2013-11-13 / Front Page

APAC’s The Cottage Sparkles With Humor And Charm


Maria Couch as Marjorie, Amy Rutberg as Sylvia, Jason Loughlin as Beau, Hanley Smith as Dierdre and Kevin Isola as Clarke in APAC’s production of Sandy Rustin’s The Cottage, directed by Adam Dannheisser. 
Photo Stephen K. Dobay Maria Couch as Marjorie, Amy Rutberg as Sylvia, Jason Loughlin as Beau, Hanley Smith as Dierdre and Kevin Isola as Clarke in APAC’s production of Sandy Rustin’s The Cottage, directed by Adam Dannheisser. Photo Stephen K. Dobay If one didn’t know The Cottage was written by a modern American playwright, seeing the production of this hilarious farce in its world premiere at Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) one would assume it was a long lost masterpiece of Noel Coward’s.

After all, writer Sandy Rustin modeled the play after the works of that British master of wit. The language, the set, the costumes, the music and more, all conspire to create the impression of a 1920s comedy of manners (though The Cottage is a bit more wicked).

Director Adam Dannheisser clearly understood Rustin’s vision to the extent that he was able to bring each theatrical element together to result in this perfect show. Luckily, you can catch it at APAC’s home in the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church on Crescent Street, through November 23.

One of the necessary components of any good comedy is the ability of the actors. The six who make up the cast of The Cottage have exactly what it takes to keep the audience in stitches from the beginning of the twisting, turning plot to the splendid climax. It’s full of love triangles, and quadrangles in fact, managing to connect all six characters to each other in some form of brother/husband/wife/lover relationship, each betraying and betrayed. The character of Sylvia, around whom the story revolves, is played by a luminous Amy Rutberg. With her delightfully comedic facial expressions and timing she captures center stage throughout. Her love interest (initially), Beau, is portrayed brilliantly by Jason Loughlin in the classic style of a dashing, British ladies’ man, all cool ego and understatement. When Beau’s brother Clarke and his lover, Marjorie, make an appearance, the level of complication is heightened. Clarke, played by Kevin Isola, becomes slowly tipsy over the course of the play, his obtuse, dry reactions growing in absurdity, inducing bursts of laughter from the audience in wonderfully surprising moments. Marjorie is played by Maria Couch: sardonic and clever, but letting loose with at least one particular moment of hilarity that just about brings down the house. Then there is Dierdre, acted with endearing dippyness by Hanley Smith, another compelling presence who effortlessly captivates our attention. Lastly, Daniel Bielinski as Richard, Dierdre’s exhusband, bursts on the scene with fresh energy and uproarious innocence. This is a cast that understands the meaning of the word “ensemble” and whose director obviously respected and encouraged that concept throughout the rehearsal process to spectacular results.

The costumes by Ryan J. Moller look authentic to the ‘20s but are bright and flattering, outfits so fun a modern person could wear them. The engaging music, arranged by Scott Bradlee, is exclusively from the era, issuing convincingly from a crackly phonograph effect. The set, designed by Stephen K. Dobay, the interior of a rural, British cottage, is truly a character in itself: rustic wainscoting, print wallpaper, old-fashioned portraits on the walls, a hedge just outside the window, a comfy window seat, a rounded door beneath a peaked ceiling, all evoking the utmost in charm. One can’t help but fall in love with the space itself, given its key role in the story. Yet one of my favorite aspects of the production is something that required no construction at all: a mirror, seen only by the actors, on the invisible “fourth wall”, that has them admiring themselves while gazing out toward the audience, just one of the many small details that add to the overall brilliance of the piece.

All the production staff deserve mention, but, as there are too many to list here, a few other key players in the success of The Cottage are: Lighting Designer Evan Roby, Sound Designer Janie Bullard, Propmaster Katie K. White, Makeup Designer Corey Hunton; and Dialect and Accent Coach Kenneth Garner, who kept the actors spot on with their British pronunciation. Rustin deserves further praise for her uncanny way with words, engaging story, true understanding of the style in which she was writing and the era she was writing about, and her razor-sharp humor. She and Dannheisser are the perfect team of writer and director, and I hope to see the future bring further collaboration between them. Finally, accolades to APAC’s Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik for having the ongoing foresight to recognize great new talent, and for having the courage to give it a chance to shine on the Astoria stage. For tickets to see The Cottage, visit www.APACNY.org.

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