Susan Granger’s review of “And a Nightingale Sang” (Westport Country Playhouse)

By Susan Granger

Told from the compassionately wistful perspective of Helen Stott (Brenda Meaney), this nostalgic melodrama by C.P. Taylor recalls a mundane slice-of-life in Newcastle, England, from 1939-1943, during World War II.

Helen’s close-knit, yet outspoken family consists of her genial, piano-playing father (Sean Cullen), peripatetic yet observant grandfather (Richard Kline), devotedly Catholic mother (Deirdre Madigan), and younger sister (Jenny Leona), who’s initially indecisive about marrying the young soldier (John Skelley) who -- in turn -- introduces Helen to his taciturn comrade (Matthew Greer) who becomes her lover.

Their rambling conversations overlap, as each is only concerned with his or her personal travails -- yet a pervasive sense of human fallibility serves as a universal connective thread.

Along with the perceptive performances, particularly Brenda Meaney’s, what distinguishes this memory piece is its richly detailed authenticity, including musical selections, ration books, air raid shelters, spam sandwiches, wartime romances, a unwanted pregnancy and a rising interest in Communism, presaging the post-war influence of the working-class.

Even the use of the plural pronoun “us,” referring to oneself, was common in northern England during that period of time. As bit of background information, this C.P. Taylor play was written in 1977 -- and commissioned by Newcastle upon Tyne’s Live Theatre Company as a chronicle of that time and place.

Kristen Robinson has created a simple, suggestive set that transforms itself in the observer’s eye from a modest, two-room house into an outdoor courtyard -- under the deft direction of David Kennedy.

Michael Krass’ period costumes are obviously vintage, and Matthew Richards’ lighting is evocative, particularly when the family cowers in terror as German planes bomb the area.

“And a Nightingale Sang” will be performed at the Westport Country Playhouse through June 27. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box-office at (203) 227-4177.


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