Review: ‘Quartet’ at Colonial Players of Annapolis

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Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of Quartet is an amusing comedy that offers plenty of food for thought. Written by Ronald Harwood and first performed in 1999, the play revolves around four older British opera singers in a retirement home, seeking to commemorate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday. In 2013 it was turned into a film directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and Billy Connolly. This stage version is directed by Darice Clewell, giving laughs as well as profound considerations on aging, relationships, and second chances. Combining wonderful acting and staging with lighting and sound, it is a delightful way for Colonial Players to start off the new year.

The cast of Quartet. Photo courtesy of Colonial Players of Annapolis.

Richard Wade plays Reginald, the unofficial leader of this quartet, with authority and intellect. He is usually extremely serious and dignified; when he first appears, he is reading a book and writing down quotes about art for his memoirs. He attempts to lecture his colleagues on Rigoletto once they decide to perform selections from it. Emotion rushes in when he learns his ex-wife Jean (Marti Pogonowski) is moving into the community, giving a passionate speech about having tried to forget the past. He is harsh with Jean on their first meeting, standing apart from her and offering short, vicious comments. Watching him with Pogonowski is remarkable, as their relationship moves from trying to tolerate each other to becoming friends. Wade’s quietly authoritative speaking style reminds this viewer of Anthony Hopkins. His funniest performances come during the middle of his conversations, when he shouts at an offstage nurse he dislikes, then returns to speaking normally.

Marti Pogonowski plays Jean as a diva, used to getting her way. With a “posh” upper-class accent, she walks into the solarium limping and leaning on her cane, trying to make nice to Reginald. Her refinement masks a deep insecurity, as she shortly discusses her fears about money, and singing again. Her speeches about both are some of her most emotional performances. Twice in Act I, she bursts into tears. Her anger at the group’s idea of performing Rigoletto leaps off the stage. Her quieter conversations with other group members are touching, as she reveals more about herself and her relationship with Reginald; she becomes more human and intimate.

Edd Miller gives wonderful comedy to the role of Wilfred. His obsession with sex is played with great humor; his first appearance is to make a series of raunchy suggestions to Cecily (Nori Morton) who, wearing headphones, cannot hear him. After Jean admonishes him for pinching her cheek, he replies, “give us a taste of our medicine; pinch me!” Later he has a more serious conversation with Reginald, explaining his real feelings. He is a real pleasure to watch.

Nori Morton gives Cecily a ditzy, distracted air that hides serious issues. She wanders about the stage, welcoming people back from Karachi. Emphasizing the positive qualities of the retirement home, she nevertheless worries about people “whispering” about her. In one scene, thinking she is headed back home to India she begins to back away from the group; Jean’s quick thinking brings her back. It wonderfully mixes comedy with drama.

Doug Dawson has done a terrific job as set designer, creating a simple yet effective set that evokes the quiet, peaceful feeling of an English country house. At the beginning, chairs are scattered throughout the stage, and a loveseat is towards the center. On the far right, a glass door leads outside, with glimpses of vegetation. On the other side is an alcove with a piano. Later, a large chest filled with clothes is pulled onstage, and a Japanese screen divides the stage as the cast changes costumes.

JoAnn Gidos is a wonderful with properties and Costume Designers Fran Marchand and Paige Myers also shine. Each actor has several costumes, and they all reflect their characters. Reginald begins wearing khakis, a gray jacket, and a tie, later putting on a black and white silk smoking jacket. Wilfred wears a plaid vest, khakis, and a green striped shirt, and carries a cane, later wearing a black and red bathrobe. Cecily has a pink skirt and shirt and a yellow sweater, later changing into a blue silk dressing gown. Jean looks the most fashionable of the four in a black skirt and jacket, a blue shirt, and a scarf, with a black cane, later wearing a green silk dressing gown. The costumes for Rigoletto are colorful and perfect for the period.

John Purnell does great work as lighting designer, using lights in a clever way throughout the play. In one scene, as the cast prepares for their performance, the lighting highlights one half of the stage, emphasizing Reginald and Wilfred’s conversation, then switches to the other half for Cecily and Jean’s discussion. At the ending, the lighting perfectly reflects the setting and mood.

Jim Reiter does a great job as sound designer. Before the play starts, the gentle sound of birds chirping fills the stage, adding to the peaceful atmosphere. Later, a bell hilariously interrupts Jean’s revealing speech and announces the end of Act I. The final scene uses sound in a brilliant way.

Darice Clewell has done a wonderful job as Director. The actors use every part of the stage and navigate both it and each other well. They have excellent comic timing, hitting the laughs, as well as emphasizing the more serious, emotional parts. They also get their accents just right. The last scene especially is a beautiful combination of lighting, sound, and acting. At times, Act I seems to drag a bit, while Act II is chock-full of action. However, everything comes together to make a night of entertaining theater, with plenty of laughter and material to think on afterward. 

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Quartet plays through February 4, 2018, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-7373 or purchase them online.