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A Company of Wayward Saints, by George Herman
A fine 'Company' indeed!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I had the privilege of attending opening night for “A Company of Wayward Saints” at The Cumming Playhouse last night and I must say, it was wonderful! From the acting, to the direction, to the lighting and costumes, everything was perfect.

The show, written by George Herman, is about a troupe of actors who perform the art of commedia all ‘improviso (The Theater of Improvisation). They appear to be stuck in their present location, unable to move to the next town, or even go home for that matter. Their dream of going home is one step closer when “The Duke” attends the performance and grants them money if they can perform one simple thing, “The History of Man”.

Seems easy enough, doesn’t it. What the cast soon realizes is the history of man is not only about history, but it can relate to man himself. After falling apart as a troupe, their petty issues boiling over at the end of Act One, they come back together for a touching, and often humorous, look at a man’s life: birth, adolescence, marriage, and, finally, death.

The characters are standard, almost Shakespearian in their origins, each with a clear role within the company, and within the play. And yet, for being ‘standard’, they are a unique and wonderful mix of people who can only really exist this way in a such a finely written play.

For a start, Harlequin “the Manager” played by Jim Dailey, is the leader of this band of characters. While he is not perfect, nor does him ever claim to be, he is the one that holds the troupe together and ultimately, who brings them back together for their greatest performance. Jim is a rare theater gem. He is able to pull you into the story, allowing you to feel a part of what is happening on stage, to experience his emotions and fears. Jim portrayed Harlequin, his ‘moments’, to where I felt so connected to his troubles, his fears, and hopes, they were almost mine as well.

Scapino “the Acrobat” played by Sean Anderson, well, I’m nearly speechless. He was just so much fun to watch and listen too. He has a wonderful voice for theater, as most of the first act was spent behind a mask. I loved his presence on stage, his joviality, his depth when things finally started to click for the troupe in the second act. My favorite moment for Sean was in Act One. He plays the Serpent in the Adam and Eve scene brilliantly! His whole purpose in the scene is to get Eve and Adam to eat an apple, right? With the help of the author, the Serpent confuses and misleads the couple and makes them believe they aren’t as special as they thought they were. He is truly captivating in all his moments on stage, but this one really grabbed me and stayed with me throughout the show.

Pantalone “the Old Man” is played by Jerroll White. When I think back to his performance, I keep thinking one thing. Stage Presence! As Julius Caesar, he completely took the comedy the scene was intended to be performed in and ran with it, but he left me giggling long after the scene was done. In the second act, he has a very humorous scene within the show as a father trying marry off his less-than-attractive daughter. Truly given the gift of comedy, Jerroll also understands how moments of comedy and drama rest of knifes edge and must be balanced perfectly if they are to be believed. He has mastered this with his performance.

Dottore “the Learned” is played by Alyssa Jackson. She was wonderful and engaging in this role. The part is written for a man to play, but I frankly can’t imagine anyone but her delivering the lines. Polished, poised, and perfect in all her moments, Alyssa is an actress that you find yourself wanting to hear more from, her moments, and thoughts. But be no fool, when Capitano ignites her fire (or any other member of the troupe), she is a force they must listen to. I loved watching her in the Julius Caesar scene and again in the Birth sequence in the second act. Alyssa understood who her characters is and made us, in the end, understand Dottore as well. Well Done!

Capitano “the Warrior” is played by Bill Wilson. I am always happy to see Bill on stage. He has the natural gift of comedy, timing, humor, and how a scene must be played so that it is neither over done nor under done in its comedy. The character of Capitano is arrogant, brash, and has a self-imposed aura of importance. While this would be enough to drive people away in the real world, it is clear this is an act of self defense for the character. Bill brings a sympathy to the role and tons of humor! He really is one of favorite actors in local theater.

Tristano “the Lover” is played by Ben Silver. He plays the young lover. The innocent and Ben express this perfectly. He truly shines, though, in the second act in the birth scene. A nervous husband, waiting for the birth of his first child, Ben completely pulls the audience in and allows us to see just how vulnerable the character is. It was surprising to me, after witnessing his stellar acting skills, that he is still in high school. Expect fantastic things to come from this young man!

Isabella “the Sweetheart” is played by Annie Power, also a high school student which surprised me. Her grace on stage was something I haven’t seen in some time. Isabella is a bit fed up with the sweetheart role and makes sure that the audience, as well as the company, knows this in the first scene. Her comedic aim and timing are well hit in the first act, and she swings to the other side of emotions in act two with the same depth and energy as she delivered her comedy. Another young performer to keep your eye on in the future!

Columbine “the Nag” is played by Jessica DeMaria. Wonderful and engaging, I loved every moment, large and small, that she had in the show. Her voice is captivating, her stage presence enjoyable, and she is just a delight to watch. As Columbine, she is indeed the nag, but rightfully so. She is almost the voice of the obvious that the rest of the troupe doesn’t want to hear. As I mentioned, she is delightful to watch on stage and I loved every moment she had and found I was looking forward to her moments. My favorite is the scene in which she is Penelope, sitting and knitting as Odysseus returns to her after being gone ten years. She powerfully delivered the humor in the lines and left me wishing the scene within the scene was longer. Brava, Jessica!

Ruffiana “the Tart” is played by Sara Holton. The resident hussy, floozie, tramp, harlot, or whatever name you care to apply, it will all lead you to Ruffiana. Sara smartly played the role not as a dim witted, beautiful woman, but as a woman who is much deeper than that. The beauty lies in the fact that even the character may not realize it until the final act. Sara has a wonderful laugh that makes you want to laugh right along with her. Her final scene, adolescence, brings about a completely different character than what the troupe and audience has seen in her throughout the performance. She wisely dropped the girly ways of the Ruffiana character, and completely threw herself into the role with the scene of a Mississippi preteen. Not to mention her hilarious turn in the first act in the Julius Caesar ‘improve’ scene. She is a stellar performer and someone I enjoyed watching throughout the show.

The set is minimal, and there is a reason for this, as explained by Columbine it the first scene. The acting is fantastic, the direction simple, but brilliant. I am a fan of shows where the characters are allowed to enjoy the humor, and other emotions, that the audience is experiencing. In this show, the actors laugh along with the audience and interact with us as well.

Overall, it was a fantastic night for local theater and a show well worth the time, money, and trip to Cumming to see. You will miss out for sure if you miss this production!

by Sybille Pearson (book), David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)
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