.