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Opened at The Depot Theatre, Westport, NY, Friday, June 29, 2001
The professional quality of the productions at the Depot Theatre is evident in BALMORAL, theMichael Frayn comedy which opens their 2001 season. I wasn't familiar with this play, knowing Mr. Frayn primarily for the hilarious farce NOISES OFF and the recent more serious hit play COPENHAGEN.
Set in Balmoral Castle in 1937, this is a Great Britain which has a Communist government, while the rest of Europe is democratic and Russia still has a Tsar. Apparently at the 16th Party Congress Balmoral Castle was designated as a home for writers. I'm not going to get into the twists and turns of the plot. Suffice it to say that much hilarity ensues, as well as some splendid physical slapstick. (Is there any other kind?)
The set, designed and lit by David Berendes, is spiffy with its shields and tartans. Jean Brookman, his co-designer, was also responsible for the excellent costumes. She gets a gold star for the seams in Trisha's stockings.
Director John Christopher Jones has put together an excellent and well-balanced cast. His staging of the death scene kept me in a constant state of giggles. His music choices are wonderful, as is the bagpiper.
The cast as a whole is impressive and gets TWO gold stars for ensemble playing. The dialects, often the downfall of summer theatre companies, in this case are just about perfect - British, Scottish, and even Russian. All the actors are very accomplished and play a terrific group of believable oddballs. I'd like to single out Shami McCormick, the Depot Theatre's Artistic Director. I'd never had the pleasure of seeing her on stage, and found her to be a wonderful comedienne. She's also one of the best listeners I've seen in a long time. For that matter, it's whole cast of excellent listeners - a true mark of professionalism.
It's very courageous of the Depot to open their season with a comedy of substance instead of the usual farcical fluff. Like many of Michael Frayn's plays, it's not only very funny, but it also has something to say. In this play it's that fact that England is held together with safety pins.
The Depot Theatre also offers a look at a beautifully restored and adapted train station, and again this year Bert's homemade jam and some interesting local art are both for sale in the lobby. You can also pick up the current Amtrak schedule.
On a scale of one to five, the Depot Theatre's production of BALMORAL gets four and a half boxcars and a caboose. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.