Backstage Blog

5 helpful hints before the rain stops falling…

When the Rain Stops Falling follows four generations of family over the span of 80 years and on two continents. The interconnected stories of these fathers, sons, mothers and lovers circle back over each other. You, as an audience member, will begin to make connections as the stories unfold. To make sure you get the most out of your theatre experience, Director Rob Lutfy put together these five helpful hints.

  1. WHAT’S IN A NAME? Make sure you look at the genealogy chart below (and in your program) before the show starts. It will help you understand the older/younger versions of characters, and those with the same name, of which there are three!
  1. SAME ACTOR, DIFFERENT CHARACTERS. Two actors play different characters. Gabriel York/Henry Law are played by Adrian Alita and Gabriel Law/Andrew Price are played by Josh Odsess-Rubin.

    Josh Odsess-Rubin & Adrian Alita

    Josh Odsess-Rubin & Adrian Alita

  1. SAME CHARACTER, DIFFERENT ACTORS. Elizabeth Law and Gabrielle Law (pronounced Gabriel) are played by two sets of actors.

    Younger/Older Gabrielle & Younger/Older Elizabeth

    Younger/Older Gabrielle & Younger/Older Elizabeth

  1. WATCH THE BACKDROP BETWEEN SCENES. It may be raining, but we won’t leave you high and dry. Watch for the projections on the backdrop for titles of where the scene takes place and in what year.
  1. GO WITH THE FLOW. The critics say it best…

“It’s hard to figure out who’s who and how they intersect, but all becomes clear by the end of the play, which runs an intermission-less yet gripping 110 minutes.” -Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune

“It’s best to just sit back and let the saga wash over you.” –Pat Launer, Center Stage

“[It’s] a lot to swallow, but worthy of the effort to chew because Cygnet has a tremendous four-course meal in store for you. –Milo Shapiro, Stage and Cinema

Genealogy

 

 

CREATING A TIMELESS AND EXPANSIVE DESIGN

Theatre is by its nature, a very collaborative art form. Writers, designers, actors, choreographers, costume, sounds and lighting designers all work together to create a single, final product. For the production of When the Rain Stops Falling, Cygnet Associate Artistic Director Rob Lutfy is especially excited be collaborating with set designer, Jungah Han. A former Cygnet Theatre Lipinsky Foundation design fellow at SDSU, she is now based in New York. The recent Yale School of Drama graduate studied extensively with Ming Cho Lee, the noted theatre artist who designed over 30 productions for Joseph Papp at The Public Theater, including the original Off-Broadway production of Hair. She brings a sparse sensibility to the set design. Robby took some time away from the show to share some of his thoughts with us.

Jungah Han & Rob Lutfy

Jungah Han & Rob Lutfy

Set of When the Rain Stops Falling

Set of When the Rain Stops Falling

This play takes place over the course of 80 years and includes ever changing settings; from the intimacy of a domestic room to the grandeur of a vast natural environment. Jungah and I both wanted a vast space for the actors to play in. We wanted a space that felt like an art installation, using lots of natural elements and was flexible enough to go from intimacy of a dining room to the vastness of a the night sky. And of course, it had to have a big rock!

We exist in relation to one another, not as individuals each caught up in our own narrative, but as a part of a great interconnected web of human experience. Bovell shows this in his layering and nonlinear narrative. Bovell writes, “But only on the stage can the past, the present and the future be revealed in the same moment. It is a wonderful medium in which to play with time and the shed light on the human condition.”

Pina Baush, Vollmond

Pina Baush, Vollmond

We needed to create set that would allow our actors to play with these variations in time and place. Jungah and I both were drawn to Pina Bausch’s Vollmond, a production we saw in NYC. Bausch was a German performer of modern dance, choreographer, dance teacher and ballet director known for her unique style, a blend of movement, sound, and stark, prominent stage sets. She created what we now know as Dance Theater (Tanztheater). She became a leading influence in the field of modern dance, cinema and art influencing everyone from David Bowie to the creators of American Horror Story.

4. WTRSF MODEL PHOTO

I didn’t want literal or “designed” space but something poetic to match the complexity of the narrative. Jungah and I are a perfect match in that way. I wanted “epic theatre” in a way.

