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“And a Nightingale Sang”

Westport Country Playhouse

“And a Nightingale Sang,” C. P. Taylor’s bittersweet memory play, is currently enjoying a lovely and deeply evocative production at the Westport Country Playhouse. Set in Newcastle, England during World War II, this play details the life of one family from 1939 to 1945 and their experiences during the war. Told from the perspective of the older daughter Helen (a magnificent Brenda Meaney), “And a Nightingale Sang” also explores the relationships in this family, both familiar and romantic. Directed with a sure hand by David Kennedy, this production is richly detailed and evokes the time and place brilliantly. And while “And a Nightingale Sang” may not be for all tastes, for those who are willing to take the journey in this show, the rewards are considerably ample.

The family at the center of this play consists of the grandfather, Andie (an unrecognizable Richard Kline, from “Three’s Company” fame, who gives a terrific performance), the mother Peggy (a strong portrayal by Deirdre Madigan), and the father George (likably played by Sean Cullen). But the real heart of “And a Nightingale Sang” is in the romantic relationships of the two daughters, Helen (Brenda Meaney) and her younger sister Joyce (the beautiful Jenny Leona), with two different servicemen. These servicemen are Eric (an excellent John Skelley), who marries Joyce, and Norman (the talented and handsome Matthew Greer), who becomes Helen’s unlikely beau.

Indeed, the marriage between Joyce and Eric (and its various complications) and, especially, the tentative relationship between Helen and Norman, prove to be two of the most interesting aspects of “And a Nightingale Sang.” Joyce and Eric’s marriage is sometimes volatile and both Jenny Leona and John Skelley are quite good at navigating this couple’s ups and downs during the course of the play. But, for me, the loveliest moments of “And a Nightingale Sang” are in the quieter scenes between Helen and Norman. And while it is always assumed in the family that Joyce will be married off, it is stated early on that Helen is called (rather cruelly) “the cripple” of the family, so to see her in love scenes is deeply touching.

It should be stated that Helen is the narrator of the play, in addition to being part of it, and Brenda Meaney gives a remarkable performance. What’s more, this actress truly blossoms before the audience’s eyes. Matthew Greer matches her perfectly and their moments together, seated outside on a bench, are lovely and almost breathtaking, as one watches their tentative courtship progress. Brenda Meaney is a revelation to me, though I saw Matthew Greer do equally wonderful work in the Broadway revival of “Cabaret” over a decade ago.

“And a Nightingale Sang” is also blessed with an ideal unit set (designed by Kristen Robinson), period perfect costumes by Michael Krass, and stunning lighting design by Matthew Richards, especially in the harrowing scenes when there are Nazi air raids. Director David Kennedy manages to combine all of these elements perfectly, as well as eliciting such grand performances from his cast.

As stated, “And a Nightingale Sang” might not be for all audiences, for it is deliberately paced and takes its time revealing more and more about this family. But this production is scrupulous in evoking this terrifying time in history and the play itself allows one to get to know these characters extremely well, which is richly rewarding. And it should be mentioned that there is humor in this show, as well. If you are willing to take “And a Nightingale Sang” to your heart, this lovely memory piece at the Westport Country Playhouse will linger with you long after the show has ended.

“And a Nightingale Sang” continues performances at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through June 27, 2015. For tickets, please visit http://www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at (203) 227-4177.

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