Boston Globe – January 7, 2018
By Lenny Megliola GLOBE CORRESPONDENT
WELLESLEY — It’s just by happenstance that the Wellesley College Repertory Theatre is presenting “The Liar” at a time when lying has become a fibbin’ plague in America.
We don’t know whom to believe anymore, from the White House on down. It’s something to get angry about, and we have.
It’s not really a fad. People have been lying forever. It was in the 17th century that Pierre Corneille scripted “The Liar.” The play’s a French farce, made for laughs. This fast-talking liar is named Dorante, a charming young man who, the story goes, is incapable of telling the truth.
Dorante falls in love with a young woman, whom he mistakes for her friend. The lies — and the laughs — come fast and furious.
Marta Rainer of the Wellesley College Theatre Studies Department is directing the play. The irony of the title hasn’t escaped her. “We’re all craving the truth,” she said, “and I think we all need a laugh right now.”
The play opens Jan. 12 at the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre. Adapted for today by David Ives, the script feels as fresh as the original must have in 1643.
“We have people in the public eye blatantly lying to the public,” said cast member Ariela Nazar-Rosen, who graduated from Wellesley in 2016.
“How much do politicians lie today, and what are the consequences?” asked Angela Bilkic, who graduated in 2015 and is also in the cast.
But fear not, this onstage liar is neither mean-spirited nor a bum. “There’s a likeability about Dorante,” said Dan Prior, who is playing the role. “He’s not lying out of malice or trying to hurt anyone. He likes to be on center stage.”
Why did the director choose this play?
“In a sense it chose me,” said Rainer, who recently moved to Wellesley. “I wanted something that was fun. It has a comic book sensibility. Different types of audiences will find something in it. The actors are excited. It’s all done in verse. Every line has a rhyme.”
There’s no escaping that the production has overtones of current society, giving Rainer a lot to work with. “This play is rife with opportunity. I’m having a ball,” Rainer said.
“I read the play several times before I auditioned,” Prior said. “I love the comedy nitty-gritty and the command of language. It’s wordplay, and the physicality is so important to tell the story.”
Dorante may be overblown with bravado, but Prior takes a different slant. “It’s more that he’s just aspirant. He’s bigger than himself. He shines out. He’s a flawed character, but can he rise from that?”
Bilkic plays Lucrece and Nazar-Rosen Clarice, neither whom Dorante can figure out. Mistaken identity plays a major role here.
“It’s ironic this is called ‘The Liar’ because you can see the truths in people,” Nazar-Rosen said. “With a play like this it’s easy to exaggerate everything.”
As for Clarice, Nazar-Rosen said that “she’s also manipulating. She catches Dorante in his own trap. They do not end up together. She’s engaged, but she’s looking to see what else is out there. I really love this character. It gives me a chance to explore.”
Bilkic’s Lucrece is “upper-middle-class and austere. A shell of a person. But she loosens up. Lucrece reveals what she really wants and who she is. She wants fun and love without restraints. She feels people don’t necessarily marry for love, but she wants to.”
The cast has taken to the play’s rhyming verse. “The language is most interesting,” Bilkic said. “I’ve a fan of Shakespeare. I’ve done Shakespeare. But nothing like this.”
Bilkic embarked on her acting career at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge. Wellesley only heightened her goals. “I realized theater was what I wanted to do.” In the past year she did stage work and short films in New York City.
Nazar-Rosen, just a year out of college, is also pursing a full theater career.
Prior is already a stage veteran. “This show brings me up to 150 since 1991,” he said. “I did ‘Peter Pan’ in kindergarten and never stopped.” He has appeared on numerous local stages, including at Waltham’s Reagle Music Theatre.
Rainer has “toured the world” doing shows she’s written. The gigs have taken her to Russia, Turkey, international festivals, and across the United States.
“I’m happy to bring ‘The Liar’ to a local audience,” she said.
It’s a play that’ll make you laugh. And that’s the truth.
Lenny Megliola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wellesley News: Terra Nova
By Annabel Thompson
April 12, 2017
For a production set in a small black-box theatre, Wellesley Repertory Theatre’s production of “Terra Nova” is oddly majestic. The minimalist set is in front of a backdrop of breathtaking Antarctic landscapes arranged by projection designer and videographer Jonathan Carr, splendor certainly lent an air of majesty to the production. However, what really brought “Terra Nova” to the edge of the sublime was the cast’s ability to portray deep emotional lows.
