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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
I Capture the Castle

If you could suggest some way of earning money. — Rose
Or of making it go further. I'm sure you are all too artistic to be practical. — Mrs. Darcy

I Capture the Castle
Rebecca Mozo as Cassandra and Pressly Coker as Stephen
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Traditions are great, but it's good to depart every once in a while just to say to everyone that you are not predictable or set in your ways. Instead of a usual dose of Dickens you may want to consider a comedic trifle from the less canonized canon of another Britisher Dodie Smith (1896 - 1990.) That's right, the same Smith who authored One Hundred and One Dalmatians (the novel that Disney famously animated) and also wrote plays including the dramatic adaptation of her 1948 novel I Capture the Castle.

In 1954, the play had a brief (four weeks) run in London. A film version appeared and disappeared rather quickly and quietly in 2003. It was resurrected for its American premiere by the El Portal Theatre in Los Angeles in 2004 under the direction of Cameron Watson, who has been called upon to once again direct the East Coast premiere for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

I Capture the Castle is essentially drivel, the kind of fantasy enhanced balderdash more commonly consigned to romance novels written for pre-teen girls. It is, nevertheless, buoyed by touches of whimsy and braced by a naiveté that is cumulatively disarming. Most curious, however, is the way Watson's apparent infatuation with the play kept him from seriously considering judiciously excising some unessential scenes and a few irrelevant characters allowing this play to take two and one half hours to reach a conclusion that is long foregone.

A dated curio at best and at worst a impoverished shadow of the American comedy classic You Can't Take It With You, I Capture the Castle has, however, been impeccably cast. The delight of the show is therefore in seeing a company of actors achieve a remarkable reality in the face of everything that they say and do that confirms the contrary. Best of all, we have the opportunity to see the delightful Rebecca Mozo in the pivotal role of Cassandra, that she created in the 2004 California production.

I Capture the Castle is set in the mid 1930s in Suffolk, England and concerns the plight, but mostly the peculiarities, of an eccentric family who are living in a state somewhere between piece-meal and abject poverty. They reside within an old house grafted onto the walls of a 17th century castle. The setting designed by Harry Feiner is a stunning piece of construction: we can see the crumbling walls of the castle through the frame of the house. All the action takes place in the bare-bones kitchen.

James Mortmain (Matt Bradford Sullivan), an author lauded for his one and only book, is in the midst of a writers block. It presumably began following a two month incarceration in the local prison for accidentally killing his first wife with a cake knife in the presence of his two daughters, Cassandra (Rebecca Mozo) and her slightly older sister Rose (Nisi Sturgis).

When the play begins James has since remarried Topaz (Erika Rolfsrud) a sensual bohemian woman who has retired from being a professional nude artists model. As Rolfsruds performance is built on superficial airs and affectations, she makes us keenly aware that she is far from being a typical step-mother. She has, however, bonded with the now 17 year-old Cassandra and 20 year-old Rose as well as with their younger brother Thomas (Daniel Marconi) in mutual consternation and desperation. Also living with them is Stephen Colley (Pressly Coker,) the young and good-looking son of the Mortmains former housekeeper whose odd jobs brings in the familys only money. Secretly in love with Cassandra, he has become part of the Mortmains extended family.

The family sees their fortunes improving with the arrival of Simon (Tony Roach) and Neil Cotton (Josh Carpenter,) wealthy, attractive American brothers who have inherited the property and who take an instant fancy to the family, especially when they realize that they are both great admirers of James book. Are we surprised that Cassandra, who is the point-of-view character and the plays narrator, and Rose are instant admirers of these gentlemen of means?

It doesn't take too much deliberation for Cassandra to abet her beautiful sister Rose in her scheme to marry Simon as a means to help the family out of their financial mess. A more easily recognizable eccentric is an advice giver and gift-bringer Mrs. Darcy, as played with an endearing dottiness by Maureen Silliman.

It is hardly surprising to see that it is Cassandra and not Rose who is in love with Simon. Oblivious to this is the brothers' mother, the very proper Mrs. Fox-Cotton (Wendy Barrie-Wilson) who whisks the hastily engaged Rose off to London for a trousseau. Stephen, who remains hopelessly in love with Cassandra, is also effectively whisked away and seduced by a sister-in-law Leda Fox-Cotton (Mary Stewart) an alluring vamp cum professional photographer who envisions a movie career for Stephen.

After a jolly Grand Marnier drinking vicar (John FitzGibbon) offers some extended spiritual advice to Cassandra and a lusty neighbors daughter (Kristen Kittell) makes a futile play for Stephen, James is locked in the wash house by Cassandra and Thomas where, under the influence of solitary confinement and bread and water, he has his long-awaited epiphany. What a relief. I am inclined to thank Sullivan for making James' often incorrigibly nutty behavior more acceptable than it has any right to be. Like James, I Capture the Castle is ultimately more amusing than it has a right to be.

I Capture the Castle
By Dodie Smith
Directed by Cameron Watson

Cast: Rebecca Mozo (Cassandra), Nisi Sturgis (Rose), Erika Rolfsrud (Topaz), Daniel Marconi (Thomas), Pressly (Stephen), Matt Bradford Sullivan (James), Maureen Silliman (Mrs. Marcy), Tony Roach (Simon), Josh Carpenter (Neil), John FitzGibbon (Vicar), Kristen Kittel (Ivy), Wendy Barrie-Wilson (Mrs. Fox-Cotton), Eric Rolland (Aubrey), Mary Stewart (Leda).
Scenic Designer: Harry Feiner
Costume Designer: HughHanson
Lighting Designer: Jared Sayeg
Sound Designer: Michael Eisenberg
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, (located on the campus of Drew University) 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey.
(973) 408 - 5600
Tickets ($39.00 - $54.00)
Performances: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 2 and 8 PM; Sundays at 2 and 7:30 PM.
Opened 12/04/10
Ends 01/02/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 12/4/10
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