This past weekend, the last of the summer season, I had the privilege of attending a performance of William Mastrosimone’s THE WOOLGATHERER at Cape May Stage in Cape May, New Jersey. I had long loved the poetry found in the well-worn pages of a script in my collection of plays, but I had never managed to sync up with any local theatres to view a live performance of the poets Mastrosimone had intended me to meet when he wrote this beautiful play. I’m a true believer in that old adage that “things happen for a reason”. What a good turn of fortune that my first viewing should take place in one of my absolute favorite vacation spots and should also include a bonus talk-back with the playwright himself.
Set in a former church, Cape May Stage is a tiny jewel of a theatre in the heart of this mecca of Victoriana. There is a warm and welcoming feeling when you cross the threshold – the folks at the helm make you feel like family. But rest assured that you’re well aware that you are in a pro house when the acting begins. And with WOOLGATHERER it starts as soon as the lights go down and doesn’t quit till the final curtain. This is a two person play…small unit set…heavily dependent on characterization to keep the audience engaged…and engaged we were.
THE WOOLGATHERER presents the audience with two characters: Rose (Pilar Millhollen) and Cliff (Michael Basile). Rose is a reclusive dime store candy counter clerk who lives in a one-room apartment in South Philly, where she fills in her empty life with daydreaming. Cliff is a rough truck driver who finds himself in Philly with time on his hands when his rig breaks down and he happens into Rose’s candy store. They are, as the program notes state, “an unlikely pair of of half-crazy loners looking for love in a world gone mad….who somehow manage to find comfort in each other’s uniqueness”.
Mr. Basile is spot on in his portrayal of blue collar Cliff (the actor’s “day job” is that of a New York City firefighter, so he admits to having an affinity for Cliff’s working class roots) and his comic timing in the delivery of one liners throughout the night keeps the pacing tight. Ms. Millhollen’s Rose is a fragile soul given to fantasy (the eerie top of the second act monologue in the dark comes to mind); Millhollen’s background as a dancer shines through in her use of body language which helps Rose express herself. This is a difficult character to portray but Millhollen proves that she is up to the challenge. Both characters are handed monologues by the playwright which are lengthy and can be daunting; both actors handle these moments brilliantly – particularly Basile who makes us feel as though we are barrelling along in a truck right beside him during his speech about life on the road. Mastrosimone’s use of language and the actors’ handling of same proves that poets indeed exist today – even in South Philly.
A talk-back with the actors, director (Roy B. Steinberg, who also serves as the theatre’s Artistic Director) and the playwright provided insight into the rehearsal process and invaluable background on the play itself. The character of Rose is based on a woman Mastrosimone met while he himself was working as a truck driver. She had been traumatized when witnessing an act of violence and was never able to recover from the incident. Steinberg and his cast expressed delight at being given the chance to work directly with Mr. Mastrosimone on this production.
STAGE Magazine was privileged to interview the playwright after the performance. Mastrosimone discussed several rewrites he made to his script for this production. Please take a moment to enjoy our video coverage below of this rare treat. And do consider taking a road trip to attend a performance. Cape May is a beautiful spot – and this is a truly beautiful production – don’t miss it.
by William Mastrosimone
Directed by Roy B. Steinberg
September 14-October 22, 2011
Cape May Stage
The Robert Shackleton Playhouse
Corner of Bank & Lafayette Streets
Cape May, NJ 08204