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Family comes first — and the bond of sisterhood is unbreakable — for four turn-of-the-(last)-century Pennsylvania sisters in love in Stillwater Theatre’s inaugural presentation, Scenes and Revelations, a compelling character study in 19 scenes by Elan Garonzik. Set in 1894 on a farm outside of Lancaster, in the heart of Amish Country, this domestic drama follows the travails of the four spunky Longnecker sisters — Helena (Rachel Adams), Charlotte (Mary Floyd), Millie (Maureen Price), and Rebecca (Kristin Killmer) — as they each court and spoon with The Man of their dreams (the protean Ryan Brock, who gives all four men a distinct personality), while they struggle to run the family farm that they inherited from their hearty Anglican English-immigrant parents, and while they fret over whether to abandon America and return to England to claim a generous but conditional inheritance put aside for them by their wealthy Uncle Jacob (John Honeycutt).
Director Carnessa Ottelin deftly orchestrates all the elements of this timeless conflict between familial obligations and romantic love and gets gritty — if not always polished — characterizations from her game cast. Scenic designer Shannon Clark employs a minimum of scenery to suggest a maximum of locations in and around the Longnecker farm, lighting designer Joshua C. Allen expertly illuminates the goings-on, costume designer James Cuthrell outfits the cast in a colorful array of handsome period fashions, and sound designers Karen Ainsley and Julie Jones provide a nice aural counterpoint when needed.
Rachel Adams, who doubles as props mistress for the production, is very good as the indomitable Helena, who is willing to sacrifice her personal happiness for the good of the family; Maureen Price is charming as her younger sister Millie, who looks at their hard-scrabble life from an artist’s perspective and is rarely seen without pencil or paintbrush in hand; Mary Floyd is good as Charlotte, a nurse who needs her gift for healing to mend her own broken heart; and Kristin Killmer adds a piquant portrayal of Rebecca, the baby of the family who marries and finds a new home — and heartbreak — in faraway Nebraska.
Ryan Brock plays Mr. Right four different times with lots of personality; and John Honeycutt is dignified and charming as dear old Uncle Jacob, the rich uncle who posthumous bequest has lots of strings attached, and as irascible as Earl Karonk (pronounced “kah-ronk,” not “kronk”), the feisty moving man who is exasperated that his customers keep mispronouncing his surname.
Although several of these characterizations are in need of greater and lesser degrees of polish, Scenes and Revelations is entertaining and enlightening about the conditions that smart and ambitious women faced at the end of the 19th century in America. Sunday’s performance ran about 95 minutes (there is no intermission) and earned a standing ovation at its conclusion.
Stillwater Theatre presents Scenes and Revelations Tuesday-Saturday, Sept. 20-24, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre of Jones Hall at Meredith College, 3800 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $10 ($5 students and seniors). 919/760-2840. Stillwater Theatre: http://www.meredith.edu/mcnews/stillwater-theatre.htm.
Stillwater Theatre, the new professional company in residence at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, will present Scenes and Revelations, staged by frequent Meredith Performs Theatre guest director Carnessa Ottelin, Sept. 15-25 in the Studio Theatre of Jones Hall at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. Playwright Elan Garonzik’s compelling study of four English sisters who live in a Mennonite farm community is set in 1894 in Lancaster, PA.
Ottelin, who serves as education manager for imaging services at WakeMed Health and Hospitals in Raleigh, is a founding member of Stillwater Theatre. She directed And Then They Came for Me for Meredith College in 2003 — a production that became a regional finalist for the Kennedy Center American College Festival — and Private Eyes for Peace College in Raleigh.
“This play came to my attention in 1999,” Carnessa Ottelin recalls, “when [Stillwater Theatre artistic director] Steven [Roten], [primary technical director] Jamie [Cuthrell], and I were in graduate school at [the University of North Carolina at Greensboro]. It was the first production we created together. We performed Scenes as part of UNCG Summer Rep. Our dreams of forming a theater company began. When we were discussing our first play as Stillwater Theatre, Scenes was the logical and appropriate choice.”
Ottelin, who earned her MFA degree in directing from UNCG, adds, “I have such fond memories attached to it from UNCG …. I love the [play’s] poetic and lyrical language. I love the story, how choices made by the Longnecker sisters are universal, timeless dilemmas — familial obligation vs. romantic love. The well-crafted script balances loss and abundance, humor and sadness, choice and obligation.”
