by Debbie Hoodiman-Beaudin · January 29, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #44: Debbie Hoodiman-Beaudin visits The Gallery Players in Park Slope and takes a look at A Little Night Music A Little Night Music is about love. The musical, playing at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn, begins with a waltz. Several couples enter with their partners and start to dance. Even though the play has just begun, there are already hints that something is wrong. The couples don’t seem to be completely comfortable. Indeed, the play is about several characters who are unhappy in love, coupled with the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Fredrik (Richard Rowan), is married to Anne (Emily Stokes), who is just not that into him. Henrik (Robbie Torres), his son, is in agony over an unholy attraction. Desiree (Rita Rehn) likes her boyfriend, Count Carl-Magnus (Rob Langeder) well enough, but she knows he is unworthy of her. Carl-Magnus is also married -- to the distraught Charlotte (Barrie Kreinik).
A Little Night Music is about storytelling. In addition to the three main couples looking for love, there are three other couples who appear on stage throughout. These other couples make up an extraordinary (and largely classically trained) chorus played by Faylotte Joy Crayton, Maximus Defrancesco, John Alden Hooper, Samantha Jeffreys, Melanie Long, and Josh Powell. The chorus comments on the events of the play, sometimes foreshadowing what is to come, sometimes singing reprises. Under Tom Rowan’s direction, they bring comedy and depth to the action.
The story is framed by the elderly Madame Armfeldt (Judith Roberts) who sets everything up by telling her granddaughter Fredrika (Kate Semmens) that the summer night will smile three times. It will smile once for the young who know nothing, once for the middle-aged fools, and finally for the old who know too much.
And, indeed, A Little Night Music is about different generations, particularly different generations of women. While watching, I made a note that I love how this play is so focused on strong, interesting female characters of different ages. For example, Anne, in some ways a typical ingénue, can also be unknowingly cruel. Madame Armfeldt may seem at first like a typical “grandma” character who sits in a wheelchair and plays solitaire. However, she becomes more complex when she stands up and explains the adventurous life she has led and her mixed feelings about it in “Liasons.” She also grows throughout the play, realizing her foolishness in her younger days. Madame Armfeldt stands in contrast to some older characters we too often see on stage and t.v., who seem to be there just to make witty, confused lines.
Petra (Kiley Caughey) sometimes typifies a maid/confidante character, but she also gets a voice. We learn that she has mixed feelings about the future in “The Miller’s Son” (a song that Caughey kills, by the way). Fredrika, a quiet child and obedient, innocent granddaughter doesn’t seem to have much complexity, but at the end of the play, she gets to speak for everyone when her grandmother asks for her wisdom about what it all means.
Finally, there is Desiree. She is a middle-aged actress who actually allows herself to look and be middle-aged (unlike so many middle-aged actresses in Hollywood). She has two men fighting over her and a song dedicated to her beauty. Desiree is not only an object of attraction, though. Rehn brings depth and context to Desiree in “Send in the Clowns.” She shows us both sadness and humor, how the only solution is to laugh about it all.
“A Little Night Music” is also about men, of course, but the men in the play do not get away with what men often get away with in plays (and life). For example, Fredrik is married to a woman who is about a third his age, but there are consequences to how mismatched they are. He himself admits that his love for Anne is a consequence of his eyes being shut to his true self and Desiree makes fun of him for being “busy renewing his unrenewable youth.” In another example, Carl-Magnus’s infidelity has serious consequences, which he is forced to confront.
The play is quite complex, and I give credit to Tom Rowan for bringing out these complexities, raising it above a typical love story musical. There are several aspects of this production which also raise it above a typical independent theater production. (I actually feel like it’s a bit condescending to put it like that. The Gallery Players so consistently put on extraordinary productions, that for them it’s not out of the ordinary to do so). One notable production choice is the intimate staging with a sparse, two-level set, designed by Chris Minard. Another is the lighting, designed by Andrew Lu, who creates the illusion that the characters are in the country under the shade of lush, summer trees. Heather Carey’s costumes give insight into the characters. For example, the Count’s military uniform is realistic but conveys his foolishness. Henrik, buttoned up in drab colors, is trying so hard to tuck away his passions.
The cast is wonderful across the board. I do, however, want to mention the wonderful orchestra, made up of only five musicians, Max Grossman (piano, conductor, and Musical Director), Maya Holmes (flute), Terrance Griswold (clarinet), Amy Schumann-Griswold (violin), and Alice Bacon (cello). There is also notable sound design by Jacob Subotnick, properties by Sara Slagle, and choreography by Elyse Daye Hart. I also want to mention the excellent work of Morgan Patton as Osa, Scott Vicari as Frid, and Brooke L. Williams as Malla.
A Little Night Music is ultimately about clowns, how we are all fools sometimes, and how we are sometimes untrue to ourselves. We are sometimes regretful and always complex. Like the characters in the play, when we are lucky, we are hopefully able to find the correct partner to waltz with by the end.