“Terra Nova” tells the story of an infamous 1912 expedition to the South Pole, consisting of a five-man band of British naval officers led by Captain Robert Scott (Sarah Lord ’20). The expedition successfully reached the South Pole on foot, but all five officers died on the trek home.
The production decided to have all the characters use regionally-accurate accents, a decision that I couldn’t totally agree with; some of the performers seemed to struggle to find their voices, especially early in the show, slipping in and out of accents or between different ones. They quickly found their footing, but it was still noticeable enough that I feel the show would have been better if accents weren’t mandated for every single performer.
It felt like an unnecessary distraction; while the characters may have been British and Scottish, the story is universal. During the second act, the crew lament their situation again and again, losing hope and crew members; they feel like they’re trekking towards certain death, but still resolve to press onwards. The message was not lost on the students in the audience.
Nor was it lost on the performers. Lord in particular loses herself in the character of Scott, portraying everything he goes through, from trying to fight Antarctica’s inexplicably strong pull on him at home, to his attempts to project a sense of calm to his crew, to the guilt and responsibility he feels when his men start to die. When he falls to his knees and begins to weep during the show’s emotional climax, you’re there for a moment with him, freezing to death in Antarctica. The room gets colder, and louder.
Backing Lord up is the expedition’s crew, consisting of Lawrence Oates (Maia Zelkind ’20), Edward Wilson (Adeline du Crest ’19), Henry “Birdie” Bowers (show-stealing Chloe Nosan ’20, with a Scottish burr and good comedic timing), and Edward Evans (Megan Ruppel ’20). The group has wonderful chemistry together, transitioning smoothly and gradually from the cheery banter of a group of backpackers to the horror and sadness of a group of people realizing that all is lost. They fight, joke and despair together expressively and effectively.
Unfortunately, the chemistry between the crew is not present between Scott and his wife, Kathleen (Chiara Kay Seoh ’19). Part of this is due to the minimalism of the set; while the crew’s scenes are at least grounded by the sled they pull and the tent they set up and dismantle, the scenes between Scott and Kathleen are pushed onto a simple black bench on the corner of the stage, with no other props to represent their home. They stand and sit stiffly in and around the bench, and seem almost flat when they talk to each other. Perhaps the bench and the corner are meant to represent the way Scott’s relationship with his wife is pushed to the side in favor of his dreams of exploration.
Seoh’s Kathleen is best when she speaks not with Scott, but in diary entries that echo the misfortunes faced by the crew and contrast them with her domestic life and her anxieties about her husband. By the end of the play, when she poignantly describes the grief she feels for Scott, we finally feel a deep emotional connection between them, and her final speech resonates. If only it had been present in their interactions onstage.
Despite its flaws, Wellesley’s “Terra Nova” was for the most part a well-executed production. By the end, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bury myself in Antarctic snow or keep pressing desperately towards my destination, but I could see why one would choose either.
The Swellesley Report: Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight
By Deborah Brown
Jan. 16, 2017
At a time where I’m exposed to so many tweets I’d just as soon ignore, this one from Wellesley Repertory Theatre (WRT) was welcome: “We are SOLD OUT for today’s matinee…” of Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight.
Phew. Because when I attended WRT’s Saturday evening performance of Emilie, “sold out” was not the adjective I would have put before the word “performance.” Call it the Tom Brady effect. When he takes the field, as he dared to do smack dab during the WRT’s Saturday night performance of Emile, I don’t care how handsome the swoon-worthy Woody Gaul, who plays Voltaire, is (and he really is very handsome), or how how much fight Emilie had in her. It will always be Patriots 34, cool play 16.
But football games end, and the shows go on. Emilie, the lead played with intelligence, wit, and sheer force by Molly Parker Myers, would understand. Emile, too, was one to keep score. Love was on one side of the stage, Philosophy and Science were on the other, each written in capital letters on a transparent walls, and Emilie had a tally going. And I’ll confess, there’s a whole lot of science covered in this play that I just didn’t get. When I think of Newton, I envision him lolling under an apple tree, about to discover gravity. When Voltaire comes to mind, which is only ever at at a WRT performance, I think, “Oh yes, French.”
