Oct 22, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association
Also marching forward in Sonoma County in “the show must go on” tradition is Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater which opened their production of Ronald Harwood’sQuartet, running now through October 29. It’s a one-set, two-act, four-scene, four-actor comedy whose setting – a retirement home – would belie the energy it generates and the amusement it delivers.
It’s set in Kent, England at a retirement home for performers. We meet three residents, all retired opera singers – the prim and somewhat stuffy Reginald Paget (Michael Fontaine), the gregarious Cecily Robson (Liz Jahren) and the lecherous Wilfred Bond (Clark Miller). They’re preparing for the home’s annual Giuseppe Verde Birthday Celebration when they get word of the home’s newest arrival – Grande Dame Jean Horton (Laura Jorgensen). Jean, whose personality and behavior match the very definition of the word “diva”, also happens to be Reginald’s ex. Her arrival is looked upon with some favor as she could fill out the quartet from Verde’s “Rigoletto” that they wish to present as part of the celebration, but she refuses to perform. Further complicating things is Cecily’s apparent mental deterioration. Jean eventually explains her reticence and the show concludes with a performance of the quartet - but not quite how you might expect it to be.
Again, this does not sound like fertile ground for humor, but director Jereme Anglin and the cast prove the laughs are there. They’re grounded in the individual characters, their relationships with each other, and how they deal with aging gracefully – or not. Reginald’s ongoing battle with a staff member over marmalade is particularly amusing.
Fontaine, Jahren, Miller and Jorgensen all bring great detail to their characters, both in their physical and vocal traits and all four deliver top-notch performances. Miller’s character will be seen as problematic by many as the behavior his character engages in throughout the show would now be defined as sexual harassment. He does try to explain himself late in the play, but current events and ongoing social media campaigns on the subject made the laughs somewhat uncomfortable. Thankfully, there’s a lot more to the show than that, and his character is to some extent called out on his behavior by Reginald.
Costuming by Lisa Eldredge supports their character choices by matching their personalities. A nice set design by Joseph Elwick gives a real sense of location to the production and underscores Jean Horton’s misguided sense of privilege about being reduced to “this”.
Knowing little of the show, I was pleasantly surprised by how life-affirming and fun it was. Aging is a process with which, if we’re lucky, we all have to face. May we find as much humor in it as the characters in Cinnabar’sQuartet.
Photos by Victoria Von Tahl
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