Review: ‘Biography’ at East Lynne Theater in Cape May, New Jersey

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The East Lynne Theater Company is a little theatre on the coast in Cape May dedicated to being “a vehicle for rediscovering the enduring values of the American heritage and for deepening our understanding of what it means to be an American.” With their production of Biography, by S. N. Behrman, Director Gayle Stahlhuth and her cast and designers have turned a 1932 classic into a masterful stage production.

Tom Byrn, Mike Newman, Erika Amato, John Cameron Weber, and Veronique Hurley. Photo by Gayle Stahlhuth.
Tom Byrn, Mike Newman, Erika Amato, John Cameron Weber, and Veronique Hurley. Photo by Gayle Stahlhuth.

This script is a bona fide masterpiece, written in three acts. The play is set at the beginning of the Great Depression, and is a portrait of Marion Froude (Erika Amato), an artist, known the world over for her paintings of famous (or infamous) celebritities (with some of the lurid affairs that are connected to them). Given an opportunity by Richard Kurt (Mike Newman) to publish a biography about her crazy past, Marion must now consider this book’s impact on – not only her own life – but the reputation of one of her former lovers, Leander Nolan, who is running for the Senate.

The script makes character arcs weave together seamlessly with social commentary that is still so relevant today. The play takes place in one New York apartment, and is entertaining, satisfying, and witty.

The small stage of the First Presbyterian Church effectively conveys the small, intimate New York apartment through pieces of period furniture. The set by Director Stahlhuthis is constructed over the altar of the church sanctuary. A backdrop upstage in front of the church organ is full of paintings and sketches to suggest a studio used by a creative spirit. The furniture conveys an old world flair, as do an old telephone and furnace. A window in the center upstage has a detailed painting of the 1930’s New York skyline, giving the illusion that we are above the world.

My favorite moments included the beginning of act two andact three when dialogue was flowing from all sides of the church.

Marion T. Brady designed some beautiful period costumes – almost ‘portrait-like ‘ I loved Marion’s red dress that she wore under her painter’s smock, which showed her artistic and creative side. But when the smock came off you saw a her social side – very comfortable in a social setting.

The cast delivered powerhouse performances. The energetic Erika Amato convincingly displayed both the seriousness and the fun-loving Bohemian sides of Marion Froude – very worthy of having a biography written about her life.

Mike Newman’s multi-layered performance showed the angry crusader side and the warmth of Richard Kurt. Newman successfully showed the inner turmoil the character battled.

Leander Nolan, Marion’s estranged love, is played by Tom Byrn. His performance was most convincing when he was playing the cold diplomat, who, intermittently, showed hints of real emotions.

Erika Amato (Marion Froude) paints Leander Nolan's (Tom Bryn) portrait. Photo by Gayle Stahlhuth.
Erika Amato (Marion Froude) paints Leander Nolan’s (Tom Bryn) portrait. Photo by Gayle Stahlhuth.

R. Scott Williams was terrific as Melchior Feydack, a composer posing as his famous brother. His deadpan delivery, wry sense of humor, and convincing accent, made his performance my favorite.

John Cameron Weber’s Orin was filled with much humor, and he displayed a powerful stage presence, which lit up the stage. Veronique Hurley’s Slade was a perfect match to Weber’s performance. With sass and swagger, Hurley gave us a wonderful portrait of a modern woman. I would have liked more of their interesting story in the script and on the stage.

The East Lynne Theater’s production of Biography is an entertaining time in the theater. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with two intermissions.

Biography plays through October 15, 2016 at The East Lynne Theater, performing at The First Presbyterian Church – 500 Hughes Street, in Cape May, New Jersey. For tickets, call the box office at (609) 884-5898, or purchase them online.