Reviewing Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play” with “The Importance of Being Earnest” Directing Choices

Backstage with the Cast and Crew of It’s Only a Play

As Co-Stage Manager for  Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play”, I was able to work closely with the director and hear what made him decide particular elements. Dorin McIntosh as director, at the beginning of rehearsals, focused on the character development for each actor. He would sit down with the actors and ask them a series of questions. These would relate to background, daily life, relationships with the other characters involved in the show. This would be a fantastic way of bringing the characters to life for Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Since both derive from comedic roots, these two are will be a precise match to review.

McIntosh stayed focused on everything coming from an organic structure. He did not want there to be anything that stemmed from an un-natural  place. I would agree with this viewpoint. I prefer when there is a natural essence in a show. This is a feeling I would want to achieve with directing a show. “The Importance of Being Earnest” would be an appropriate play to delve into due to the realistic characters and situations that are proposed in the subject matter. Though it is considered a farce, the characters need to be grounded or else audience members can find what is happening to not appear genuine. There has to be a level of what the characters want that can relate to the patrons, but then the way they go about situations can heighten the comedic elements. As director, I would want to enhance those moments of comedy without going over board. You never want your actors to force a laugh from the audience because then it seems that they are trying too hard. If they use their characters reality- including their wants and needs -this brings out the realism within their actions; no matter how over the top these actions may be.

There is a theatre in New York called Studio 54 that has a classic elegance. As soon as you walk into the theatre you see the chandelier that hangs in the lobby and the detailed work done on the ceiling. Inside the theatre is even more beautiful. I believe it would speak to the class structure built into the play and elevate the set.  The proscenium stage would be appropriate for the time period that the show would be placed and allows to make scene changes between the acts easier to hide with the use of a curtain. The set for Act One is in Algernon’s flat so using colours that one would see in a bachelor’s flat during the 1800s. These would probably include dark wood for furniture, possibly a dark green on the walls, and then lighter tones for accents. In the stage directions it tells us that this flat is “luxuriously and artistically furnished” which helps direct where I would want to go with my staging. Act Two is based in the garden just outside of the  manor so the idea would be to have a white gazebo in summer time. This would be reflected in the flowers with bright and vibrant colours. I would include the path that is in the stage directions in the same grey colour scheme, but have it going from the gazebo to the manor. The gazebo would be more upstage right so it is not the focal point of the scene, but can be used throughout the blocking. Then there would the basket chairs and the table that is indicated in the stage directions; these would be placed downstage left, closer to the manor and in front of the pathway. For Act Three is inside the manor in the morning room. The stage directions mentions that there is a window which I would put on the stage right wall (on an angle so the audience can see that it is looking out onto the garden from the previous act.) I would include a bench at the window for the use of blocking the actors. The colour scheme would be light in this act and some natural light would be coming through the window. Like Act One, the furnishings would be intricate and beautiful. On the stage left wall I would have a set of double doors to indicate the main entrance and exit for the actors to work with. On the centre wall panel (more stage right) there would be a smaller door for another way to get in and out.

The comedy within the text is used to escape the restrictions of the class system in that particular time period. This allowed the audience of the time to enjoy the satire while having it relate to them. Utilizing the characters, the text could still be used to relate to audience members in modern times. Casting would have to play on the actors reality they can create for their characters. For the main actors within the show, these are what I would choose for each character. Ernest/Jack would be someone around late 20s to 30, I would want the actor to play him with an innocence so it doesn’t look like he’s aiming to get himself into trouble. Algernon would be mid 20s and extremely charming with a somewhat mischevious side. Gwendolen would be around Ernest’s age and played with a more responsible, elegant air. Cecily would be around 20 and extremely innocent. She should have a youthful naivety and adventurous side. Lady Bracknell would be late 40s to mid 50s and over the top in personality and in her reactions. She would think herself to have high status and deserves the respect that comes along with that class. Costumes, makeup, and hair should be appropriate for each character due to their ages, season of the year, and time of the play. I would include the fashion forward hats and dresses (at least for Gwendolen and Cecily) of the time for the ladies, possibly a bit more outlandish for Lady Bracknell, and the men would be in suits.

