Pacific Theatre

A Bright Particular Star by Ron Reed

Director Ron Reed Set Stephen Waldschmid Costumes Nicole Bach Lighting Mike Dickinson Stage Manager Lois Dawson

Dates 4 May - 3 June 2006 Venue Pacific Theatre Reviewer Jane Penistan

Rebecca deBoer as Lilia MacDonald and Ryan Hoke as Charlie Granet de la Rue; photo by Damon Calderwood

This world premiere of Ron Reed’s A Bright Particular Star is a perspicacious investigation into middle class Victorian attitudes to religion, philanthropy and theatre. This is an excellent, well-researched script, giving director and cast ample scope and direction for performance.

The play tells the story of one of George Macdonald’s daughters and her family’s trials and tribulations as they try to resolve their moral conflicts. George MacDonald was an eccentric, a well known writer, probably best known today as the author of fairy stories The Princess and Curdie, The Back of the North Wind, and others. He was also a well-known writer, preacher, and lecturer in his day. Added to this he was an enthusiastic amateur actor and director, using his family as his author and actors for his productions, most of which were performed to educate the underprivileged or to raise money for his evangelical endeavours.

While he recognized his daughter Lilia’s undoubted talent as an actress and director, he was strongly averse to her becoming a professional actress. He, like many of his generation, thought the professional theatre milieu was a hotbed of immorality. It is Lilia’s story of a talent denied by the social mores of the day, and the loss of a fulfillment of what her life might have been.

Several well known literary Victorians appear in the telling of this story, and references to the famous theatrical personalities of the day, one of who appears as a retired actress. Rebecca deBoer plays Lilia with sensitivity and passion. She has excellent diction and a good sense of the mannered acting style of the day, without the histrionics that are a necessary part of other actors’ performances.

Her off stage characterization of a frustrated professional actress and the dutiful daughter of a strictly moral father is insightful and moving. Kyle Jespersen, still a student at Studio 58, is a believable George MacDonald, managing to be an authoritarian Victorian paterfamilias, an impassioned overplaying actor, a sincerely religious “do-gooder,” a successful literary personality, and a loving and caring parent. No mean achievement, for a comparatively inexperienced young actor.

Dan Amos has the difficult task of appearing as three different flamboyant personalities, Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll, and the lesser known actor and friend of the family, Clarence Bicknell. He manages this with considerable aplomb, his Bicknell having the amateur’s assurance of ”it will be all right on the night “ with a lack of technique to support him. His Mark Twain is brash and somewhat bombastic, but his Lewis Carroll is a dazzling vignette of a good humoured, intelligent and very humourous man.

Ryan Hoke is Charles Granet de la Rue, Lilia’s fiancé, who succumbs to the morality of the day denying marriage to Lilia if she insists on using her talent as a professional actress, and thus depriving him of his inherited wealth. Poverty and loss of reputation are not for Charles or his parents and certainly not for his autocratic and hypocritical aunt Virenda (Kathleen Parsons).

Candice Lindsay manages the dual roles of Octavia Hill, the philanthropic woman who founded missions to bring fresh air, green spaces and healthy living to the slum dwellers of London and the American actress Charlotte Cushman. Kerry Norris is a sympathetic Louisa MacDonald, mother, wife, playwright and dresser.

Jenny Ward, is Lilia’s friend, an aspiring actress, who falls on hard times, but whose future is assured in the end. This is a well-managed performance, as it that of Lori Kokotailo, who plays Kate Terry. Kate gives up her profession when she marries Arthur Lewis, though there are signs that she has some regrets at leaving the stage.

The versatile Stephen Waldschmidt is Greville MacDonald, Lilia’s brother, also the family stage manager and sceneshifter. He is the very adroit scene changer throughout the performance and also the set designer, whose work here displays ingenuity and artistry. He is ably abetted by the lighting designer Mike Dickinson. Noel Bach’s costume’s are both colourful and appropriate, and add much to the sense of the period of the piece.

The scene changing is well integrated into the performance and does nothing to hinder the smooth, well paced running of the play. The whole production is redolent of staid Victorian behaviour. It covers a bewildering double standard of moral responsibility and hypocritical respectability. This is a very true realization of the brilliant script.

© 2006 Jane Penistan