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Theater Reviews : 'Nightingale': Warm Home and Hearth

October 11, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Thousands of descriptions from "The Iliad" to "Les Miserables" to "Platoon" have taught us that war is hell. And it has its effect on the home front, too. They also serve who sit and wait.

*

C.P. Taylor's "And a Nightingale Sang . . . " is one of those bittersweet memory plays that helps to define the attitudes, traumas, laughter and tears that are part and parcel of keeping the home fires burning. The working class Stott family of England's Newcastle-on-Tyne during World War II is not the propaganda family of "Mrs. Miniver." The Stotts are very rough-hewn, and their anger and humor are rawboned and basic.

In his production at Cal State Fullerton, director Dan Kern has captured the mood and spirit of their heartbreaks and heroism, their joys and their jinks, with not only a noble empathy and understanding but also with a clockwork precision of rhythms and tempos that couples Taylor's naturalism with immense theatricality. It is a funny play, for wise people laugh to dispel disaster, and Kern and his excellent company join in the fun.

The Stott's oldest daughter, Helen, played with consummate, iridescent artistry by Eve Himmelheber, narrates the play; these are her memories that unfold as the war progresses. Himmelheber bridges with finesse the change in Helen from a naive young woman, slightly crippled at birth, to a confident maturity through a sad relationship with a married soldier. The actress is intuitive in choices that always work, and her charm and stage presence help illuminate her calm, intricate and truthful characterization.

Stacey Leigh Miller's younger sister Joyce, who can never make up her mind, also has difficult changes in attitude throughout the action, and Miller handles them with aplomb, as she does Joyce's slightly dense but attractive view of life. As the Royal Artillery bloke in Joyce's life, Justin Fletcher couldn't be better, with a brash Brit sense of humor and a solidity that takes Joyce some time to decipher.

Playing older than themselves, Alan Hixon and Hilary Russell offer fine takes on the eccentricities of the parents: George, who can't keep away from the piano and the popular songs he loves, and Mam, who can't make a move without conferring with her statue of Our Lady. Paul Pederson, playing even older as Helen's grandfather, knows the intricate rhythms of the writing, which gets him all the laughs and then some (even though his dialect is vague). Andrew Amador is Helen's married soldier, a fairly colorless role which he correctly defines with a guilt-ridden reticence.

Sachiko Nakao's layered setting--of various rooms in the Stott home and the outdoors of Newcastle--has provided a visually attractive ground for Kern's interesting staging and is beautifully and subtly lit by Matt Schleicher.

* "And a Nightingale Sang . . .," Arena Theatre, Cal State Fullerton's Performing Arts Center, State College Boulevard at Nutwood Avenue, Fullerton. Wednesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. Ends Oct. 23. $7-$8. (714) 773-3371. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes. Eve Himmelheber:Helen Stott

Stacey Leigh Miller:Joyce Stott

Justin Fletcher:Eric

Alan Hixon: George Stott

Hilary Russell: Peggy (Mam) Stott

Paul Pederson: Andie

Andrew Amador: Norman

A Cal State Fullerton Department of Theatre and Dance production of C.P. Taylor's play, directed by Dan Kern. Scenic design: Sachiko Nakao. Lighting design: Matt Schleicher. Costume design: Abel Zeballos. Makeup/hair design: Susan Mershon. Sound design: Bradley Enochs. Stage manager: Dan Abir.

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