Square One Theatre Company in Stratford not only closes its 25th season with The Winslow Boy, it finishes out its tenure at the Scottish Rite Building Corporation. A new chapter for this Stratford-based theater will begin at a new location during its 26th season. In the pre-curtain talk, Square One’s general manager Richard Pheneger announced that the new location has not yet been determined. As soon as it is decided, theater-goers and subscribers as well as Hersam Acorn readers will be notified.
Tom Holehan’s selection of this period play is in keeping with the theater’s looking back at its rich history. The play written by Sir Terence Rattigan is based on a true event in which a young boy at a prestigious school is accused of stealing and expelled. In order to save the reputation of the family and its name, the boy’s father seeks justice through the courts. The price of doing so takes a toll on the family, not only financially and socially, but emotionally as well. As the Winslow boy’s case proceeds over the course of two years, the strain on family relationships becomes obvious.
The action takes place in a single setting, the drawing room of an English home two years before World War II. Sam Noccioli takes on the title role as Ronnie, the young Winslow boy. Lucy Babbitt steps into the role of the housekeeper, a pleasant busy body who has an easy and unexpected way of delivering difficult news that other characters agonize about delivering. Babbitt has so much theater experience not only from performing at Square One and other area theaters, but also from The Players at Putney Gardens. She is comfortable and confident on any stage and in just about any character, even though she does seem a bit rushed here.
Bruce Murray plays the dominant father figure in the play and the head of his family, Arthur Winslow. Murray’s performance is consistently strong whether he is on his feet, using a cane or in a wheel chair. Ann Kinner’s performance as Arthur’s wife and Ronnie’s mother is problematic. Kinner has an excellent reputation as a local actress, but in this role she makes her character look continually forlorn to the point of suffering. A smile now and then would seem more realistic.
Ryan Henderson as Ronnie’s older brother Dickie does a fine job as the older brother who unwillingly gets his education cut short in order to help defray legal expenses for his younger brother. Tess Brown as smart and marriage-eligible daughter Catherine delivers a fine performance, which would have been enhanced if she had not been quite so soft spoken. David Victor steps into the role of rejected suitor with all the qualities of a man stuck in unrequited love. Jim Buffone plays Tess’s fiancée whose family cannot abide the publicity the Winslow boy is receiving. Buffone has just enough arrogance to make the audience happy that he bows out of the marriage. Sir Robert Morton is the hero and Joseph Maker plays the role dashingly.
While the actors step into their roles well enough, they don’t really connect to one another. There’s a sense of artificiality about their relationships. Even though they are terribly English and awfully proper, one would never suspect any of them to be related or any of the suitors to be in love with anyone. And that’s really impossible to hide even if you are thoroughbred English. This is a surprising state of affairs since the production is directed by Tom Holehan, who usually manages to bring together casts that meld naturally and tightly together.
Greg Fairbend and Robert Mastroni’s scenery is picture-perfect for this period piece. The Victrola was the icing on the cake. Clifford Fava’s lighting worked well and Don Henault’s sound effects were fine, though I think the microphones on stage did not capture some of the softer voices of the actors.
The Winslow Boy plays through May 30. Box office:203-375-8778.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]