I wanted the actors to be ghosts for one another, always present, always layered on top of the current scene. Things move fast in the play and we have a set that allows for that to happen. It is anchored by the fragile water and the solid rock.

Set of When the Rain Stops Falling

Set of When the Rain Stops Falling

It is also a beautiful moment for me to be working with Jungah. Her mentor, Ming Cho Lee and my mentor, Gerald Freedman, met early on in their careers and collaborated for over a decade. Gerald calls Ming, “the greatest collaborator of his life.” Ming designed almost every play Gerald directed. According to The New York Times, “It is hard to overstate the impact Ming Cho Lee has had on the world of theater design.”

I feel proud to continue the tradition of creative collaboration.

Catch When the Rain Stops Falling through Feb. 14, 2016.

Season 14 Announced!

From classic musicals to shocking contemporary works, Season 2016-17 promises to be a true “Cygnet” Season

Every season must reflect the mission of the company and for the past 13 years, Artistic Director Sean Murray has crafted uniquely Cygnet seasons that reflect the commitment to “startle the soul, embrace diversity and ignite debate.” This year is no exception. The seven productions in Season 14 range from the traditional to the avant- garde and include two musical theatre classics, a two-show repertory by a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, the return of a holiday favorite and two contemporary works sure to shock and amaze.

“I’m really proud of the diversity and quality of this season,” says Murray. “Leave it to us to go from a stripper, to an ex-con, to one naughty little boy in just one season. That’s exciting. That’s Cygnet!”

SEASON XIV: 2016-2017
List of Plays

GYPSY
July 14th – Sept 4th
Music by Jule Styne and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by Sean Murray
Choreography by David Brannen
Music Direction by Terry O’Donnell

Indomitable stage mother Rose chases vicarious success and stardom as she pushes her daughters through the vaudeville circuit. When Dainty June flees the act to elope, Rose vows to make introverted Louise into a star. Boasting one show-stopping song after another—like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You”—this classic musical was inspired by the memoirs of the legendary burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Featuring Linda Libby as Mama Rose, Allison Spratt Pearce as Louise, Katie Whalley-Banville as Dainty June, and Manny Fernandes as Herbie.

“The quintessential American musical” – Hollywood Reporter

Gypsy cast members: Manny Fernandes, Allison Spratt-Pearce, Linda Libby, Katie Whalley-Banville

Gypsy cast members: Manny Fernandes, Allison Spratt-Pearce, Linda Libby, Katie Whalley-Banville

Repertory
SEVEN GUITARS
Sept 28th – Nov 6th
By August Wilson
San Diego Premiere

In the backyard of a Pittsburgh tenement in 1948, friends gather to mourn for a blues guitarist and singer who died just as his career was on the verge of taking off. The action that follows is a flashback to the busy week leading up to Floyd’s sudden and unnatural death. Seven Guitars is part bawdy comedy, part dark elegy and part mystery. This lyrical play is the sixth in August Wilson’s ten-play cycle which charts the African-American experience through each decade of the 20th century and is performed in rep with King Hedley II.

“Rich, music-drenched drama” – New York Times

Repertory
KING HEDLEY II
Sep. 29th
– Nov. 6th
By August Wilson
San Diego Premiere

King Hedley II shares the story of King –a man recently released from prison, attempting to rebuild his 
life amid changing times and a backdrop of the crime and drug struggles in the community he exists in. King dreams of a life 
of stability and self-reliance beyond incarceration, gangs and broken family. The play dares to ask what it takes to transcend 
the limitations of life and personal circumstance, and if pure will is enough to change a man’s destiny. King Hedley II is the eighth play in August Wilson’s ten-play cycle that, decade by decade, examines African American life in the United States during the twentieth century.

“Mesmerizing…. Full of powerful images that convey the darkly comic dialogue between hope and hopelessness in African American life.” – N.Y. Daily News

A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Nov 22nd – Dec 24th
Adaptation & Lyrics by Sean Murray
Original Score by Billy Thompson
Directed by Sean Murray
Musical Direction by Patrick Marion

Cygnet Theatre invites you to start your own family tradition with one of ours. This season welcomes the return of the holiday classic adapted from Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of hope and redemption. This re-imagined, fully staged production features original new music, creative stagecraft and puppetry, and live sound effects. Step into a Victorian Christmas card for a unique storytelling experience that is sure to delight the entire family!

