“The Lady’s Not For Burning” first read-through, Nov 9

Saturday November 9 was a very busy day at Alumnae Theatre – every space in the building was in use!  Up in the 3rd floor Studio, the FireWorks plays were teching (opening Wed Nov 13).  The lobby was the site of the New Ideas Festival ‘Creative Exchange’ – think speed dating for the writers whose plays have been selected to be produced in March, and the hopeful director applicants!  Also on the main floor, it was load-in day for Alexander Showcase Theatre, who are renting Alumnae’s main stage for their production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which runs Nov 14 – 24 (see http://www.alexandershowcasetheatre.com/new-shows/the-crucible-2/ for info & tickets). And in the second floor rehearsal space, I was invited to the first read-through of Alumnae Theatre Company’s January show, Christopher Fry’s medieval comedy The Lady’s Not For Burning.

Director Jane Carnwath told us (the cast, designers, production folks) that she has wanted to direct this play for years.  It is written in 3 acts (which run about 30-40 mins each), and will be performed with TWO intermissions.

English playwright Christopher Fry (1907 – 2005) wrote it in 1948, and the script hints at the post-WWII events of its day.  Although often described as a “verse comedy”, The Lady’s Not For Burning is only “very loosely” iambic pentameter.  Its meter and rhythm combine soaring imagery with colloquialism/vernacular:   “Savour the language,” Jane advised the cast, “don’t belabor it!”  This production will be our modern vision of the period (1400’s) – there will not be strict accuracy in costumes, language, etc.  Jane also mentioned that she thinks Jennet really is a witch, but doesn’t know it!

Set designer Ed Rosing passed around his drawing, which shows his concept of the town built around a ruined stone arch seen at upstage centre.  Buildings will be shown on a backdrop visible through the arch, in the style of old paintings before perspective was in fashion.  The design incorporates period heraldry devices and torn flags.

Lighting designer Jennifer Fraser warned that she tends to design very tightly, meaning that actors have to hit their marks, but promised “You will look beautiful!”.

So what is the play about?  The big themes are redemption and loss of grace – yet it’s not religious.  And guess what?  It’s about hanging and witch-burning, but it manages to be funny and outrageous!  So much hilarity in the room during the read-through.  The plot concerns Thomas, a disillusioned former soldier (Chris Coculuzzi) who wants to be hanged; Jennet (played by Andrea Brown**) who’s accused of witchcraft because someone thinks she turned a man into a dog; and all the village personalities who contribute to the mayhem, including the blustering but ineffectual Mayor (actor Thomas Gough was absent; the role was read by co-producer Ellen Green); his by-the-book clerk Richard* (Chris Whidden); the Mayor’s officious sister Margaret (Carol McLennan); Margaret’s battling sons Nicholas (Ryan Armstrong) and Humphrey (Reece Presley); the girl they fight over (Elsbeth McCall); the befuddled village Chaplain (Peter Higginson); Justice Tappercoom (Rob Candy); and Ian Orr as Matthew Skips, a rag & bone man whose death may have been greatly exaggerated.

SAMPLING OF LINES I ENJOYED:

–          “Your ding dong rocks me” – Carol’s sly reading of protective mama MARGARET DEVIZE made me guffaw.  (Oh, she’s talking about the church bells, which have just rung)

–          “You can go down to the dinner of damnation on my arm.” – THOMAS, to Jennet.

         “I’ll dine elsewhere.” – JENNET’s response.

–          “Blow your nose, Tyson, and avoid lechery.” – JUSTICE TAPPERCOOM’s advice to the MAYOR.

–          “Legal matters and such are Greek to me.  Except of course that I understand Greek.” – CHAPLAIN

–          “Mother, I make it known publicly: I ‘m tired of my little brother.  Can you give him to some charity?” – HUMPHREY

–          “…I bark my brain on shadows sharp as rock…” – JENNET (her father was an alchemist who “broke on the wheel of a dream”)

–          “How can they confuse my voice with a peacock’s?  Don’t they know I sing bass in Satan’s madrigal choir?” – THOMAS

–          “I am such a girl of habitI’ve got into the way of being alive.” – JENNET

See?  Funny AND poetic.  And those are just the lines I managed to scribble down – there were some glorious speeches full of imagery (Jennet has a lovely one about jonquils and pearls of dew) that I couldn’t write down fast enough.  Catch The Lady’s Not For Burning when it opens on the main stage, January 24, and runs to February 8, 2014.

*busy actor Chris Whidden is also playing another character named Richard (in the FireWorks play Theory, Nov 13 – Dec 1).  When he pointed this out, Chris Coculuzzi joked, “So you’re playing a couple of Dicks?”  Ba-dum-dum.

** Andrea Brown is playing witches in two consecutive productions,  starting Nov 14 as [accused witch] Elizabeth Proctor in Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of The Crucible.

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