Then, when the characters got going on mass, velocity, and the equations that explain it all, yup, well, I couldn’t quite keep up. Even if I’d had a nurse on hand to raise my kids, as did Emilie, I definitely still wouldn’t have had a triumph of science under my belt, as she did (just a profound contribution to the E=mc2 theory, among other accomplishments, that’s all). But I’m at peace with that. All I have to do here is review a play.
It was Emilie’s night, after all, and this 18th-century scientific genius was all about the big juxtapositions: love vs. science; the life of the mind vs. the emotions of the heart. She’s confident. She’s curious. Her dramatic updo has hairs that dare to be out of place, just as she, a woman working in the scientific realm, dares to be. She’s got money, and a married woman of her station could count on the indulgence of society and her own husband when it came to extra-marital affairs. Voltaire, leading thinker and writer of the Enlightenment, just happened to be available for such an indulgence. How lovely.
The spectre of Emilie’s mother, played by Charlotte Peed with stern Gallic practicality, appears every now and then, reminding her headstrong daughter that a lady doesn’t laugh too loud, or feel too much, or flaunt her brain potential. But Emilie is around 40, the time of life where mom just doesn’t tune in as well as she used to. She finds science to be far more fascinating than the intricacies of proper behavior at court, and is ready to give her full attention to her passions, both romantic and scientific.
I found it depressing that Emilie refused to give her daughter the intellectual opportunities she grabbed for herself, insisting that her life would be the easier for it, as if Emilie actually believed that easy was some kind of worthy prize instead of something that she was forcing upon her daughter. Where was the woman who credited and thanked her father for his recognition and encouragement of her intellectual gifts? Emilie paid that forward to the world, but not to the smaller sphere of her own domestic life.
Emilie du Châtelet was born in Paris in 1706, and died at age 42 following complications from childbirth. Some of her accomplishments: mathematician, physicist, translator (she shepherded Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” from the Latin into French), and writer. She has also been credited with helping pave the way for Einstein’s E = mc2.
As you can imagine, a character like this needs a lot of lines. There Meyers is, on stage for the entire 2+ hours of the play. When intermission hit, my companion and I got up to stretch our legs in the hallway and look at the photo portraits of Wellesley College luminaries. When we returned to our seats, there was Emilie, still at her desk, scratching away with her quill, working, not only hammering away at her passion, but reminding the audience that it was all about the WORK, dammit.
At times, playwright Lauren Gunderson simply shoved too much “you go, girl, grab that brass ring straight away from that brass-balled set” dialogue straight down the audience’s throat. You get out there and get that career, all you Wellesley College women (who, although on winter break, still seemed the target of lectures about high expectations) and gosh darn it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Such dialogue felt forced at times, its verbal propaganda every bit as didactic as its polar opposite suggestions that corset plus flirtatiousness equals a rich husband and an easy life.
Still, as a Frenchwoman, Emilie was no slouch at witty banter when romance with Voltaire was going delightfully, and emotionally draining knock-down, drag-outs when the work (the work!) was going frightfully.
Producing Artistic Director Nora Hussey has been blowing me away with the quality of performances that she has brought to Wellesley. She has brought the company along from a small non-equity company to its current status as a New England Area Theatre member of the Actors’ Equity Association. Emilie included five Actors’ Equity Association members, meaning that they are part of the American labor union that represents the world of live theatrical performance. It’s a big deal, as my great-aunt, a lifelong member and working actress in New York City and beyond in the 1940s – 1970s, would have told you (God rest her drama-queen soul). Think of it as Fair Trade for actors. They are guaranteed certain wages, working conditions, and benefits including health and pension plans for its members.
In 18th-century France, life held no such guarantees. Emilie strived, Voltaire swaggered, and Newton’s spirit hung in the air, as heavy as an apple ready to drop from a tree. The play itself literally crackles with electricity and all of the power that implies, as the characters dash from the side of love to the side of science. There was plenty of both in the play, yet whenever the twain met, crackle went that electricity, right through the actors and straight into the audience.