“Critics Pick” in 2014 – San Diego Union Tribune

A Christmas Carol (2015)

A Christmas Carol (2015)

BAD JEWS
Jan 12th – Feb 12th
By Joshua Harmon
Directed by Rob Lutfy
San Diego Premiere

The night after their grandfather’s funeral, three cousins engage in a verbal battle royale over a family heirloom. In one corner is the unstoppable and self-assured force of “Super Jew” Daphna. In the other, the immovable and entitled object of her secular cousin Liam. And in the middle is Liam’s brother Jonah, trying to stay out of the fray. Bad Jews is a savage comedy about family, faith, and legacy.

“The funniest play of the year.”-The Washington Post
“Delectably savage humor” – The New York Times

ON THE 20TH CENTURY
March 9th – April 30th
San Diego Premiere
Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Cy Coleman
Directed by Sean Murray

Its nonstop laughs aboard the Twentieth Century, a luxury train traveling from Chicago to New York City. Luck, love and mischief collide when the bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffee embarks on a madcap mission to cajole glamorous Hollywood starlet Lily Garland into playing the lead in his new, non-existent epic drama. But is the train ride long enough to reignite the spark between these former lovers, create a play from scratch, and find the money to get it all the way to Broadway? Featuring Eileen Bowman as Lily Garland and Melinda Gilb as Letitia Primrose.

“Old-fashioned musical comedy magic”– USA Today
“The show is a nonstop delight.” – The New York Post

On the Twentieth Century cast members: Melinda Gilb & Eileen Bowmann

On the Twentieth Century cast members: Melinda Gilb & Eileen Bowmann

SHOCKHEADED PETER
May 18th – June 18th
West Coast Regional Premiere
Music by Adrian Huge, Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout
Lyrics by Martyn Jacques
Book by Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Graeme Gilmour, Tamzin Griffen
Based on Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann
Directed by Rob Lutfy

Fall into the world of Victorian Steam-punk nightmares as a manic music-box spins stories of naughty children and misguided parents. Silly and sinister, Shockheaded Peter dares us to ask what’s beneath the floorboards. Don’t miss the most damning tale ever told on stage!

“A vile and repulsive story told by reprehensible characters in a thoroughly degenerate fashion – Absolute Bliss” – David Bowie
“A wryly seedy cabaret-punk musical” -Variety

 Come join us for this wild ride! Tickets and new subscriptions will be available for purchase on March 1st.  

Michael Mizerany – Choreographing a Drama

Michael Mizerany, a noted dancer and choreographer, is thrilled to be returning to Cygnet Theatre! Audiences might remember Michael’s powerful choreography from our 2013 production of Spring Awakening.

Spring Awakening - Craig Noel Award Nominee

Spring Awakening – Craig Noel Award Nominee Photo by Darren Scott

We’re thrilled to have him back as a choreographer for our upcoming production of When the Rain Stops Falling. Michael has been working closely with director Rob Lutfy, and we chatted with him about his role with this show and how movement can reflect intention, character and time.

What is your role in this show as there is no dance?

This is a beautifully written play with many surprises and “Aha!” moments. It spans four generations over two continents and manipulates time in a very interesting way. That being said, I will try to give you a glimpse inside the process without divulging any secrets.

There is no traditional dance in the show per se, but if we think of dance in the broader sense of movement and not codified technique, I would say that dance/movement is an integral part of the telling this story.

When the Rain Stops Falling Rehearsal

When the Rain Stops Falling Rehearsal

One pivotal scene is ROOMS. There is no dialogue, so the challenge is to convey character through gesture/movement. In this scene particularly, where, when and how the actors move is very important.

The play also manipulates time. It jumps back and forth from 1968 to 2039. This is reflected in the choreography for ROOMS as well. As this scene begins, the actors initiate movement in a counter-clockwise fashion. As the movement shifts to a table center stage, the actors sit at the table; sequentially arriving in a clockwise direction.

This gives the scene a kaleidoscope effect that mirrors the many emotions and situations the audience will experience viewing the play.

Do you enjoy working in theatre? What are some recent highlights?

