With air raid sirens blaring and bombs exploding overhead, there’s no question that characters are in imminent danger in C.P.Taylor’s And A Nightingale Sang at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Set in Newcastle, England, during World War II, this historic slice of life shows that even during the worst of circumstances, people laugh, sing, and fall in love. Joyce, a pretty young woman, doesn’t know if she should accept Eric’s proposal of marriage. He’s a handsome young soldier, but Joyce isn’t sure if he’s the one she really loves. Helen is the older and more sensible sister who limps and is considered plain. She has never had a beau and falls for Eric’s army friend Norman. He also falls for her. George, father of the young women, plays song after song on the piano to drown out the noise of the household including Peggy’s prayers. Peggy is the the girls’ mom. Grandfather Andie is distraught over the loss of his dog and holds on tight to his newfound pet cat.
The war is in its final stages and this English family is making the best of it with their rations, the sudden calls for “lights out,” and a steady stream of familial problems. It’s as if anything goes because of the life-and-death dangers of living in a war zone.
At the heart of this play is the romance between Helen and Norman. It sheds a light on how people live their lives when the future of their world is uncertain. Jenny Leona plays the indecisive Joyce with a sincerity that evokes the natural passage from girlish charm to a womanly glow. John Skelly as Eric is just the kind of hothead one would expect of a soldier on leave who desperately wants to be with his new bride, when she would rather not be with him.
Brenda Meaney takes on the central role of the narrator — Helen. She recounts what it was like in her home during the war, but she also lets the audience know what it feels like to be in love for the first time. Her tender scenes with Matthew Greer as Norman reveal the importance of both familial and romantic love during difficult times. Matthew Greer as Norman, who keeps his marriage and his son a secret from Helen, could have easily been portrayed as a nasty, unlikeable character. However, Greer plays Norman as such a loving and good guy that even when his secrets are discovered, the audience empathizes with Norman.
Sean Cullen, the piano-playing George, who turns anti-capitalist and pro-communist, delivers a sure and steady performance as does Deirdre Madigan as George’s wife Peggy, who can be counted on for a prayer. Richard Kline could have stolen the show if the rest of the cast had not been so powerful a force. Kline plays grandfather, a bit of an eccentric who never fails to provide wisdom and laughs a plenty.
Overall, this an entertaining and romantic slice of life during war torn England’s past. It plays through June 27. Box office: 203- 227-4177
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]