News Column

Collaboration creates atmosphere of 'Anna Christie'

May 9, 2013

YellowBrix

May 09--A key part of being on a ship is the close quarters, and Ryan McGettigan was aiming for that intimate feeling with the audience, too, in creating the set for Cape Rep Theatre's revival of "Anna Christie."

"We've extended the stage 4 feet into the audience, and it's sort of lunging out at you," says the company's resident set designer. He played with perspective a bit with an off-center, asymmetrical design, and explains that "just as the characters are drawn together, drawn to the sea and looking to the abyss of the future, there's an abyss surrounding them" in the theater. That stage extension is "a confined playing area that feels right up in your face, but also floating in space."

The atmosphere for Eugene O'Neill's 1922 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about a woman, her seafaring father and the sailor she loves came from what he describes as an easy collaboration between him and director Maura Hanlon. The two have worked together often, and their process is to begin with random words and photos to evoke certain ideas, then refine the ones they agree on. At the end, it's not clear which idea was whose.

While McGettigan works with theater and opera companies all over the country, he says his time at Cape Rep, especially with Hanlon, results in one of his most fruitful partnerships.

"Working in that sort of organic, collaborative process is definitely where I feel most at home, where I feel most productive," he says. "A lot of times, I can be proud of the work, but something is missing, and (that collaboration) is what's great about working here."

He has high praise for everything Hanlon does, and trusts her vision enough that he calls her when he's stuck with projects for other companies.

Long distance, McGettigan creates detailed models for his ideas, then does the drafting to let the builder know the materials, measurements, etc., before traveling to the Cape to join the company before tech rehearsals begin.

His first Cape Rep show was "Red Herring" in 2008. "I came down here to do the one show a long time ago and fell in love with the people involved with the show " and the space." That happened even though the Brewster space, a small converted summer camp building with some built-in impediments like beams across the ceilings and air ducts, can be such a challenge.

For "Anna Christie," his design plays with angles, using "big wings, big sweeps, big arches coming up from the ground" in a way that "bisects the beams in a very different way for this space. It throws the entire perspective off kilter, which is great for this play, I think."

And was a challenge for the actors at first. That feeling of being on a boat out on the water threw them off balance a bit and made it hard to walk a straight line on the platform. "I didn't realize how unnerving it would be to walk on," McGettigan says with a laugh. "It gives you a sense that it's moving."

Another key collaboration for what is McGettigan's first O'Neill play has been with lighting designer Herrick Goldman. He had to create the atmosphere of ship and wharf amid a fog that is omnipresent enough to become what McGettigan says is almost a character in the play.

"Lighting for a play like this is pivotal," he says. Goldman "is a fantastic artist who brings such a strong perspective. " I'm always fascinated to see what he does."

Cape Codders are certainly familiar with fog, and McGettigan says part of the "Anna Christie" action takes place off of Provincetown, a town key to much of O'Neill's work. McGettigan, in turn, found it inspiring to be working on a play so close to where it is supposed to be set.

"To be in the same sort of environment, around the sort of people who would have inspired O'Neill, is really kind of cathartic," he says. "Not just the people working on it, but the people watching it have this inside knowledge."

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Actors Nicholas Dorr and Cynthia Harrington have a natural rapport they can bring to their characters in Eventide Arts' production of Arthur Miller's "The Price." Dorr and Harrington, who both live in Dennis, are brother and sister in real life, and in the show, play brother- and sister-in-law.

The family drama involves two long-estranged brothers, Walter (a surgeon) and Victor (a policeman), who come together to sell their father's stored furniture to an antiques dealer. Dorr plays Walter and Harrington plays Victor's wife, Esther. The script explores not only the price of furniture, but of family members' decisions.

"Each of the characters is defending their own version of the past and defending their actions to make some sense of what has transpired within their family," Harrington says in an Eventide press release. "Ultimately, they have all made choices and acted in some way, either consciously or subconsciously, for better or for worse, and a price is to be paid."

"There are two sides to every story," says Dorr. "We like things to be black and white but, in the end, it isn't."

While their relationship on stage can be testy, off-stage they are close and for this show often helped each other with practicing beyond rehearsals, according to the press release. "Because we are brother and sister," says Harrington, "I think we can be more honest and frank with each other when we rehearse."

Dorr was 9 when he became enthralled by theater, and his younger sister wanted to join him but, he says, "My mother wouldn't let Cindy near a play because she was afraid Cindy would get totally involved like I was." That lasted until she was in third grade and Dorr cast her as a rooster in a production of "The Three Little Pigs," in which he played the Big Bad Wolf for Boston Children's Theater Stage Mobile.

She went on to do more theater, as did Dorr, who acted, designed sets and directed off-Broadway before starting to produce plays on the Cape in the early 1980s, including some in which he cast Harrington. A director saw them and cast the two in an independent film. Both then moved to Los Angeles -- he doing set design for theater and film, she making a living in film production while raising a family -- before they ended up on Cape Cod.

"The Price" will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, starting Saturday through May 26 on the Gertrude Lawrence Stage at Dennis Union Church, 713 Main St. Tickets: $20. Reservations: 508-398-8588.

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Barnstable High School drama director Ed O'Toole is known for concocting fun twists or flourishes on Shakespeare and this year's production of "Much Ado About Nothing" -- the 21st such show in 15 years -- is jokingly called "Much A-Dude About Nothing."

It's set in the old American West, and here's why: "Well, we looked for a period when women were starting to assert their independence and equality, as Beatrice does throughout the play," Kayla Crook, who is double-cast as Beatrice with Dorothy Diaz-Sullivan, says in a press release. "In the Old West, women struggled and survived in the same hostile, demanding conditions as men. And remember, the first state to grant women the right to vote was Wyoming."

Other reasons? Cool hats, the chance to ride horses on stage and simply because, while staying true to the text, Shakespeare can be made fun for both actors and audiences.

"Shakespeare's plays are not museum pieces, so there's no need to treat them like Ming vases; you have to be true to the text, but you can still have fun with them," O'Toole says. He notes that "a couple of dozen kids who were not raised on old Western movies are now very excited about wearing Stetsons, cracking whips, dancing like seven brides and seven brothers, brawling in a saloon..."

Shows are at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and May 16-18 at Barnstable High School, 744 W.Main St., Hyannis. Tickets: $10 (with $2 of each ticket going to OneFundBoston.org). Reservations: 508-771-6246.

For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow KathiSDCC on Twitter.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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