Though I am a contemporary choreographer, I really enjoy working in theatre. I majored in acting when I was in college (until I took a dance class), so I really love actors. Recent highlights include Spring Awakening at Cygnet; Thrill Me, Bare: A Pop Opera and A New Brain at Diversionary; Ass, Or A Midsummer Night’s Fever and Chicago: A Speakeasy Cabaret at Ion theatre; and Scrooge in Rouge at Desert Rose Playhouse in Palm Springs.

Michael in Malashock Dance: Chagall & Tribe (2010)  Photo by Manuel Rotenberg

Michael in Malashock Dance: Chagall & Tribe (2010)
Photo by Manuel Rotenberg

Can you give some examples of how you are working directly with the cast?

In ROOMS, there is a sequence where each character enters the stage space, looks out a window, looks in a mirror and then pauses in thought. I discussed with each actor: “Who are you looking for?”, “Why are you staring in the mirror?”, “What are you thinking about when you pause in thought?” Based on their answers, I built movements/gestures that reflected that intention.

These gestures will be repeated as the drama progresses, so we have specific, character movement/gesture threads that will be woven together throughout the course of the play.

This is an unusual show to stage. What is Rob looking for from you to help the audience/actors?

One of the wonderful things about When the Rain Stops Falling is that it gives the audience tidbits of information that, at the time, seem to have no relevance. But as the play progresses – those tidbits have great significance.

I think one of the aspects Rob was curious about was how the movement could have a similar impact. For example, in ROOMS, the characters have gestures at a window but the audience has yet to know their meaning. As the play unfolds, and the gestures are combined with those tidbits of information, the importance becomes very apparent.

For more information on Michael Mizerany and his work visit www.mizerdance.wix.com/michaelmizerany

Catch When the Rain Stops Falling, directed by Rob Lutfy, Jan. 14 – Feb. 14 at Cygnet Theatre.

 

Actors Share Their Favorite Holiday Traditions

We asked a few of our actors from A Christmas Carol about their favorite holiday memories and traditions from “Christmas past and present.” Here is what they said!

TOM STEPHENSON

Tiny Tim and Scrooge

Tiny Tim and Scrooge

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or memory?

Smoked oysters, Chocolate covered cherries, Peppermint ice cream (if I can find it).

What’s your favorite part of the season?

Buying gifts, Evenings, Candlelight, Tree decorations, Song.

How early is too early to listen to Christmas music?

Can we at least get through Thanksgiving?

MELISSA FERNANDES

ChristmasCar-10

Melissa Fernandes

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or memory?

I think my favorite traditions are the new ones I have created with my husband Manny and my kids. We do a couple of things during the Holidays. We joined in the Elf on the Shelf craze, because really, I need all the help I can get keeping the kids on their best behavior. I post the results on Facebook so the grandparents can see but now I find myself finding ways to keep my friends entertained by it and still keep it clean! Tis not easy.
We also always have stuffed French toast for breakfast every Christmas morning. We open our presents and while the kids and I clean up, Manny gets to work in the kitchen.

What’s your favorite part of the season?

I think my favorite part of the season is the Christmas lights. I just love seeing all the color everywhere and it is so festive.

How early is too early to listen to Christmas music?

OK, I am a firm believer that it should be one holiday at a time, so no Christmas music (or Christmas ANYTHING) until AFTER Thanksgiving. One radio station in town started playing nothing but Christmas music in early November. That is way too early! You get burned out on the music before the holiday even arrives. So no music, egg nog or lights until after Turkey day! It keeps it special that way.

DAVID MCBEAN

David McBean

David McBean

Do you have a favorite holiday tradition or memory? 

My family has what we call Kringles. My mother is the oldest of what used to be 10 siblings. Most of them had children and now most of the children have children! As you can imagine, family gatherings are epic in size. We have simplified our gift giving, and provided a way for us to get to know one another as the brood expands, by entering all the names of the family members into a computer and having it assign one person to whom we give a present – our Kringle.

What is your favorite part of the season?

My favorite part of the season is the trees and the lights. I still get wistful and touched when I see them. I also enjoy driving around and looking at the dedicated neighborhoods that get together and create fabulous spectator events for the season.

How early is too early to listen to Christmas music?

