Last night Main Street Theater had their premiere of “Heartbreak House” by George Bernard Shaw, which is their closing show of their 2013-2014 season. This play is a perfect way to close out their versatile season, which has been filled with a blend of comedic and dramatic plays.
Arriving early for the opening night, allowed myself and other patrons the opportunity to sit down and discuss the upcoming performance with a few of the creative team members. Speaking to the audience last night was Director and Main Streets Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden, Costume Designer Margaret Crowley and Lighting Designer Carrie D. Cavins.
Greene kicked off the discussion talking about the staging options and set design. With the setting of the play being in 1914 England in a house, that resembles a ship, it created certain challenges that needed to be addressed. Greene explained they needed to “suggest a ship without creating the ship”. She went on to discuss how their choices differed from other shows she had seen in the past concerning the staging. Greene also mentioned how the cast was such an “assemble” that one character didn’t exactly star, but it was a collaborative work.
Crowley spoke next about the difficulty with costume design due to the time. She explained that she had to “climb inside the character to see who they are” then began to create. With costuming Crowley works hand in hand with Cavins (lighting) who explained just how important color was not only to actors and costuming but the entire mood of the production.
Cavins explained her job is “painting the picture with lights”. All three women helped the audience identify key elements to take notice of during the production. Particularly the elements all coming together in Act III as the performance is taken outside and we get a shift in setting and lighting. This discussion helped to heighten awareness and appreciation for just how each element must come together to create the ideal production.
With the picture perfectly created in the audiences mind, following the discussion, the play began. The play happens in England at the country house of eccentric Captain Shotover (Charles Krohn) in September of 1914. Ellie Dunn (Joanna Hubbard), her father and fiancé has been invited to a dinner party by one of the Captain’s daughters Hesione Hushabye (Celeste Roberts). The subsequent events, set on the cusp of the start of WWI, reveal the nature of each character in a comedic yet tragic tone.
Ellie arrives to the house, which appears deserted except for Nurse Guinness (Sheryl Croix) who is the only one around to greet the guest, despite being invited by Hesione. In this opening, we get the quick wit that is exhibited throughout the production often times by the Nurse or Captain Shotover himself as he seems to pace the stage moving quickly, for an old sea captain, from one part of the stage to exit on the other side. Hesione makes a fashionable late entrance, which appears she is accustomed to making, and finally receives her guest in sweeping fashion. Roberts truly brings Hesione alive with a charming yet mischievous nature, which draws audiences completely under her engrossing and hypnotic personality.
This production truly is an assemble cast, where no one cast member stands out above the rest, rather they blend perfectly complimenting their fellow actor’s performances on stage. As the production continues, all the characters arrive and we meet Lady Ariadne Utterword (Elizabeth Marshall Black) who returns after years away after marrying. Captain and her sister, Hesione, neither notice nor take much care to her presence, although she tends to make a scene wherever she goes. Mazzini Dunn (Jeffrey S. Lane), Ellie’s father, and Boss Mangan (Jim Salners) her fiancé arrive both seemingly reserved older men. Salners portrayal of Mangan is quite entertaining to say the least he seems the most insane and zany of the entire bunch.
To Ellie’s surprise, a man she has fallen in love with turns out to be both a liar and the husband of Hesione, Hector Hushabye (Joe Kirkendall) makes his entrance. Kirkendall plays this character with a graceful, confident ease, delivering skillfully his witty, digging lines and quickly transitioning into a charming, pretty boy with flawless transitions. Randall Utterword (Joel Sandel), the brother in law of Lady Ariadne, and Billy Dunn (Mark Roberts), an ex-shipmate of the Captain, who attempts to rob the family spouting about redemption or salvation of some kind for himself round out the cast.
As the play comes to Act III, all the characters are present and the setting has transitioned to outside the house. Setting and lighting has been changed, as noted in the pre-show discussion and the care and attention to detail perfectly sets the outdoor mood and is a definite shift from what audiences saw with the interior lighting and set design. The “company” has proceeded to badger and it either drives or brings out the insanity in Mangan, while Ellie shocked the group with her adoration and commitment to the Captain. Ultimately, this play examines the intricacies of family, insanity and overall societal behavior.
“Heartbreak House” runs at Main Street Theater through June 1. Be sure to check the website for exciting production events, like after parties and the chance for lunch with the actors Charles Krohn and Celeste Roberts on May 18th. For ticket information, visit the website at MainStreetTheater.com, by phone at 713-524-6706 or at the box office located at 2540 Times Blvd..