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Nell Gwynn

a Comedy
by Jessica Swale

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Peachtree Playhouse
ID# 5359

SHOWING : September 27, 2018 - October 21, 2018



From her roots in Coal Yard Alley, to her success as Britain’s most celebrated actress, to her hard-won place in the heart of the king, Nell Gwynn charts the rise of an unlikely heroine. At a time when women are second-class citizens, can her charm and spirit protect her from the dangers of the court?

Mature content. May not be suitable for children under 13.

Director Richard Garner
Swing/Understudy Maggie Birgel
Nancy Hannah Church
Queen Catherine/Old Ma Gwynn Amanda Cucher
Edward Kynaston Jeff Hathcoat
Nell Gwynn Courtney Moors
John Dryden Brandon Partrick
Ned Spigget J. L. Reed
Thomas Killigrew/Lord Arlington Doyle Reynolds
Charles Hart Eugene H. Russell IV
King Charles II Robert Shaw-Smith
Lady Castlemaine/Louise de Keroualle Jasmine Thomas
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Regal Entanglements
by playgoer
Friday, October 5, 2018
Nell Gwynn was an historical personage, an orange-girl turned actress turned king’s mistress to Charles II of England. Jessica Swale’s biographical play is hardly a dry, fact-filled treatise, however; the characters of the king and of John Dryden, England’s first poet laureate, are portrayed as being a bit buffoonish, while Nell is a comic force whose story stays resolutely in the foreground. All the supporting characters are nicely etched, letting double-cast actors impress with their range.

Synchronicity’s physical production is also impressive. Kat Conley’s scenic design includes a curtained proscenium in back of and between two hall-like wings leading offstage, whose walls are resplendent in elegant patterned fabric and trimmed with white, gray, red, and green faux marble. When the crimson curtain is parted, we see back to a painted backdrop that represents a theatre auditorium, but the backdrop can be pulled aside to reveal another representing the interior of a palace room and, for one second-act scene, a third backdrop representing a croquet green, with a bolt of green fabric unfurled on the floor to suggest grass. Above it all is a frieze of gamboling naked women. A couple of upholstered benches positioned in front of the hall-like wings are repositioned for various scenes, with chairs and tables occasionally brought in to flesh out various locations. Scene changes occur swiftly, with actors moving items off and on in dim light and always in character.

D. Connor McVey’s lighting design suggests 17th century stage lighting with footlights near the lip of the stage, but otherwise uses general lighting without intrusive effects. It’s all to enhance our views of the lovely set and the astounding costumes designed by Landi McAdams. Jillian Haughey’s props are also good, and Bonnie Harris’ choreography sparks the many musical intervals. Altogether, the visual aspects of the production are stunning.

Sound is also good. Jess Wells has provided orchestral music for the scene changes and songs, with smooth transitions from one set of instruments to another. Brandon Partrick augments the orchestral score with live lute and drum playing. Singing is good, with some fine voices harmonizing, although the inclusion of so many songs drags out the length of the show to nearly three hours, including intermission.

Richard Garner has done a terrific job directing his troupe of actors. Characterizations are delightful, pacing is energetic, and blocking is smooth and flowing. The arm gestures used in scenes representing 17th century stage performances are often broad to the point of laughability, but that provides much of the humor of those scenes. Posture and leg position aren’t always all they need to be to suggest the formality of the times, with Rob Shaw-Smith appearing a bit louche as the king, but that’s a bit of nit-picking.

The show starts before curtain time with Nell (Courtney Moors) and her sister Rose (Anastasia Wilson) circulating in the audience with baskets of cuties, selling their wares in the bawdy manner of 17th-century orange-girls. Ms. Moors gives the curtain speech in character, warning us to silence our devices and instructing us where to exit in an emergency. The show then begins with a stage production in which J.L. Reed as actor Ned Spigget attempts to speak the play’s prologue amidst heckling from the audience. Nell’s defense of him leads to lead actor Charles Hart (Eugene H. Russell IV) inviting Nell onstage after the performance to take acting lessons. And thus the tale begins.

Messrs. Reed and Russell are both wonderful, but they’re matched by Jeff Hathcoat as Edward Kynaston, an actor specializing in female roles who feels threatened by the introduction of actual female actor-esses to the King’s Company. His fey posture and pronouncements never fail to get laughs. Hannah Church plays Nancy, wardrobe mistress of the company, and her sprightly, impish manner gets heaps of laughs too, especially when she is pressed into service as an actress in the troupe. Brandon Partrick does a very nice job as playwright John Dryden, and Doyle Reynolds impresses as Thomas Killigrew, head of the King’s Company.

Mr. Reynolds also plays Lord Arlington, a key figure in the court of King Charles II, and delineates his two characters with skill. Jasmine Thomas also plays two characters, both mistresses of King Charles II (the predecessor and successor of Nell Gwynn), and her posture in carrying her divine costumes and her English and her French are sublime. Amanda Cucher gets two smaller roles, Charles’ Portuguese Queen Catherine and Old Ma Gwynn (Nell’s mother). She does well in the roles, but doesn’t have enough stage time to make as much of an impression as the others.

"Nell Gwynn" may emphasize comedy over complete historical accuracy, but entertainment needs to be a primary component of any theatrical endeavor, and "Nell Gwynn" is nothing if not entertaining. Watching the effervescently charismatic Ms. Moors take the stage makes the time fly. She’s the brash heroine, speaking her mind to one and all, and grabbing at life with two greedy hands. Mr. Garner’s direction, Ms. Moors’ performance, and the physical production all are first-rate, and with surrounding performances that are also of sterling quality, "Nell Gwynn" triumphs almost as much as the real Nell Gwynn did on the London stage during the Restoration. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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