I started singing carols when I was in choir at a local performing arts high school. We performed them at malls and events throughout San Diego. Then I joined a caroling group for extra money and sang with them, and got a job as a music director at a church when I was 19, so carols were an important part of my job every year. I hate to say it, but I never listen to them. I’ve had to sing them for so many years in so many venues that I just can’t do it! And they get stuck in my head immediately whenever I hear them, mainly the bass line!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Interview with the Master Puppeteer

From The Lion King to Avenue Q to Hand to God, puppets have long been a part of the theatre scene. At Cygnet Theatre, this year’s holiday favorite A Christmas Carol features updated puppets designed by master San Diego Puppeteer Lynne Jennings. Jennings, a local institution, is Board President of the San Diego Guild of Puppetry, which has been creating lasting memories for nearly 60 years here in beautiful San Diego. They teach, perform, build and share the magic of puppet theatre with the community. 

We reached Lynne in her home studio to ask a few questions about her creative process.

How did you get started designing puppets for the theatre?

Lynne Jennings

Lynne Jennings

I got my start designing puppets and scripts for my own shows, and for the shows of other puppeteers. The advent of Julie Taymor’s “Lion King” and other similar productions brought the form more visibility, and with that, more opportunities to collaborate with the “regular” theatre world. Several examples of Guild collaborations with SD theatres include San Diego Symphony’s “Carnival of the Animals”, USD’s “Anonymous”, Point Loma Nazarene’s “Magic Flute”, and La Jolla Playhouse’s Pop Tour production of “Recipe for Disaster”.

Is this your first time working with Cygnet? First holiday show?

Yes, although Sean (director) mentioned wanting to eventually do an all puppet version of “A Christmas Carol” close to 20 years ago. Needless to say, I was delighted to finally be asked to work with this company.

It is not my first holiday show. We did a number for what was initially called “Christmas on the Prado” in Balboa Park, back in the days when we were in the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. Most notably, “Joanie and the Toy Thief”, our initial production for the event and the familiar classic, “The Shoemaker and the Elves”. Adult theatre holiday collaborations have included Diversionary Theatre’s “Long Christmas Ride Home” and most recently, Stephen Metcalf’s “The Gift Teller” for Scripps Ranch Theatre in 2013, directed by Lisa Berger.

What was your assignment for A Christmas Carol? What were you looking to achieve?

I was asked to build a new, larger (3 feet high), lighter, more lifelike “Tiny Tim” that was easier to manipulate. This led to Sean’s feeling they needed a new Young Scrooge who was similar in design to “Tim”, re-rigging last year’s “Turkey Boy”, to be closer to the style of Tim and Young Scrooge, and lastly, the two puppets of “Want” and “Ignorance”.

Foam block and patterns

Foam block and patterns

Are these a particular style?

Tim and Young Scrooge are full body, Americanized “Bunraku” style puppets, also referred to as “Tabletop”, although in this production they are not operated on a table. Turkey Boy is a soft body marionette, and Want and Ignorance are hand puppets. They were originally flat figures I made several years ago for another theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol that attached to the inside of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s cloak. When Sean decided that the figures he had been using didn’t work as he had wanted, I reworked these so they became 3D hand puppets that could appear and play from underneath the hem of the Ghost.

Young Scrooge in Process

Young Scrooge in Process

Give us some facts and figures for the show.

I ended up making two from scratch and revamping three existing puppets. There are seven total “traditional” puppets in the show. Tim, Young Scrooge, Urchin, Past, Ignorance, Want, and Future.  However from a puppeteer’s perspective, I’d say there are over a dozen in the show including Marley’s ghost chains (they are manipulated by actors from behind); the coal scuttle; the small flying versions of Christmas Present and Scrooge and more.

Ignorance and Want

Ignorance and Want

What was your biggest challenge?

Squeezing in the time to create the additional puppets. It would have been great to have had double or triple the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

Do you work with the actors to help them “perform” with their puppet partners? 

Normally, yes! In the majority of our collaborative work with theatres we work hand in hand with the productions’ director, teaching the actors how to bring their puppets to life. In this show, my input was minimal as Sean is highly capable and has a great eye for puppetry.

Tiny Tim and Scrooge

Tiny Tim and Scrooge

What is one thing you think audiences would be surprised to find out about these puppets?

Perhaps that they are created of upholstery foam; their general shapes cut on a band saw, and the fine detail work carved with razor blades, and curve bladed manicure scissors.

Catch this classic holiday musical (and its puppets!) directed by Sean Murray, Nov. 27 – Dec. 27 at Cygnet Theatre.

