Trinity Rep has had a longstanding relationship with playwright George Brandt. His familiarity with Rhode Island and the stable of actors at Trinity is certainly a plus in the creation of the world premiere production of his latest work, “Into the Breeches.”
It is the Providence of 1942, in the middle of World War II. Most of the male actors, including the director of the fictitious Oberon Theatre, have gone off to war and the theater has temporarily closed.
Maggie Dolton (Anne Scurria), the unassuming wife of the director, has a plan to keep the lights on by casting women to play the male roles in Shakespeare’s King Henry plays. Maggie has big hurdles to overcome, mainly the bigoted, chauvinistic, WASPish owner, Ellsworth Snow (Timothy Crowe).
Hurdle number two is the aging prima donna leading actress, Celeste Fielding (Phyllis Kay), who has little faith in Maggie’s ability to direct.
Hurdle number three is finding enough women to fill the 32 roles. Only two women (Meghan Leathers and Rachel Warren) show up for auditions. In spite of their inadequacies, they are cast,
Maggie convinces Snow’s wife, Winfred (Janice Duclos), to join the company, much to her husband’s chagrin, along with the costume designer (Lynette Freeman) and eventually the stage manager in drag (Stephen Berenson). A big “brava” to Trinity’s costume designer, Olivera Gajic, for her creative costumes.
Rehearsals turn into chaotic hilarity, as the aging actress clashes with the neophyte director, who patiently tries to keep the process moving toward opening night.
That’s the plot, which in itself is fodder for a fun play. But “Into the Breeches” is so much more. It is a “history repeats itself” idea, as we compare the situation in 1942 with what is happening in the world today.
Without preaching to us, Brandt raises issues of equal pay, male dominance, prejudice, the importance of the theatre, taking risks, roles for older actresses and homosexuality. All of this is carried out in two laugh-out-loud acts that showcase the comedic abilities of the cast.
Anne Scurria plays Maggie with a gentleness that is poignant yet hilarious. Phyllis Kay displays a brash overconfidence on the surface, while realizing that growing old is not an actress’s friend.
Timothy Crowe displays every nuance of a typical New England white Anglo Saxon male of the ’40s, enlisting laughter with every line. Janice Duclos brings down the house as she gives us a Groucho Marx interpretation of her character.
Rachel Warren, who has been praised for her beautiful voice in many productions, shows us her hilarious side. And Stephen Berenson gives us a 180-degree from Willy Loman, proving that this serious dramatic actor can be over-the-top funny.
Director Tyler Dobrosky has molded these veteran Trinity actors with a Brown/Trinity Rep student and grad to make one of the best ensemble comedies of this year, and many years.
“Into the Breeches” is in the Dowling downstairs theatre through February 25. Call 351-4242 for reservations.