Directed by Marta Rainer; Producing Artistic Director Nora Hussey; sets by David Towlun; costumes by Chelsea Kerl; lighting by Graham Edmondson; sound by George Cooke; stage manager Lindsay D. Garofalo; music composer Alexander Rainer; Choreography by Catherine Piner; interns Diana Loboutia, Kim Burton, Maggie Lees, Kerry Lydon.
With: Molly Parker Myers (Emilie); Charlotte Peed (Madame); Caroline Parsons (Soubrette I); Catherine Piner (Soubrette II); Woody Gaul (Voltaire); Charles Linshaw (Gentleman).
The Swellesley Report: Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet
By Deborah Brown
June 14, 2016
As you’ll recall, in Shakespeare’s tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Othello, Juliet, facts-ignorant and hasty, stabs herself to death, while in Othello, the duped and needlessly jealous title character smothers his slandered wife, Desdemona. Oh, if only everybody had slowed down a bit and gotten the turn of events straight, what might have been for these ill-fated characters?
In Wellesley Repertory Theatre’s Goodnight Desdemona, (Good Morning Juliet), playing at Wellesley College’s Ruth Nagel Jones Theater through June, playwright Ann-Marie MacDonald asks just that. Through the miracle of time travel, MacDonald allows the meddling hand of of Constance Ledbelly, a modern-day academic and frumpy cat-lover who is disrespected and dismissed by both her students and her colleagues, to stay the hands that would self-harm and murder. What results is a comedy, as both Juliet and Desdemona turn out to be, as Constance always suspected, a couple of trouble-makers who refuse to be kept down by the strictures of their time.
Juliet is played by Wellesley College rising-junior Lillian Odekirk, who perfectly conveys a young teen-ager’s knowledge of the power of her own youth and beauty, and her growing horror that (now that she didn’t commit suicide after all), she is saddled to Romeo for life and he is, frankly, rather dull. She and Romeo (MacMillan Leslie) bicker with and taunt each other, threatening to run to their respective daddies and tattle, even though it appears that now that the fair Juliet is wedded and bedded, the Capulet-Montague clan is so over fretting about this union.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Desdemona absolutely adores blood and gore, living vicariously through the warriors on the battlefield. Sadly, the only way poor Desdemona can participate in war is by occasionally scouring the battlefield for the odd leftover decapitated warrior whose head she can pick up by the hair and swing around for a little while, horrifying the less action-oriented Constance. These are the things that happen when young maidens become bored with their immature husbands, and blood-thirsty wives are without careers of their own and largely left to fill their time as best they might.
Actors’ Equity Association member Woody Gaul was kept busy playing the odious and self-congratulatory Professor Night, who uses both Constance’s work and heart to advance his own career ambitions, as well as Iago and Tybalt. He infused all three characters with their own personalities and foibles, and because he played each one so differently, I never got confused over which tall, dark, and handsome one was which. I know, it’s called acting for a reason, but Gaul does it so much better than most who are charged with such multi-tasking.
Victoria George rounds out the leads, playing Desdemona with a gleam in her eye and a too-eager willingness to believe palace gossip. To the blood-and-guts hungry Desdemona, so much the better should the gossip lead to murder most fun. I most recently saw George in the winter production of The House of Blue Leaves, in which she played yet another trouble-making character, and it is no wonder she was cast in that direction again. She is just plain good at it, and yes, I’m a fan. Gleeful cruelty is her specialty as she sashays around the stage, commanding the attention of all, who had certainly better stay on the ball if they want to survive her “friendship” and “love”.
The set designs by Janie E. Howland, who has been teaching Scenic Design at Wellesley College since 2006, expressed Constance’s university office as a space lined with books, as one would expect. On closer examination, most of the titles showed that the books in Constance’s domain covered war, deceit, mystery, and politics. The books and their pages then appear to open, break apart, and take flight into an unknown space, a portal which Constance will find soon find herself entering.
On the other side of that portal Constance, her beauty hidden by dowdy clothes and a lack of confidence, finds herself revered as a seer, an oracle, a visionary, a complicated woman of substance, and best of all (whether true or not, but you know how rumors get started), a virgin. In this strange land, both men and women romantically pursue her. It’s a place where her knowledge of the fictional characters she has studied all of her adult life is admired, and in this atmosphere of awe, her confidence grows. Played with passion and depth by former Wellesley College student, current Wellesley College lecturer, and Actors’ Equity Association member Marta Rainer, she sees to it that her character believably moves from heartbroken nobody to lauded heroine.