Top 10 REASONS TO SEE THE NOEL COWARD REP

HAY FEVER

1. It is quintessential Noël Coward. Known for his wit and flamboyance, Hay Fever is everything one expects when they go to see a Noël Coward piece, plus the extra charm only Cygnet can provide.

Noël Coward

Noël Coward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. It is a master class in acting technique. In his introduction to the book Play Parade, Coward wrote, “…Hay Fever is far and away one of the most difficult plays to perform I have ever encountered. To begin with, it has no plot at all, and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends upon expert technique from each and every member of the cast.” Call us biased, but we think our cast makes a darn good team, and they definitely pulled it off.

The Cast of Hay Fever

The Cast of Hay Fever

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Clara. Never before have you seen a housemaid quite like Clara. We won’t say much more at the risk of giving anything away, but let’s just say she’s no Jeeves.

DSC02959

Clara, played by Rhona Gold

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. There is never a dull moment. With the constant entrances and exits, the sharp wit, jabbing humor and stealthy insults flying everywhere, there’s plenty to keep your wandering mind engaged.

Hay Fever

Hay Fever

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. The costumes are to die for. In a show where each character is constantly trying to one-up everyone else in the room, the costume designer typically has their work cut out for them. But we’re proud to say our fabulous costume designer, Jacinda Johnston-Fischer, nailed it.

Sorel Bliss, played by Rachael VanWormer

Sorel Bliss, played by Rachael VanWormer

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VORTEX

1. It is the play that truly launched Noël Coward into superstardom. This was the play that made his name and firmly established him as both a dramatist and an actor, and he’d been at pains to ensure the play included “a whacking good part” for himself.

Coward in The Vortex (1925)

Coward in The Vortex (1925)

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Despite being the piece to launch Coward to celebrity status, The Vortex is rarely performed. Due to his reputation and flare for comedies, the rest of his extensive repertoire is seldom produced and you’ll be hard pressed to come by another production of this dark drama anytime soon.

DSC05447

The Vortex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Vortex might be a period piece, but it still has the capacity to shock, due in no small part to Coward’s gift for dramatic construction. It also solidified his reputation as an author daring enough to touch on hitherto taboo subjects such as drugs and an inter-generational love affair involving an older woman and a younger man.

Florence Lancaster and her younger lover, Tom Veryan

Florence Lancaster and her younger lover, Tom Veryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Our production fittingly transplants the action of The Vortex to the sixties, an era with at least as much murkiness lurking beneath its frivolity as the twenties. So in true Cygnet fashion, you’ll get to see a classic piece with a refreshingly unique interpretation.

 

DSC04054

The Vortex

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Did we mention the costumes? It may be a different time period, but this show will still have you drooling over the outfits you see on stage.

DSC03634

Pawnie, played by James Saba

Sean Murray on Noël Coward

In the last of our three part interview series, we talked Noël Coward with Artistic Director Sean Murray, who will be directing The Vortex in rep with Hay Fever (directed by Rob Lutfy). Here’s what Sean had to say….

What drew you to Coward and these two very different shows in particular?

Sean Murray

Sean Murray

I’ve been enamored with Noel Coward and his work since I was introduced to his writing while I was in high school. First I was attracted to his wit, glamor and talent. His music was fun and clever. With time I began to discover that there is a deeper level in his work than readily apparent on the surface. He was consistently making revolutionary waves couched in his trademark style and glib barbs. Underneath the wit were biting commentaries on society and culture. He was a young playwright responding to a world that had recently come out of the other end of World War I. The War had shattered all sense of status quo and it was impossible for the young people who fought and survived that war to return to the social system from before the mayhem. For the youth of the 1920s, very little that had come before made any sense. Their disaffected and disillusioned view of life began to manifest itself into a decade of breaking norms and indulging in such scandalous things such as jazz, alcohol, drugs, and new fashions.

For a new nihilistic post-war world, Coward created plays that told these stories in ways that the middle and upper classes could enjoy them for their wit, but also allow themselves to be scandalized by their flagrant lack of morality. His plays dealt with characters who were divorced, inside society but critical of society; they did drugs, they had torrid affairs, terrible manners (in a country that rely on manners to keep things civil.) He was portraying a lost generation in search of meaning. His songs Play Orchestra Play, Poor Little Rich Girl, World Weary, etc, were songs that depicted a disillusioned generation dancing frantically to keep ahead of the haunting notion that nothing matters.