Working on Simply Theatre’s “It’s Only a Play” helped me to see that comedy through reality would be beneficial for directing choices of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Review of “The Exquisite Hour” and “Waiting For Godot” Directing Style

The Exquisite Hour is a romantic comedy dated in 1962, production by The Lunchbox Theatre directed by Samantha MacDonald. It is performed in a small room seating around 40 guests comfortably. The set is simple and unrealistic, but does not affect the quality of the play.  The character consists of two members. A male, Zachary Teale, acted by Curt Mckinstry and a female, Helen Darimont, acted by Barbara Gates Wilson.

Play begins with Zachary in his backyard enjoying his late afternoon with some alcoholic lemonade. Helen enters the scene from the outside of the gate and acquired Zachary’s attention. Helen disguises herself as an encyclopedia sales person and entered the backyard. They got into the topic of the relationship status of Zachary, and decided to create hypothetical scenarios where an encyclopedia would come in useful when approaching a female of interest. Through these scenarios, Zachary began to develop romantic feelings for Helen. Helen later reveals that she is not in fact an encyclopedia sales person, but a receptionist at the auto parts shop Zachary is the manager of and never noticed her. The two then share a moment and exit the stage to dine in a restaurant.

Curt Mckinstry is well casted for the part of Zachary Teale. Curt is a middle age man with a body built that could be described as an office body. Helen Darimont was played by Barbara Gates Wilson. Her performance was extremely dramatic at times. It was clearly the director’s decision for the character to act in this manner. Though it was an attempt to generate laughter, I thought it was annoying and unpleasant.

During the play, very minimal sound, lighting, or any other special effects were used. The sound of birds chirping was used at the very beginning of the play to develop setting, indicating a delightful afternoon. Closer to the end of the play, lighting was converted to a dimmer and orange colour, indicating sunset. Simplicity as such requires the actors to carry the setting by using their body expression, emotions, and skills, which both actors demonstrated flawlessly.

Costumes were simple and elegant. The actors dressed as they were in the 1960s. Not many props were used. The main object of the play was the one encyclopedia. This setup allows the actors to drive the plot and deliver the play through their acting skills.

Overall, I believe The Exquisite Hour was well directed and well delivered. The actors were in characters and performed with extensive enthusiasm.

For my planned production, I’ve decided to direct Waiting for Godot. The two plays are quite different but similar in the sense that comedy is involved. Waiting for Godot requires the actors to use body movement to drive the storyline, also similar to The Exquisite Hour. Actors in The Exquisite Hour expressed their emotions quite dramatically, which is the way I will direct Waiting for Godot. Since the plot is actor driven, I will direct the actors to over play every expression which will act as a comedy element.

There is no specific venue I would like the play to be placed in, but it would have to be a smaller size theatre such as the Lunchbox Theatre, which seats about 40 to 60 people. A smaller size venue will allow the audience to be much closer to the stage. The way Lunchbox Theatre has setup their seats place the audience to be higher than the stage, which creates the sense of that the audience is a part of the atmosphere. This is a feeling large venues cannot create.

The production will have very minimal props similar to The Exquisite Hour. Actors will be forced to drive the production and deliver the message across to the audience. The actors will be dressed in poor clothing and the scene will be similar to a desert environment to represent hardship. Scarce amount of plants will be present and no other signs of lives around. This will create a sense of loneliness.

For the casting choice, I would prefer modern comedy actors who have a high amount of exposure in the popular culture. Vladimir will be played by Jack Black. Estragon will be played by Seth Rogen. Lucky will be played by Russel Brand. Pozzo will be played by Mathew Perry. Boy will be played by young Jonah Hill. The production will be heavily focused on comedy with this strictly comedy actors team.

Special effects will be minimally used. As previously stated, the actors will have the ability to deliver the plot and emotions through their acting skills. Lighting will be yellow-orange to indicate a bright, hot sunny day.