Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Goodnight Children Everywhere
Goodnight Children Everywhere premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company's "The Other Place" in Stratford Upon Avon in December 1997, an ideal place to present this human and personal drama. The play moved to the RSC Barbican in London where it won the Olivier Award. It had its American premier on May 27, 1999, at the Playwrights Horizon Theatre in New York. The New York Times described the play as "intense, thoughtful, eloquent and unquestionably intelligent".
The play is a lovely, rich portrait of four siblings coming to terms with the profound effect that war had on their young lives. Just before the Blitz began on London in 1940, thousands of parents sent their children to safety in rural Britain or across the Atlantic to Canada.
The play opens in a Clapham, South London flat during the late spring of 1945. The war is over and three sisters, now united after spending the war living apart, ardently await the return of their brother, Peter. He has spent the last five years in Canada and is now a handsome young 17 year old.
Much is told during the first opening minutes of the play about these sisters. Sister Ann is pregnant and unhappily married to a much older man who is a doctor. Sister Vi is an actress who sleeps with directors to further her movie career while Betty is a nurse, dating a man she can't stand. She also openly flirts with Ann's husband. Peter is returning to a dysfunctional family. Both parents have died and the sisters are trying to cope with the loss.
The siblings begin sharing their stories about what they did during the war. Ann and Vi tell about being with families in Wales where they were required to work the land. Ann wonders aloud "Was this part of the plan?" "Why did I have to work?" Betty had stayed in London with the mother during the bombing raids and she recounts the manner of the parents death. She has assumed the role of the self sacrificing mother figure for the sisters. She is already looking like a spinster at the age of 21.
Peter, naive after living on a farm in Alberta, Canada, enters an incestuous relationship with his sister Ann . Knowing it is wrong, they can do nothing about it. The overall dramatic treatment of this relationship remains very soft. I thought of a Chekhov play.
The main problem on opening night was the projection of some of the actresses. Why, oh why, does a director have an actress talk to various members of the family with her back to the audience. Every time this was done, the audience has no idea what the actress was saying. During the first 10 minutes, when the sisters explain their lives during the war, they couldn't be heard. I also heard this complaint from actors and other patrons during intermission. It may have been the sound system, but much of the early conversation was lost and it took a while to become interested in the play. It may have been Chekhov inspired but it is not Chekhov.
After some slow passages and deep silences between conversation that are unnecessary, the play finally grabs attention near the end of the first act and the second act is much more comprehensive and interesting. Most of the real acting takes place in the second act.
Of the three sisters, Robin Weigert as Betty stood out. She was in the original New York production and has appeared in many productions at Lincoln Center and the Roundabout. She has an extraordinary voice that was clear and you could hear every word she said. You could see that she had gone from girlhood to middle age. Beautifully acted.
The second sister, Vi, played by Heather Goldenhersh, was adequate in the role. She held her own as the actress who would sleep with anyone to gain a part in a film. She was in the New York production and has many Off-Broadway credits and did a stint at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Yvonne Woods was the weakest of the group, as Ann. She was the actress with the biggest projection problem in the first act. Again, it may have been the sound system, or bad blocking. This has happen in past productions of ACT. The voices go right out to the wings.
Peter was played by newcomer Jesse Pennington from New York. He has great theater credits, roles at the New York Shakespeare Festival and MCC Theater plus work at the Guthrie. He handles the difficult relationship with his sister with reserved assurance. He has a clear voice and he did not have to wrestle with a British accent since his character had been in Canada for five years.
Jon DeVries, another member of the original cast, played Ann's weak husband. He handled his role as a very sympathetic and somewhat matter-of-fact person who accepts the collapsed reality of life after the war. The other two characters, Hugh, a doctor, played by Charles Shaw Robinson and Ross, Hugh's daughter, were very good in their roles.
This is a handsome production, with the original New York set by Thomas Lynch, a perfectly designed English sitting room with colored wallpaper that was so prevalent during those days in London. Costumes by Susan Hilferty are right on the historical mark. Direction by Richard Nelson could have been more taut for the American audience.
The production in New York struggled for survival in one of the Playwrights Horizon theaters and it never caught on with an audience. This play is probably more suited to the British audience than our fast paced American theater goers. Also, this play would be so much better in a smaller theater because of its intimate nature.
The production runs February 21 to March 18. Tickets are $15.00 to $49.00 on Tues, Thur & Sun. Eve; $19.00 to $61.00 on Fri and Sat Eves. and weekend matinees.
Tickets available at Geary Theater box office or at BASS ticket
The next production will be Luigi Pirandello's Enrico IV, translated by Richard Nelson and directed by Carey Perloff. It opens March 29 and will run until April 29.
Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area