According to Dr. Paul Castagno, founding chair of the UNCW Department of Theatre, the decision to produce Alan Ayckbourn’s “Private Fears in Public Places” was a no-brainer for the 2013 fall season. Being the first faculty member from UNCW to win a Fulbright Scholar award, Dr. Castagno will go on an eight-month journey to York to further study the prolific works of Ayckbourn in coming months. A Tony and Olivier award winner, British playwright Ayckbourn may be one of the few left to rival Shakespeare with the amount of work produced for the stage. He has had over 80 shows in production, and “Private Lives” will be the first to premiere in Wilmington.
“This should be of interest to theatregoers and lovers of British comedy who want to see something new,” Dr. Castagno says. “Since the Fulbright is based upon researching [Ayckbourn’s] work and materials at the Borthwick Archives at the University of York, [I thought] directing one of his plays would be the best way to really understand his depth.”
Dr. Castagno contacted the Fulbright archivist about which script may be best suited for university students, especially considering much of Ayckbourn’s work mandates older actors. “‘Private Fears’ focuses on relationships and in many ways presents a style consistent with actor-training methods in [UNCW’s] department,” Dr. Castagno relays.
Involving the connectivity between human relationships, students will portray a set of characters all going through their own turmoils in life. Yet, somehow they cross paths. Barfly Dan (Wilson Meredith) continues his failing relationship with Nicola (Lily Nicole), yet manages much consolation at his local watering hole thanks to bartender Ambrose (Josh Browner). Meanwhile, Nicola’s real-estate agent, Stewart (Nick Reed), who’s helping the couple find a flat, remains smitten with Charlotte (Kristina Auten), who is a Christian zealot and hides a dark secret in videos she gives Stew. Charlotte moonlights as a caregiver for Ambrose’s rambunctious and off-color, humorous father, Arthur (Cabot Basden), who the audience hears throughout the production but never sees. Rounding out the cast is Stewart’s sister Imogen (Dottie Davis), who happens to get a date with Dan via the Internet.
“‘Private Fears’ has many funny moments while also focusing a lot of depth into the characterizations,” Dr. Castagno notes. “Everyone intersects and that’s a great deal of the fun, but it also adds a source of pathos an existential feel to the ending. Delaney Gilliss and Kaleb Eldey play a variety of parts in the production.”
Castagno, clearly studying the show with Fulbright glasses, remains faithful to the traditional script. In keeping with the university’s promise to enlist professionals to teach and mentor students first-hand, he utilized the help of Dr. Paul Elsam of Teeside University in England. Dr. Castagno met Elsam in 2008 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, where he was introduced to Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
“Paul, a personal friend of Alan’s, brought great understanding to the cultural and textual implications of the script, and, during his residency [at UNCW] in September, we worked extensively with the actors to get a deeper understanding of the play and the references,” Dr. Castagno says. “Paul is also a professional actor, and very knowledgeable about British acting techniques.”
Also helping is assistant professor Chris Marino, who worked in the UK for years. Marino has helped with dialect and vocal coaching. “After each scene or at rehearsal’s end, he troubleshoots the accents and references,” Dr. Castagno details. “The students are getting an incredibly in-depth experience in this process, by these two outstanding collaborators.”
Designers Bob Alpers (ECU, head of scene design) and Bruce Auerbach (professor, UNC-Charlotte) have lent their aesthetic to one of the most complex and fascinating set designs seen in the university’s department. Because the play endures 54 scenes, they have to minimize the movement and maximize effect. The designers have used transparencies and surface treatments, with swift-moving, changing panels that fly in and out, and furniture jackknifing on- and offstage.
“It will be a playground of light and texture,” Castagno promises. “Some of these scenes are very brief, and the production is not long by any means. The challenge is seeing how this structure benefits the storytelling in the play—it’s as though scenes are fragmented like a puzzle. Then we put them together, and like a puzzle, placement is key. Take one out, and the puzzle is incomplete. “But the production moves at a good pace. The key will be in executing the scene shifts seamlessly, without blackouts. To facilitate you will see no stagehands, everything flies, tracks or swivels into position. Some of it will be underscored by music.”
Costuming is done by Mark Sorensen, while students Natalie Smith and Latora are overseeing props and sound design.
Most well-known from the screen as “Les Couers,” a French film by by Alan Resnais, “Private Fears in Public Places” debuts this week, November 14th through 17th and 21st through 24th, at the mainstage theatre in the Cultural Arts Building on UNCW’s campus.
Private Fears in Public Places
Nov. 14th – 17th, 21st – 24th 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
UNCW Cultural Arts
Building Mainstage Theatre
Tickets: $5- $12