MARRIAGE © 1959 at MST: The Good Ole Days…Really?

by Ruth K. Brown

Ryan Milliner as Danny, Nicole Travers as Evelyn and Jenn Wilson as Ruth in Milburn Stone Theatre's A CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE (c) 1959.

It is ninety (90) minutes as the clock counted but inside that timeframe the theatre audience at Milburn Stone Theatre at Cecil College in North East, MD, was treated to a multi-faceted walk down memory lane. It started with the title. What should a theatre goer expect when the title is almost longer than the play? In this case, the production was A CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN’S GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE © 1959. It takes a few minutes to realize that the central theme is actually NOT about 1959 but about today and the societal insistence that no matter how much time passes, certain situations remain uncertain and complex. In the case of GUIDE, the situation is marriage.

Director, Marshall B. Garrett, brings the audience back to the beginnings of TV using a creative and well-crafted video introducing the cast and crew in black and white screens shown as if extracted from a very early television program. Garrett then works with his two couples to continue the “sense of the 50’s” by placing them in front of continuing black and white background locations. Garrett and Laurie Brandon brought period costuming to the stage and Garrett’s blocking used mannerisms from that period. To further cement the relationship with the past, Garrett used the production design and voiceover talents of Russell Matthews to act as the speaker of truth from the GUIDE. The couples struggle within this created reality with life experiences that turn out to be anything but what they were brought up to expect. When they turned to their GUIDE, Matthews provided them with current thinking.

Brett Pearson as Mason and Madi Ferguson as Abby in Milburn Stone Theatre's A CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE (c) 1959.

Abby and Mason Lawrence, Jr. (Madi Ferguson, Brett Pearson) and Ruth and Danny Henry (Jennifer Wilson, Ryan Milliner) share their joys, foibles, triumphs and failures in a series of vignettes covering in few years in their relationships. As was typical then, these relationships began in high school. The author, Robert Bastron, used two stereotypes from the ‘50s …. naïve, inexperienced people under pressure from peers and family and a woman trying to better herself however she could and resenting her inability to achieve her desired success. All four actors were committed to their roles and presented emotional levels with believability helping the audience to feel glee, discomfort and compassion as needed. The supporting cast was fine but, in truth, not much was expected from them in Bastron’s script.

Milburn Stone took a locally unknown script and turned it into an evening of inventive theatre revisiting the oft spoken of “good ole days”. People leaving the theatre were laughing about their personal memories and shaking their heads asking … were they really good times? It would appear that the differences between marriages of the 1950’s and today are not so different after all.

Thanks, Milburn Stone, for keeping it real!!

Written by Robert Bastron
Directed by Marshall B. Garrett
April 5-7, 2012
Milburn Stone Theatre at Cecil College
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 410-287-1037

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