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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Lunch! — Reginald
Elizabeth Franz (Photo credit: Randy O'Rourke)
Rounding out the Sharon Playhouse's summer season is Ronald Harwood's Quartet, a sweet two-act play set in a retirement home for musicians. British in cadence, the play focuses on four once-famous opera singers as they grapple with the challenge of aging.

Against the backdrop of an elegantly charming scenic design by Michelle Schweikardt and lushly bathed in turquoise light by Chris Dallow, we meet three of the four actors engaged in what must be their accustomed ritual. They are whiling away the beautiful June morning in a well-appointed music room. Through conversation and body language they evince a long association and are comfortable with each other's quirks. They have accepted, for the most part, what their lives have become.

Reginald, a retired tenor, is working on his memoirs and speaks in aphorisms. Wilfred is a randy baritone who spews lascivious longings while he imagines what he would like to do to women past and present if only he could. He ogles the third member Cecily, who seems oblivious while listening to her own music, is cosseted from his verbal sexual shenanigans by headphones. In her own little world, it is only when she emerges to greet someone from "Karachi" that we realize something is a little amiss. The three are mostly still possessed of their wits if not younger bodies.

Into this structured predictable routine, a newcomer is introduced. Jean Horton, a legendary diva and Reggie's former wife, stirs up old memories and rivalries; it is obvious that the orderliness of their lives is about to be reshuffled.

Jean retains some of her grandeur and haughtiness as she bemoans the fate that has delivered her to this final destination. She affects a commandeering and arrogant pose to disguise her abject fear. As her physical and mental problems gradually become apparent, Jean softens, though there is still that star persona in everything she says and does.

The plot's momentum is driven by a planned celebration of Giuseppe Verdi's birthday in which the former quartet will sing the third quartet from The Barber of Seville. Jean protests long and hard, but eventually along the way to a predictable climax, old grievances and mysteries are examined and objections discarded. Each of the four must confront who they once were in the context of what they have become in this poignant examination of human frailty and foibles.

The experienced cast is moved expertly through their paces by director John Simpkins, keeping all four equally in importance as they work the stage. Tony winner Elizabeth Franz as Jean shifts from brittle and haughty to fragile and despairing with élan. It has been a long and painful fall from the days of greatest acclaim; yet she maintains a dignity in the face of what now must be her greatest struggle.

Reginald Paget (Joeph Hindy) the fastidious tenor, is the quiet voice of reason who holds the other three together while defining the meaning of Art. Yet he is not without his surprises as he rages over marmalade. Jean's reappearance rocks his serenity and sexuality as they rehash their relationship.

Patricia McAneny (Hindy's real-life wife) is delightfully balmy as the effervescent Cecily Robson. McAneny beams and gushes, a delightful reminder of the energetic and sexy contralto Cecily must have been.

It is Greg Mullavey as Wilfred Bond who has all the best lines as he blusters about the stage complaining about doctors and emitting libidinous comments. His role is juicy and sometimes sadly hilarious as the racy talk masks an unfulfilled longing for love.
This is light summer fare with with a tribute to those who embrace life even as it fades. This quartet lives by the motto NSP — No Self-Pity. Read the bios of the four actors. Their collective experience and staying power in a harsh profession is a play in itself.

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Quartet by Ronald Harwood
Directed by John Simpkins
Cast: Elizabeth Franz (Jean Horton) Joseph Hindy (Reginald Paget) Patricia McAneny (Cecily Robson) Greg Mullavey (Wilfred Bond)
Scenic Designer: Michael Schweikdart
Lighting Designer: Chris Dallos
Costume Designer: Michelle Eden Humphrey
Sound Designer: Emma Wilk
Stage Manager: Sara Sheets
Running Time: two and a half hours; one intermission
Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Rd., Sharon, CT
Opening 8/18/16; closing 8/28/16. 
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at August 18 performance

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