Coward had written several plays when a producer came to him to propose his West End debut and asked him which one should be his introduction to the West End audience. Both The Vortex and Hay Fever were in his list. He chose The Vortex because as he put it, “there was a ripping good role in it for [himself]” So The Vortex opened with Coward playing the central role of Nicky. He became an over night sensation and continued to be so for his entire career.

Coward in The Vortex (1925)

Coward in The Vortex (1925)

Hay Fever opened shortly thereafter, both plays running for a time concurrently on the West End. Both plays deal with a family who are outside of the accepted norms of society, for differing reasons. One is a comedy of manners, light, funny and a little naughty. The other is one of Coward’s only serious dramas. As he’s not particularly known for his serious side, The Vortex is seldom produced. By pairing it up with it’s doppleganger, Hay Fever, we can explore to very different sides of Noel Coward: his popular persona full of wit and clever barbs, and the other his less known but revolutionary and scathingly serious persona.

Hay Fever (1925)

Hay Fever (1925)

Why is he an important playwright and/or how is he a distinctly “Cygnet” choice?

It’s good to present Coward with fresh contemporary eyes. Allow his social critic voice to be heard. We like to do familiar work and bring it a fresh perspective.

Rosina Rep

Rosina Reynolds in The Vortex and Hay Fever

How do you feel these two plays work together? How is presenting in rep exciting? Challenging? 

There are some similar themes between these two plays. they are opposites in terms of their energy and the style of their story telling. The Vortex being a serious drama, a story about an alienated mother and her son facing hard truths about their relationship together, and Hay Fever, a light comedy of manners about an ill mannered and self absorbed family “entertaining” guests in their own indifferent and rude way.

What do you want audiences to experience from seeing both?
To be entertained, and to gain an appreciation for Coward, the playwright.

Catch The Vortex, directed by Sean Murray, in rep with Hay Fever, Sept. 23 – Nov. 8th at Cygnet Theatre.  Buy tickets now. 

Want more? Read Rosina Reynolds on Noel Coward.

Rob Lutfy on Noël Coward

In Part 2 of our three part interview series, we talked Noël Coward with Rob Lutfy, who will be directing Hay Fever in rep with The Vortex (directed by Sean Murray). Here’s what Rob had to say….

What drew you to Coward and these two very different shows in particular?

CYGNET 2014 (43)

Rob Lutfy

Coward was born to a middle class family and began a very successful acting career very young. He found himself at a young age accepted at the very top of society and managed to fit in there, while at the same time getting them to laugh at themselves and how shallow and misdirected they were.

Sean Murray articulates it better than I in our first email correspondence about the plays:

“Coward was dangerous, and safe. The perfect money maker. Remember that The Vortex was very close to being shut down by the censors for its flagrant display of drug use, homosexuality and loose morals. His first show was scandalous. His second show Hay Fever is just as scandalous but within the safe environs of drawing room comedy. He learned that he could make just as shocking a statement but palatable. Disguise the social commentary. His plays are vicious and naughty, not fa fa fa over martinis and cigarettes as the cliché for him goes.”

Why is he an important playwright and/or how is he a distinctly “Cygnet” choice?

Coward wrote over 50 published plays and many albums of original songs, in addition to musical theatre, comic revues, poetry, short stories, a novel and three volumes of autobiography. His stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, including an Academy Honorary Award. Oh yes and he was knighted in 1969. So yes I’d say he is an important playwright.

The playwright John Osborne said, “Mr Coward is his own invention and contribution to this century. Anyone who cannot see that should keep well away from the theatre.” The Times said of him, “None of the great figures of the English theatre has been more versatile than he.”

As to why this is a distinctly Cygnet choice, let me draw a generational line. Without Coward there would have been no Pinter, without Pinter there would be no Andrew Bovell (the writer of When the Rain Stops Falling). We produce shows in our Repertory series to contextualize other shows in our season, past and present. We see the shoulders contemporary playwrights stand on; and by doing, see how the torch has been passed.

The company of Hay Fever and The Vortex

The company of Hay Fever and The Vortex

How do you feel these two plays work together? How is presenting repertory works exciting? Challenging? 

