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The new organization is called the White Iris Light Opera at Meredith College. The redoubtable Gilbert & Sullivan (W.S. and Arthur, respectively) provided the initial vehicle with their comic opera, Trial by Jury. Meredith’s Director of Instrumental Music, Jim Waddelow, was the Producer/Conductor, with Meredith alumna Stacie Whitley serving as Director/Stage Manager for the Jones Auditorium production. Since he has already announced the Gilbert & Sullivan H.M.S. Pinafore for next year, Waddelow obviously considers this opera company to be a continuing cultural entity.
The hapless Defendant is ominously charged with “Breach of Promise to Wed” the grievously wronged Plaintiff. It becomes quite clear early on that he hasn’t a prayer (not even for “Judgment Continued”). The Defendant makes a strong case in his arguments, but the members of the jury and the chorus of bridesmaids are mildly hostile. Then when the entirely winsome Plaintiff breezes into the courtroom, any semblance of objectivity goes a-glimmering. The Learned Judge and the jurors are all equally smitten. Nothing the poor Defendant (with his worthless counsel) can say or do seems to avail him any relief, and the proceedings continue to deteriorate, rendering his goose well-done. The action culminates by way of a wildly improbable and ludicrous deus ex machina: The Judge (guilty himself of an earlier breach of promise when he threw aside the “rich attorney’s elderly, ugly daughter”) declares that he will marry the Plaintiff! This solution seems to satisfy everyone, and so it’s safe to presume that they all live happily ever after.
The story was brought forward to 1957, thereby dispensing with powdered wigs, and doubtless easing the task of the costume designer. The jurors, bridesmaids, and all the cast collaborated for an especially excellent chorus. Some twenty instrumentalists from the Meredith Sinfonietta did a fine job capturing the jaunty spirit of the music, particularly with the arrival of the Judge and his song “When I, Good Friends, Was Called” (to be a judge). Kevin Morrison’s Learned Judge was properly nonsensical, pompous and inebriated. Spenser Powell brought effective officiousness to her role as Usher. Jaret Preston’s ringing tenor gave a pleasing liveliness to the Defendant. Katherine Anderson possessed the dramatic skills and the physical attributes required for a choice performance as the devious Plaintiff.
All of the cast members performed quite laudably, with one qualification. Since this work contained no spoken dialog, precise enunciation by the singers was vitally important. Too many times were witty and informative lines sacrificed to unclear diction. They all could have profited by lessons from the Counsel, Jim Burnette, a sometime Durham Savoyard. His booming baritone generally rang out clearly, advancing the storyline to all hearers.
The production staff and cast have reason to be gratified by this introductory production, with its presentation three times during the weekend. The enthusiastic audience would doubtless concur.