Sharon Becher & George Robert Bailey in Quartet. Photo courtesy Little Colonel.
By Ronald Harwood
Directed by Sharon Sommermeyer
Review by Cristina Martin.
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Cristina Martin. All rights reserved.
Getting older. We’re all doing it, every minute of every day, whether we like it or not. Time exempts no one even as it robs us of qualities and attributes that once made us who we were, gifts us with new ones, and leaves certain things at our very crux unchanged. The Little Colonel Players’ current production of Ronald Harwood’s Quartet allows us a poignant glimpse into the lives of four retired opera singers as they come to terms with what they were and who they are.
Reggie (George Bailey), Wilf (Tom Pettey), Cecily (Sharon Cardwell), and Jean (Sharon Horton Becher), have passed from the limelight to a twilight existence of sorts some time ago. They’re all residents of Beecham House, an English retirement facility for musical artists, where there is a distinct pecking order and interpersonal sniping to rival anyone’s middle school (some things really never change!). For an upcoming gala in honor of Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday, the four singers, who have known each other personally and professionally for many years, are asked to reprise an aria they had performed together when their careers were in full flower. Some of them welcome the prospect of singing together again, while one, in particular, does not. We get to piece together their colorful backgrounds and previous relationships as the play moves forward to a resounding conclusion on the day of the gala.
The distinctive personality of each of the four characters shines through under Sharon Sommermeyer’s direction. In the role of (usually) bookish, contemplative Reggie, George Bailey delivers a measured performance whereby the character’s outer layers seem to peel back gradually as the audience learns more and more of what makes Reggie tick. Mr. Bailey’s reactions and facial expressions are excellent; I think he has perfected how to blanche on cue when Reggie hears the news that Jean (Reggie’s ex-wife) will soon be among the retirement facility’s residents. In contrast, Tom Pettey’s Wilf is a veritable firecracker of concupiscence – if there was ever any doubt that older people still think about sex, let it be put to rest!! Mr. Pettey does some great bits of physical comedy, though I found myself wishing he’d tread a little more lightly on his cane, which tended to be noisy on the floorboards.
From the moment she first steps on stage, Sharon Horton Becher is positively luminous as soprano Jean Horton. Her sweet and wistful delivery in her first scene with Reggie stands in contrast to his equally effective silent seething. Ms. Becher brings out her character’s depth and complexity with a commanding presence and delivers both plaintive and comical lines movingly. Going through a trunk filled with costumes in anticipation of the upcoming performance, she remarks, “This is going to be amateur night at the Turkish bath!”
In the role of contralto Cecily Robson, Sharon Cardwell has some of the greatest one-liners of the show. She is presented with the challenge of playing a character whose grip on reality is sometimes tenuous without giving the impression that it’s the actor’s grip on the role that needs work. She succeeds notably well in Cecily’s dressing room scene with Jean in the second act, where we see Cecily in some of her most lucid as well as her most vulnerable moments. It wasn’t quite clear why she was the only one of the four singers who didn’t have a British accent, though perhaps, having spent time in India and gone to boarding school with an international mix of classmates, her original accent became diluted.
Speaking of accents, it seemed in a number of cases that the actors weren’t especially confident in their pronunciation of foreign names and phrases that came up in the dialogue. This being a play about opera, there were quite a few of those. Checking and practicing with a native or near-native speaker of Italian or French can assure that Verdi and Proust come out sounding like VAIR-DEE and PROOST every time and not VAIR-DAY and PROWST.
I’m not sure I can think of another show where the audience seemed to enjoy watching a scene change as much as they did in this one. The well-appointed music room of Beecham House, filled with a variety of lovely musical instruments and furniture, gives way to a clever configuration of the singers’ dressing rooms before the play’s final scene. This entails moving a lot of set pieces. Maybe it was because there was opera music playing in the background as the backstage crew scurried around in the half-darkness, or maybe it was because someone broke the fourth wall with, “I meant to do that!” when she accidentally dropped something, but the interlude was particularly entertaining. You could feel the audience pulling for the people on stage, and they even applauded at the end!
Art isn’t art, Reggie and Wilf discuss toward the end of Quartet, unless it makes you feel. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that this production ends on a high note and certainly succeeds as art by this definition, judging from the smiles on the faces of the audience as the lights came up.
Currently in their sixtieth season, The Little Colonel Players have recently refurbished Oldham County’s only community theatre to very tasteful effect. The current board of directors seeks to present relevant works that attract diverse audiences, cast, and crew – to add to their loyal support base, and to remind people that Pewee Valley really isn’t that far from anywhere! Performing, Reggie says in Quartet, is one’s way of reaffirming one’s existence. With vibrant performances such as this one, The Little Colonel Players prove that they’re going strong and hope to be for the next sixty years and beyond.
May 12, 13, 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30 p.m.
May 14 and 21 at 2:00 p.m.
The Little Colonel Players
302 Mt. Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, KY 40056
Tickets: (502) 588-1557
A lover of the arts in every form, Cristina Martin has a background in theatre, dance, and classical music. A native of Chicago, she currently lives in Louisville with her husband, three active young boys, two rambunctious dogs and a cat as old as the hills.