When Sean and I first started talking about this rep Sean wanted to honor Coward by showing two very different sides of the same man. Coward wrote Hay Fever at the age of 24 in three days while he was performing in The Vortex. Despite being known for his high comedies, Coward was also an unhappy gay man. Coward lived his life behind a mask–he had a public and a private persona. In some ways these two plays show both of those personas. Hay Fever- the public and The Vortex- the private.

Noël Coward and Elaine Stritch

Noël Coward and Elaine Stritch

In England, homosexuality was considered a criminal act until 1967. According to actress Elaine Stritch, “He was one of the saddest men I have ever known.”

It is very stimulating to have two directors working with the same actors and designers. There are compromises of course because we have two distinctively different shows. The Vortex has more locations and Sean is setting it in the 1960s, after another very significant war.

What do you want audiences to experience from seeing both?

These plays are about the 1 percent and how fame and money affect people. They are post World War, a shell-shocked society where all norms have been blown up in the reality of the trenches. The characters in both plays are trying to hold onto status quo in a world that has been forever altered by that war. They are about amorality vs. weak morality, conventional vs. unconventional and rebellion. It is also about artists making their way into the leisure class for the first time. Sean Fanning has designed a set for these plays that is a glass house- these people love to be on display. The design reflects on the plastic, surfacy, glossy, shallow world of the people in BOTH of these plays.

Hay Fever and The Vortex

Hay Fever and The Vortex

How will you share directing duties, work with casts etc.?

We have to be organized and have a killer stage management team, luckily we do. We also have two incredible assistant directors that will be helping to ensure that nothing falls between the cracks. This will be the first time at Cygnet that two directors are working on the Rep series.

What is your own experience with Coward either in acting or directing?

I have never worked on a Coward play, only read and seen his work. My mentor, Gerald Freedman was famous for directing high comedy. I will be channeling all the comedy technique that he has taught me over the years.

Catch Hay Fever, directed by Rob Lutfy, in rep with The Vortex, Sept. 23 – Nov. 8th at Cygnet Theatre. Buy Tickets Now.

Want More?  Read Rosina Reynolds on Noel Coward. 

Rosina Reynolds on Noël Coward

In Part 1 of our three part interview series, we talked Noël Coward with one of the stars, Rosina Reynolds, who plays Judith Bliss in Hay Fever and Florence Lancaster in The Vortex.  Next up are directors Sean Murray (The Vortex) and Rob Lutfy (Hay Fever).

Here’s what Rosina had to say….

250px-NoelCoward

Noël Coward

What draws you to Coward? Coward has always been a particular favorite of mine. What couldn’t you ask for….style, fabulously complex characters, brilliant language, clever repartee, and you get to wear gorgeous costumes.

Why do you think he is an important playwright? Coward is one of the great figures of English theatre, his plays rank in the classical tradition of Congreve, Sheridan, Wilde and Shaw. Harold Pinter had a huge regard for Coward, and considered him a big influence. There are similarities in their construction of language. Pinter wrote that watching Coward taught him that a playwright can have two characters saying one thing while clearly thinking about and meaning something else.

How do you feel these two roles work together? How is presenting a repertory exciting for you as an actor? Challenging? Judith and Florence are women with similar stories but hugely different ways of living their lives…a kind of ying and yang of women. To explore both of them at the same time is a gift…to explore the polar opposites presented by these two women. Will it be challenging…you bet…but isn’t that why we do it?

Rosina Rep

Rosina as Florence in The Vortex and as Judith in Hay Fever

 Have you worked on a Rep before? Quite a while ago. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

How will you prepare for these very different roles in different eras? Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. And rehearsal. Costumes and wigs will inform greatly.

What is your own experience/background with Coward either in acting or directing? I have been in Hay Fever twice, both time playing Myra Arundel. I was Amanda in Private Lives (San Diego Critics Circle/Craig Noel award for Best Actress) I have directed Fallen Angels and Blythe Spirit.

How do you feel about being back at Cygnet? It’s like coming home.

Rosina in Noises Off, The Glass Menagerie, Arcadia, Little Foxes, and Copenhagen

Rosina in Noises Off, The Glass Menagerie, Arcadia, Little Foxes, and Copenhagen