TR Robertson — The 2nd play of North Coast Rep’s 41st season is the delightful play within a play comedy, Into the Breeches!, by playwright George Brant, with a wonderful cast of seven women and 2 males that will have you laughing out loud one minute, learning tidbits of history the next all surrounded with significant social commentary important to all people today. This spirited play also points out the importance of art in the darkest of times.
Into the Breeches! was written by award winning playwright George Brant, whose plays have been produced internationally as well. Brant spent some time researching the effects of plays and performers in the United States during World War II when many of the theatre companies lost many of their male performers and crews as they enlisted to go overseas to fight in the war in Europe and the South Pacific. This play looks at one theatre company in Providence, Rhode Island, the struggles they had to get a play brought to the stage with an all-female cast along with other issues unique to the 1940’s. The result is a play that is both funny, emotional, educational for the audience and touches on social issues that are still around today.
Photos by Aaron Rumley
Like all successful plays, the key is in the cast and those attending these performances will love the cast. Director Diana Van Fossen, making her North Coast Rep debut, has an amazing cast of veteran performers to work with. Melanie Lora plays Maggie Dalton, the director of the Shakespearean play Henry V that the theatre company has been planning to performer before the war began. Maggie’s husband, the former director of the theatre company, is in Europe and has left plans for his wife to follow when directing the play. Maggie’s major hurdles, no men are available for a mostly masculine cast, she must convince women performers to play men’s roles and the President of the Board for the theatre company wants the theatre company to remain closed until the war ends. Melanie has been in former NC Rep productions and numerous regional theatre and television productions. She is “spot-on” as a woman dealing with the numerous struggles and issues that she faces.
One of Maggie’s first hurdles in finding performers for the play is to convince one of the theatres premiere performers, Celeste Fielding, that playing the lead male role in the play, Henry V son of Henry IV, will advance her career as a theatrical star. Playing Celeste is Katie MacNichol, having performed in other NC Rep productions, on Broadway and Off-Broadway and in numerous Shakespearian productions in the states and overseas. Katie has the theatre laughing with her witty comments and physical mannerisms. As Maggie makes a major director’s decision, asking Celeste to play the older Henry IV instead of his son Henry V, the audience sees one of several topics covered in the play, dealing with age in a profession, in this case the theatre. She has a funny comment about the job of the theatre is to “cater to the taste of the audience not to broaden them” when arguing with Maggie and the possibility a play may teach the audience something.
Shana Wride, as Winifred Snow, is an audience favorite with her calm, dry wit and brings the house down when Celeste convinces the female members of the cast to wear a belt with make-shift testicles hanging and walking like a man. Winifred’s comments and actions are hilarious. She also presents a funny Groucho Marx impersonation when Maggie asks her to channel Groucho to make her role of Fluellen funny for the audience. Shana has performed in numerous regional shows and is a two-time San Diego Critics Circle Craig Noel Award recipient.
Taylor Henderson returns to NC Rep to play Ida Green, the costume designer for the theatre who has a desire to be on stage, but the fact she is black keeps her from the all-white stage in the 1940’s. As Maggie searches for performers, she makes a major decision for the theatre, casting Ida as one of the cast members. Another issue this play touches on, racism within the world of the theatre, as well as society, in the 1940’s and how races were relegated to certain jobs for completely illogical reasons. James Newcomb, playing Board President Ellsworth Snow, tries to remind Maggie that it just was not done, allowing people of color on stage, when he questions why Maggie is letting Ida perform. James is also returning to NC Rep and has a lengthy list of regional, state and television performances. His portrayal of the somewhat pompous Snow is funny. He tries to be controlling, but seems to always lose the argument, especially with his wife. His support of his wife’s efforts on stage will have you laughing toward the end of Act II.
Rosemarie Chandler plays Grace Richards, the new to the theatre performer who is finally selected to perform Henry V, who is worried about her husband’s deployment and who wants to do something for herself at long last. Rosemarie is making her NC Rep debut. She has some of the longest lines from the Henry V play and does not miss a beat. Playing June Bennett is Mikaela Macias, also new to NC Rep Theatre. She is currently a 3rd year Performance Student at San Diego State University. June loves the theatre and is now offered a chance to perform on stage as the French Princess Catherine of Valois. As June, she gets upset when she questions why the male stage manager Stuart is not fighting in WW II when her husband is overseas, only to find out that Stuart was not medically accepted and has been labeled a “swish” (slang term for having effeminate tendencies) so not allowed to enlist. Another issue prevalent at the time when being thought to be gay was tantamount to being ostracized in the society of the 1940’s. Stuart Lasker, the stage manager, is played by Geno Carr. Geno has performed on and off Broadway and throughout San Diego regional theatre. As the calming force for Maggie, Geno presents Stuart with a passionate, caring understanding of her predicaments and shows the struggle people like Stuart must have gone through during this time period. He also brings elements of humor to the stage, especially with his various clothes changes as the play progresses.
The Design team for Into the Breeches! include Set Designer Marty Burnett, Lighting Designer Matthew Novotny, Costume Designers Renetta Lloyd and Roz Lehman, Sound Designer Ryan Ford, Prop Designer Cindy Rumley, and Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman. The costuming was especially accurate for the 1940’s.
This is a funny and very cleverly designed play that will bring smiles to your face and a little education to your life about a time from the not-too-distant past. Into the Breeches! Will run until November 13th at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. Tickets are available at www.northcoastrep.org or call 858-481-1055.