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The Play-Goer: A Humorous Romp through the Wintertime of Life

The Colonial Players’ Quartet

photo by Colburn Images Marti Pogonowski, Nori Morton, Edd Miller and Rick Wade, playing four former opera stars, try on costumes for a performance celebrating composer Verdi’s birth.

        January has its own distinctive doldrums, and above a certain latitude (not everyone retires to the sunny south) and beyond a certain age, these doldrums can feel especially bleak. Talents diminish, good friends move away or pass over, and if those talents and friends were an integral part of your life purpose — especially if they were more of a goad — you can feel quite lost.

            In Ronald Harwood’s Quartet, we meet four of these friends, two ex-spouses. All four sang operas for a living, though none managed their finances well enough to afford more than a group home for the aged at an English country house in Kent. Reginald ‘Reggie’ Paget (played by Rick Wade, who returns to the stage after 30 years behind the scenes), is a brooding, cerebral man, who obsesses over nurse Angelique’s provision of marmalade to everyone but him at breakfast. Cecily ‘Cissy’ Robson (Nori Morton, who got her theatrical start at The Colonial Players 36 years ago in The Christmas Carol, directed by Wade), is a chipper, good-hearted, yet increasingly forgetful woman, who’s the object of bawdy banter. Banterer Wilfred Bond (Edd Miller, who’s been on stage and behind the scenes at CP for more than 50 years), is an interminable lothario who has the apparent libido of a 17-year-old but the wit of a man three times his own age, and who, despite prostate problems, would choose the Kama Sutra over Wagner any day. Into this scene — Reggie’s reading and brooding, Wil’s desire for sexual trysts and Cissy’s inability to remember the name of the woman who’s moving in — comes the diva Jean Horton (Marti Pogonowski, who first appeared in Carousel at The Colonial Players in 1969). Reggie’s ex admits rehearsing an apology for him for a week: “Sorry. Please be kind. We were different people then.” Reggie wants nothing to do with her.

            It’s under this aura of awkward discomfort that questions surface: Why were Jean and Reggie married such a short time? Why did Jean quit singing at the height of her abilities?

            The action turns on the October 10 birthday celebration of Joe Green, as Cissy likes to call composer Giuseppe Verdi. The four had performed Verdi’s Rigoletto years before and a reissue on CD has recently been released. In honor of Verdi, they are to reprise Rigoletto, but Jean refuses, believing she will never match in the present what she was in the past: “I was somebody once,” she says. “We were all somebodies once,” says Wil. “I thought I was somebody now,” says Cissy. Through revelation of secrets long hidden and long-held perceptions overturned, the four muddle through to a satisfying end.

            No one could ask for a better matching of actors. Their experience, their familiarity with one another, their warmth — under the deft direction of Darice Clewell — lets the action flow smoothly in a play where such smoothness could otherwise go lacking. At the climax, the four make aging look deceptively easy. This is because each is gracious and funny — they deliver Harwood’s lines with aplomb, though in this day of crass lechery, Miller’s Wil could teach a lesson to Hollywood A-listers and broadcasters alike. The only glitch is that now and then, a punchline needs more punch to be heard and grasped.

            Set designer Doug Dawson deserves special kudos for simplicity and John Purnell and Bill Reinhart for lighting as well as costumers Fran Marchand and Paige Myers for making it easy for the actors to change costumes on stage.

Two hours, 30 minutes with one intermission. Stage Manager: Herb Elkin; Floor Painting: Kaelynn Bedsworth, Clewell, Dawson, Heather Quinn, Tom Stuckey, Carol Youmans.

Thru Feb. 4: ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm with Jan. 21 post-show Q&A forum, featuring four professional opera singers. The Colonial Players East St. Theater, Annapolis, $23 w/discounts, rsvp: www.tickets.thecolonialplayers.org.