Carnessa Ottelin says, “Scenes and Revelations is set Lancaster, PA during the late 1800’s. The four Longnecker sisters — Helena (Rachel Adams), Charlotte (Mary Helen Floyd), Millie (Maureen Price), and Rebecca (Kristin Kilmer) — are managing a farm on their own. Their parents died and left them with the responsibility of taking care of the farm and each other. They are torn [between] staying on the farm, moving to England with their Uncle Jacob (John Honeycutt), or heading out West.”
She notes, “Ryan Brock plays The Man, love interests of the sisters. The role of The Man is actually four different characters played by one actor. As Samuel, The Man is the farm manager and Helena’s lover. Millie has loved Dennis Houser, the neighboring farm boy, all her life. Charlotte is a nurse and falls in love with Dr. Zeigler, her employer. Rebecca marries Peter Longnecker, who takes her away to Nebraska.
“John Honeycutt also plays Earl Karonk, a shipping and handling businessman who is helping them move,” Ottelin explains. “The action timeline weaves in and out of the present and past. We first meet the Longnecker sisters in the present — as they wait for Mr. Karonk to arrive — and then delve into their past.”
In addition to director Carnessa Ottelin, the show’s production team includes set designer Shannon Clark, lighting designer Joshua Allen, costume designer James Cuthrell, and sound designers Karen Ainsley and Julie Jones.
Ottelin says, “The greatest challenge [in staging Scenes and Revelations] is [sustaining] clarity of present and past. We discussed ways to ensure that our vision is clear to the audience. We have done this through character choices, use of props, physical actions, costumes, and lighting.
“The scenery denotes the dreamlike quality of the sisters memories,” Ottelin explains. “The physical space contains a collage of architectural elements that make up the Pennsylvania farmhouse. The floating walls, with their rigid lines treated with a soft painted clouds, is a direct response to the artistry of one sister while embracing the landscape of the farm. The nature of this treatment is also an attempt to suggest period.”
Ottelin claims, “Many Victorian parlors were treated with cloud motifs on the ceiling of these gathering rooms. All the sisters have a secret (wishes, desires, failures, and/or dreams) hanging in a delicate balance that also is suggested by the hanging pieces.”
She adds, “[There are] many lighting challenges [in] this production — not purely from a physical standpoint, but in taking consideration of changes in time and date, interior and exterior, what takes place in ‘the now’ for the characters, and what we are seeing from character memories. Shannon [Clark] did a beautiful job providing a unit set that acts as a blank canvas to paint with light. This allows the lighting looks themselves to take on characters of their own for particular scenes — reinforcing the story.
“For instance,” Ottelin says, “the lighting look for a scene that takes place in one’s memory may have a more sepia-like quality, with layers of texture and color — like a fuzzy memory — less sharp and crisp than a scene which takes place in ‘the now.’ I have been able to embrace this concept through the help of 12 WYBRON Nexera CMY color mixing fixtures in my plot.”
She adds, “With the ability to change front, back, or side lighting to virtually any color in the spectrum, I am able to create and maintain a different feel for each time or place as required. In addition, I felt that I wanted to create a feeling as if we were almost floating inside of a painting, giving the audience a ‘live’ glimpse of being able to peer inside a vintage reality of days gone by. When I go to a museum and study a piece of art, I often try to imagine what the artist would see and experience ‘outside the frame’ of the subject matter. I like to let my imagination run wild as to what I might see if I could open a door in the painting, or really look out of a window., etc. I try to help tell the story by giving these ‘sneak peeks’ with my lighting.”
In describing the show’s late 19th century costumes, Carnessa Ottelin says, “Our preliminary thought was to keep the costume palette simple, using crèmes and the very palest of tonal quality with each of the characters. Through discussions with the design team, the power of color in the costume design grew and we moved into a much stronger and vibrant scheme to play against the subtle nature and simplicity of Shannon’s design for the set.
“The sisters are the story ... their lives, loves and losses,” claims Ottelin. “The strength of the women is reflected in their costumes. We discussed keeping the silhouettes very clean, with the hint of an 1890s line; and for the sake of posturing and movement, chose to corset the actresses. The men are the memories in these women’s lives and, therefore, take on the more sepia, faded quality of an old picture or sun bleached fabric, or at least the way we as an audience envision those things. All of the women’s costumes were built in the Meredith College Costume Studio, by dedicated and hardworking Meredith College students.”
Stillwater Theatre presents Scenes and Revelations Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-17, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, Sept. 20-24, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre of Jones Hall at Meredith College, 3800 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $10 ($5 students and seniors). 919/760-2840. Stillwater Theatre: http://www.meredith.edu/mcnews/stillwater-theatre.htm.