Performance Network Theater Waltzes Into A Little Night Music

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Performance Network Theater Waltzes Into A Little Night Music

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One merely has to step inside the Performance Network Theater any time during the next month to be transported into a moonlit forest grove. A series of thin walls depicting childishly drawn white birch trees on a soft blue background, as well as a mottled green-painted floor and an enormous, glowing three-dimensional moon floating on a background of gently drifting clouds, perfectly transformed the small theater’s stage into glowing copse perfect for the lover’s trysts that occurred so frequently in A Little Night Music, a musical by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler written entirely in the three-four tempo of a waltz.

Based loosely off of the film Smiles of a Summer Night, but of no relation to Mozart’s similarly named serenade Ein Kleine Nachtmusik, A Little Night Music follows an interconnected group of couples as they examine the meanings of love, sex, fidelity, and betrayal in 1900s Sweden. Fredrik Egerman, a successful but aging lawyer, has remarried an 18-year old beauty, Anne, but after 11 months the couple has not yet had sex. When Fredrik’s old flame, the vivacious actress Desiree Armfeldt comes to town, the situation becomes even more awkward. Add in Desiree’s current lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcom, who is cheerfully cheating on his wife and Anne’s friend Charlotte, and the entire cast is thrown into chaos. The characters regroup at Desiree’s mother’s home in the country, and in the glow of the backlit moon, discover things about themselves and the others that will change their lives.

With so many characters involved, it would be very easy for a few of the actors in A Little Night Music to fall through the cracks, but the acting for this play was unilaterally excellent. From Naz Edwards’s infectious smile and  worldly demeanor as Desiree, to Scott Crownover’s conceited strutting and ridiculous mustache as Carl-Magnus, the cast perfectly portrays their characters. Anne (Adrienne Pisoni) chatters and twitters and whines and worries like a perfect immature trophy wife, and Charlotte (Eva Rosenwald) has a dry, bitter humor that expertly portrays her jaded despair. The only one who appears awkward onstage is Henrik, Fredrick’s gloomy 19 year-old son, but that’s just part of his character.

Madame Armfeldt (Barbara Scanlon), Desiree’s elderly and promiscuous mother, has a sort of stately grace that immediately calls the attention of everyone both onstage and offstage, and she manages to be both humorous and serious as she insults the entire cast and plans the wine list for her impending funeral. Although her role is smaller, and her movement is limited by her wheelchair, she was one of the best actors in the show.

Director Phil Simmons made good use of the sliding wall sections that set the tone for the play. During each scene, furniture and scenery for the next scene would be set up behind the birch tree-painted flats, and when they were slid away, the scene could begin immediately. When furniture did need to be carried in, actors dressed as maids made the transition seem natural rather than jarring and invasive.

The costumes for this play were fantastic. Each of the main women had three to five floor-length dresses, complete with voluminous petticoats, which they had to quickly put on and off between scenes. For one scene, Anne, Charlotte, and Desiree are all wearing elaborate evening gowns for a dinner party at Madame Armfeldt’s. The men’s costumes were also spectacular: even the servants wore immaculate suits. Fredrik appeared to own at least three tuxedos, and Carl-Magnus’s military overcoat, tunic and knee-high boots contributed to the hilarity of his character.

The lights also contributed to feel of the play. From the soft, silvery “moonlight” in the preshow to the warmer indoor lights, they subtly conveyed an atmosphere  that enriched the overall experience. As with The Glass Menagerie, Performance Network’s last play, A Little Night Music also employed projections. Several times during the first scene, characters posed together as they sang a medley of songs from the play, a camera flashed, and a photo of the gathering was immediately projected on the birch tree walls.

A Little Night Music is an amusing and well-produced play, but theater-goers should probably leave their children at home if they go to see it. At its heart, A Little Night Music is unabashedly a play about sex, and Performance Network Theater does an excellent job bringing the light-hearted comedy to life. When at the end of the play, the characters waltzed onstage to take their bows, the applause was thunderous.

Image courtesy of performancenetwork.org

A Little Night Music will be showing at Performance Network Theater until Dec. 30. Tickets are available online or at the Performance Network headquarters downtown.

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