The rest of the cast, directed by the experienced and talented Nora Hussey and played mostly with a combination of Actors’ Equity Association professionals and Wellesley college students, kept things lively with flawless comedic timing. On the minus side when the play was over, that’s it folks, it was over. The actors exited to enthusiastic applause, and while the curtain was still moving behind them, the music went abruptly silent and the lights shot up to full wattage, glaring their good-bye and get out. With the very essence of the actors still hanging in the air, but no second bow forthcoming, the audience reluctantly shuffled away.
That anti-climax aside, Goodnight Desdemona is a great way to kick off a summer of arts appreciation. The audience at the small Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre was given a rollicking comedy and a happy ending — things that aren’t normally associated with the names Juliet and Desdemona, but are most definitely associated with a relaxed and well-spent summer of fun.
Metrowest Daily News: Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet
By Carole LaMond
June 13, 2016
WELLESLEY – What if two of Shakespeare’s most iconic tragic heroines, Desdemona and Juliet, were originally intended to enjoy a happy ending in comedies, not tragedies?
Constance Ledbetter thinks so, based on a cryptic manuscript that might be the original source of “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet.” But in 300 years no scholar has succeeded in cracking the code, and Constance, an absent-minded, mousy academic, has become a laughingstock among her colleagues who believe she is on a fool’s quest.
“Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” by Ann-Marie MacDonald and directed by Nora Hussey, now in performance by the Wellesley Repertory Theatre at the Ruth Nagel Theater through June 26, shakes up our view of Shakespeare’s women and adds a feminist twist.
In this lively comedy, Constance, whose dissertation, and academic future, hangs on her ability to solve an arcane riddle, is transported into the plays themselves. Amid plot twists, seductions, dances and sword fights, the fates of Desdemona and Juliet are altered, a mystery is deciphered and a mouse learns to roar.
The intimate black box theater works well in this show which begins in a book-filled office at Queen’s University.
Constance is in love with Professor Claude Night and for years has ghostwritten his articles, only to discover that he gets tenure and a post at Oxford she thought was meant for her.
Night ridicules Constance’s attempt to decipher the cryptic “Gustav” manuscript (In a play that explores the subconscious it is of note that Carl Jung’s middle name was Gustav) which she believes is the original source of the two tragedies and includes a pivotal character, a “wise fool,” who is the author’s voice for the play’s most important themes.
Defeated, Constance decides to resign her post and return home to her cats. She begins to throw the manuscript into her wastebasket, when, in a spiral of light, she is pulled into a time warp and deposited squarely into the dramatic action of “Othello.”
Constance promptly intervenes and tells Othello of Iago’s deceit.
“She has uncanny knowledge of our lives and sees us better than we see ourselves,” says Othello who regards her as an oracle.
Desdemona hails Constance as an Amazon-like “Queen of Academe” rather than an academic from Queen’s University.
Desdemona is something of an Amazon herself, a warrior wannabe who picks up decapitated heads from the battlefield and brings out the feminist in Constance who confesses her thesis struggles.
This lament triggers a rousing battle cry by the two women, and Constance is a mouse no more.
Victoria George, a Wellesley College graduate, plays Desdemona with a fierce loyalty – you would want her as a best friend except that her idea of sisterhood is a bit extreme. When Constance describes her unrequited love for Claude Night, and the way he used her, Desdemona has the gleeful solution: “Slay Professor Night!”
Marta Rainer plays Constance, and deftly navigates the transformation from slump-shouldered, insecure academic to the confident author of her own life.
Another clue from a scrap of the Gustav manuscript sends Constance from Cyprus to Verona, just in time to escape the wrath of Desdemona who is duped into a jealous rage by Iago
Constance lands in the scene from “Romeo and Juliet” where Mercutio fights with Tybalt where she intervenes to ensure that all ends happily, except that she is thought to be a handsome young lad. In true Shakespeare fashion, this begins a series of mistaken identity and seductions where boys dress as girls and girls dress as boys.