FISH CREEK, Wis. (WFRV) – Nice. “Romance in D” is a nice play.
Well-written, finely cast and smoothly directed, it’s a lovely attraction for Peninsula Players Theatre’s abbreviated 86th season.
Maybe it’s a softie of a show that glides over the bumps of life too easily, but it’s easily likable. It’s hopeful. It’s literate. It’s funny. It’s warm. It’s nice.
Playwright James Sherman’s title is perfect. It has more than one meaning. “D” is the apartment where a longtime bachelor lives. Also, “in D” has the sound of something musical, and, indeed, music is woven into the play. The bachelor, Charles, is a musicologist. His love for music and keyboard playing permeate the play and bring it to a higher level. “Romance” you know about – or think you do. There’s a double dose of it in “Romance in D.” Lovers will love it.
Director Tom Mula, who has a gift for bringing out humanity in plays, does so again with a keen and vital cast of Players veterans.
Neil Brookshire portrays the bachelor, Charles, who is fastidious to a fault and comfortably alone in his comfortable Chicago apartment that’s loaded with classical CDs and books on music. Against a wall is a synthesizer that Neil Brookshire plays smoothly – a special demand of his role.
Cassandra Bissell portrays Isabel, a newly arrived neighbor in the adjacent apartment. Isabel’s 10-year marriage is aflame. As the play opens, Isabel is trying to gas herself in the oven. Obviously, she doesn’t pull off that stunt, or there’d be no play.
The split-scene set of Jack Magaw is excellent and symbolic. Charles’ apartment brims with life and promise. Isabel’s is astray.
Judy Blue portrays Charles’ mother, and Greg Vinkler portrays Isabel’s father. Both characters are long-time widowed. In their brightness – sweetly played – playwright James Sherman tells the audience something through Charles’ mother: “Go someplace. Do something. What the hey.”
You leave the theater feeling good, all right. Nothing wrong with that. What the hey.
Confession: What you have been reading is a virtual duplicate of another review. Mine. From 1998. At Peninsula Players. The company put on what was only the second production of “Romance in D.” The headline said the play was fresh and warm. This production still feels that way. Certain things have been updated. There were no hand-held cell phones in 1998. There are now in life and this play. Certain things are enduring – like the greatness of Leonard Bernstein and classical music (of Charles) and poetry (Isabel’s forte) and the arc that can spark between two people (Charles/Isabel and their parents).
This and that:
+ The play is written in musical ways, as in duets. Sometimes, simultaneous scenes are taking place in the side-by-side apartments. Speaking passes back and forth. Music permeates, whether in discussion, Charles’ playing or in recorded music. Charles loves the classics, Isabel’s father loves big band swing music, which happens to be heard in the air on the grounds and in the theater leading into the performance.
+ Clever humor is woven in, like these quick bursts: To Charles: “When you were a boy, did you have ‘issues’?” Charles: “We couldn’t afford them.” Isabel to Charles: “Is it hard to be a recluse?” Charles: “It takes practice and discipline, just like anything else.”
+ The cast is buoyant. The flair all around starts with Neil Brookshire, whose Charles is just the right tone for a sure and positive outlook.
+ The costuming of Karin Simonson Kopischke also has a buoyance: Charles’ mother purposely strikes a grandiose pose in sha-zam dress, Isabel’s father’s red-based plaid slacks light up Christmas while Isabel’s pants add color of their own and Charles’ meticulous jackets express his nature. So much fits in this show. Ahem.
+ Because of the COVID-19 situation, seating is limited and socially distanced in the 601-seat theater. Tuesday’s opening night was a sellout – 202.
+ A rarity passed virtually unnoticed in Tuesday’s performance. In the play, Isabel’s father gives a brief synopsis of his successful life, which has included Broadway performance. “I was in ‘West Side Story’ once,” he says. Saying the line is Greg Vinkler, who WAS in “West Side Story” on Broadway for many months. How many opportunities does an actor have to say a line that perfectly fits his/her life? Of note, at the same time Greg Vinkler was acting on Broadway, he was putting together a season for Peninsula Players Theatre as artistic director. He is retiring from the artistic director position at the end of this season – 33 years of professional accomplishment enjoyed by tens of thousands.
Creative: Playwright – James Sherman; director – Tom Mula; scenic designer – Jack Magaw; costume designer – Karin Simonson Kopischke; lighting designer – Stephen Roy White; sound designer – Joe Court; scenic artist – Jessie Howe; stage manager – Kaitlin Kitzmiller; assistant stage manager – Kimberly Ann McCann; production manager – Cody Westgaard; artistic director – Greg Vinkler; associate artistic director – Linda Fortunato; managing director – Brian Kelsey
Isabel Fox – Cassandra Bissell
Charles Norton – Neil Brookshire
Helen Norton – Judy Blue
George Fox – Greg Vinkler
Running time: One hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Remaining performances: To Sept. 19: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
THE VENUE: The location of Peninsula Players Theatre’s Theatre in a Garden is about atmosphere – tall cedars and pines and shoreline vistas along the bay of Green Bay. The theater house is part of a campus that includes a workshop, office, rehearsal hall, dining hall, housing and more at 4351 Peninsula Players Road. Flowers and other decorative foliage grace footpaths that weave through the grounds, which have been extended to the south. Driving along Peninsula Players Road and passing farms and trees, the thought may occur: “This theater is in an unusual place.” The 621-seat theater house features Door County limestone in its interior décor. When the weather is friendly, the wooden slats of the side walls are rolled open to the outside. For cool fall nights, the theater floor is equipped with radiant heating for comfort. While the company dates back 83 years, the theater building is of 2006 vintage. The playhouse and theater were built on the site of the previous structure, which got wobbly with age. The location on the shores of Green Bay provides playgoers with pre-show picnicking and viewing the sunset. Here’s a theatrical rarity: The Players’ website provides sunset times.