Theatre Raleigh's "Into The Breeches!" Takes Viewers Back in Time . . . Without Losing Sight of Today
Life has a way of throwing curveballs. That’s something everyone has learned all too well as of late. Yet, people have also learned that life . . . and the proverbial and literal show . . . must go on, albeit in new and different ways. And, funnily enough, that’s the same message behind George Brandt’s Into The Breeches!, which Jenny Latimer set out to direct for Theatre Raleigh pre-pandemic. And, while it may have taken a bit longer to come to the stage than planned, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
The story, set in 1942, finds Maggie Dalton (Melissa Macleod) left with a playhouse and no performers. Her director husband has gone off to war, and the seats are empty in a time when the world desperately needs art. Fortunately, she and long-time performer Celeste, pluckily portrayed by Dana Marks, concoct a plan to produce an (almost) all-female version of Shakespeare’s Henriad.
Despite the novelty of their scheme, they manage to enlist support and participation. Young performers June (Harper Cleland) and Grace (Tori Jewell) step up to the plate, and even costume designer Ida (Kia Dunn) and stage manager Stuart (Jesse Gephart) get involved in unexpected ways. And, once Maggie manages to earn some reluctant support from theatrical board president Ellsworth Snow (Derrick Ivey), her vision becomes a reality.
Of course, as with any production, Maggie’s show is not without a few hiccups along the way. However, this ragtag team of lively characters manages to sail through each challenge, providing lots of laughter in the process. Cleland’s June is spirited and spunky, making her easy to root for, and Jewell, who possesses a natural, commanding stage presence, effectively portrays Grace’s growth from shy and scared to confident and self-assured. In fact, each character in this sweet script shows impressive growth.
And, while the story itself is about growth, change, and coming together in trying times, there are plenty of lighthearted moments too. Kathy Day keeps things fun with her adorable, hilarious portrayal of Winnifred Snow, Ellsworth’s eager-to-perform wife. Reminiscent of a Designing Women-era Alice Ghostley, Day never misses a chance to delight audiences with her character’s flighty antics. Adding to the sitcom feel is Ivey’s surly-but-sweet portrayal of her husband and Gephart’s hilariously over-the-top turn as Stuart. Proving his versatility, Gephart, along with Dunn, is also responsible for handling some of the show’s more tender moments, moments which dive into the injustice of the past and further remind audiences of the story’s modern parallels.
The variegated story moves seamlessly from scene to scene and from silly to serious under Latimer’s careful direction, making it easy to get lost in the characters’ war-torn world. Dorothy Austin-Harrell’s perfect period costumes also add to the realism. From backseam stockings to saddle shoes, she never misses a chance to take the characters and, by extension, the audience back in time.
The end result is a show that uplifts and entertains viewers, while also encouraging thought. In short, it’s the stuff theatre is made of, fitting for a play that is about the magic of theatre and the change that it can bring. It’s about what happens when women, when people, come together to stand against injustice and dare to do something different. Funny and fierce, this choice from Theatre Raleigh offers a hopeful message about shifting and rolling with the punches, something every modern viewer will undoubtedly relate to.
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