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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

I Capture the Castle Charms Its Way Into Our Hearts

Also see Bob's review of Oliver!

I Capture the Castl
Rebecca Mozo and
Nisi Sturgis

I Capture the Castle, the literate and immensely charming British romantic comedy now on stage at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, whisks us back to 1935 and the wreck of an old house grafted onto the ruins of Godsend Castle in Sussex, England. For it is here that author Dodie Smith set both her 1948 coming of age novel and its 1952 stage adaptation that is now on hand. Interestingly, the English writer was working as a screenwriter at Paramount Pictures (she co-authored the screenplay for the classic film The Uninvited, but little of her output at Paramount made it to the silver screen).

Spanning a bracing and turbulent six months in the lives of an eccentric, down at the heels, literary English family, I Capture the Castle, a "modern" update and variation on such 19th century romantic novels as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, proves to be a worthy successor to the classics whose charm, enchantment and literary sensibility it delightfully emulates.

The novel is written in the form of a journal kept by 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, who, like most 17-year-old incipient authors, is at the center of her writing. Cassandra is our stage narrator as she reads us her entries as she writes them:

"... I won't try to describe our peculiar house fully until I can see more ahead of me than I do now.  ... I am writing this journal partly to practice my newly acquired speed-writing and partly to teach myself how to write a novel. I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversation."

The family is dirt poor and has not paid any rent for years. Cassandra's father James had written a best selling and highly regarded book over a dozen years earlier, but has since somehow become a reclusive fellow with terminal writer's block who spends almost all of his time locked away in his study reading mystery novels. Her pretty 21-year-old sister Rose dreams of rescuing the family's fortunes by finding a rich suitor whom she would seduce into marrying her—although she is not rhetorically adverse to taking to the streets (in rural Sussex yet) to help earn the family keep. The girl's younger schoolboy brother, Thomas, is as bright and ambitious as Cassandra. After the death of their mother, James, during a rare social foray, married the now 29-year-old Topaz, a fabled artists' model. Friendly and compatible with Cassandra, the ditzy Topaz sees her working days as being behind her. Rounding out the household is Stephen Colley, the son of the family's maid back in the day when they could afford one. Colley stays on with them sans remuneration, fully devoted to helping the Mortmains. Colley is smitten with Cassandra and presents her with poems by Ralph Hodgson which he represents as his own. Cassandra is familiar with Hodgson, but doesn't have the heart to tell Colley that she knows of his deception.

The turbulence and change are set in motion with the arrival of the Cottons, a well off American family from whose British forbearers has inherited the nearby Scoatney estate and also become the Mortmains' landlord. The inheritors include the unmarried and quite suitable for marriage brothers, Simon and Neil. All of the Cottons are taken with the Mortmains, being most impressed by James whose book was most emphatically esteemed in America. However, complications ensue when Rose, aided by Charlotte, brazenly seduces Simon, the wealthier of the brothers, whom, it is apparent to Neil, she does not love.

Under the direction of Cameron Watson, the 14-member ensemble's grace and wit in performance matches the grace and wit of Dodie Smith's script to create a delightfully smooth and airy confection of a production. Surely everyone is serious about the situations depicted, but there is an unflappable style to Watson's cast and Smith's writing that assures us that everything will turn out all right.

Rebecca Mozo's bright-eyed and bubbly Cassandra sets the tone for the entire production. She is sparkling and delightful company. Her cheerful pluck assures the viewer that she will never let her setbacks put her down. Among the memorable creations are Nisi Sturgis' silly Rose; Matt Bradford Sullivan's addled James Mortmain; Erika Rolfsrud's illogical Topaz; Maureen Silliman's well intended, but fussy and interfering social counselor, Mrs. Marcy; Tony Roach (Simon) and Josh Carpenter (Neil), the appropriately mismatched Cotton brothers; John FitzGibbon's rather secular Vicar; Wendy Barrie-Wilson's delightfully predatory photographer, Leda Fox Cotton; and Mary Stewart's life-loving Mrs. Fox Cotton.

I Capture the Castle, with its stylishly written and directed young women coming of age story, is particularly suitable mother-daughter entertainment. For teen-age girls and young women seeking a high toned successor to the smash mother-daughter attraction Wicked, I Capture The Castle may be just the right ticket.

I Capture the Castle continues performances—Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday (except 12/24 & 12/31) and Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Friday (12/24 & 12/31 only) Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm; (No performances 12/25 & 1/1)—through January 2, 2011, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; directed by Cameron Watson

Cast
Cassandra Mortmain.........................Rebecca Mozo
Rose Mortmain.......................................Nisi Sturgis
Topaz Mortmain.................................Erika Rolfsrud
Thomas Mortmain.............................Daniel Marconi
Stephen Colley....................................Pressly Coker
James Mortmain....................Matt Bradford Sullivan
Mrs. Marcy.....................................Maureen Silliman
Simon Cotton..........................................Tony Roach
Neil Cotton........................................Josh Carpenter
Vicar................................................John FitzGibbon
Ivy Stebbins.......................................... Kristen Kittel
Mrs. Fox-Cotton.........................Wendy Barrie-Wilson
Aubrey Fox-Cotton..................................Eric Rolland
Leda Fox-Cotton....................................Mary Stewart

Photo: © Gerry Goodstein


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- Bob Rendell



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