By ANDREA SUOZZO
RIPTON – “This was the man was meant me; that he should come/So near his time, and miss it!”
So says Beatrice-Joanna in The Changeling, meeting Alsemero just after her father has promised her to another man. The tragedy, which includes a more comic subplot in a madhouse, played last week in the Little Theatre at the Bread Loaf School of English. It was this year’s major production at the school, bringing together a combined cast of professional actors and Bread Loaf graduate students.
Alan MacVey has been directing the school’s annual play for the past 32 years, and has been a member of the Bread Loaf faculty since 1976. Each year he picks the play, being attentive to his audience and to the plays he has put on in past years. Last year it was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, so for this year’s play he chose a tragedy.
“(At Bread Loaf) we have the opportunity to do plays that are longer and more challenging,” said MacVey.
And indeed, the two-and-a-half-hour play featured some hefty language — it was co-written in the mid-16th century by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, and the language is often more complex than Shakespeare’s. Even with the changes MacVey made, following the quick, lyrical lines can be difficult.
“There’s no audience member who’s going to get every word,” said MacVey. “But that’s why I’ve tried to make it as visual as possible.”
The lighting — neon blues, reds and bare bulbs — and the bare corrugated iron of the set were evocative of the play’s late-19th-century design. The costumes are especially indicative.
“The makeup is fun. And I’ve got this weird goggle,” said Charles Temple, an inhabitant of the madhouse.
Just before the final dress rehearsal on July 28, Temple’s face was pale, and his eyes were lined with deep blue makeup shadows. In his hand he held a one-eyed goggle adorned with what looked like dog ears.
Temple, who hails from North Carolina, is one of the 16 graduate students in the play. The students played the minor roles, while six professional actors played the major roles. They are members of The Acting Ensemble, a theatre company founded by MacVey that moved to Bread Loaf in 1986. Before the ensemble moved to Bread Loaf, the annual theatre productions were acted almost entirely by students.
Now the actors in The Acting Ensemble, who number a half-dozen most years, spend six weeks at the school rehearsing for the performance and participating in the academic community. Professors invite them to classes in order to stage dramatic readings, and they meet with aspiring playwrights to discuss writing and give advice.
And the actors give the students in the play an inside look at the world of theater.
“That’s really why we do it. We get to see professional acting,” said Blake Reemtsma, a student from Los Angeles.
Most have had limited theater experience, but to MacVey, this is not a bad thing.
“(These roles) mostly require commitment, creativity, and a willingness to try new stuff,” said MacVey. “We enjoy working with them, and they enjoy doing it.”
But with just more than a week left of classes, the screened-in porch that served as the cast dressing room was filled with more than pre-show jitters. Scattered around the room were plays, poetry collections and novels, and cast members in torn clothes and mismatched socks typing furiously on their laptops. In their final week of rehearsals, the students had spent hours each evening rehearsing in the theater.
For many of them, though, this had been the best part of the play so far. MacVey agreed.
“The rehearsals are hard, but in the last week or 10 days everyone knows their words,” he said. “The sets and costumes come together. I really enjoy putting it all together.”