DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY at Newtown Arts Company

by Walter Bender

Newtown Arts Company opened its latest offering, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY by Alberto Casella on October 14th. This is the story of a European family that is visited (quite literally) by Death, who wants to take a 3-day break from his duties and learn about humanity. He assumes a human form and interacts with the family, all of whom are ignorant of his true identity with the exception of the family Patriarch. DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY has enjoyed a long and successful life of its own, with the story being done as a radio drama and several incarnations in the movies in addition to this stage play.

Prince Sirki, played by Steve Underwood woos Grazia, played by Jen Newby in Newtown Arts Company's DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, playing through October 20.

The show takes place in the Great Hall in the Castle of Duke Lambert. The set is appropriately open with arched openings to the garden area, and allows the cast to move about with no feeling of being cramped. The costumes are all very elegant and stylish as befits the characters in the production. And, the royalty all are appropriately regal in title and in bearing. Kudos to the cast and crew for bringing the look and feel of European royalty to the stage.

The cast of this production all have the look of the time and of their individual characters. Special note goes to Steve Underwood (Death/Prince Sirki) who does a terrific job in a very difficult role. He is alternately charming, disarming and frightening, and even makes the Death character look and sound ominous. Imagine having to stand on stage in a cape and hood and sound like Death and you can see how difficult it would be to keep the audience captured and not amused. Fran Kane (Princess of San Luca) gives a wonderful performance as the doting mother. Jen Newby (Grazia) is all innocence and gives an otherworldly quality to her character. And, Hilton Gieseke (Baron Cesarea) gives a stellar performance as the older man who feels suddenly younger, yet maintains the wisdom and intelligence of his experience. The rest of this rather-large cast gave very solid performances, making this a very enjoyable evening of entertainment.

I went to see the show on opening night, and I think the cast had a bit of opening-night jitters…the pace of the show was a bit fast at the outset, not allowing the interplay among the actors to showcase their personalities. At times it seemed almost mechanical, but once the character of Death appeared things slowed down and everyone seemed to relax and allow the show to shine. I am quite sure when you go to see it that will not be the case…and see it you certainly should.

I enjoy going to this historic theatre to see the shows of NAC…they seem to favor classic shows, productions that have not been produced much in the recent past. As such, there’s a newness to each production, and the ensembles are all very enthusiastic and very talented. And, as a side note, the support staff at the theatre always makes you feel very welcome. There aren’t many shows left in the run of this production. Try to find the time to head over to Newtown to see this hidden treasure.

by Alberto Casella
Directed by Jim Banar
October 14 – 20, 2010
Newtown Arts Company
120 North State Street
Newtown, PA

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