A Contemporary American’s Guide to a Successful Marriage ©1959
April 25th-28; May 2-5, 9-12
Cape Fear Playhouse • 613 Castle St.
Under the direction of artistic director Steve Vernon, Big Dawg Productions has had a stellar year. Really great decisions have been made in putting on successful theatrical shows with magnificent talent, such as Mike O’Neil’s wonderful performance in “Harvey,” and transformative sets enlivening the intimate space with ever greater impression. Vernon’s artistic mind and prolific talent will be shown even further as he directs Big Dawg’s “A Contemporary American’s Guide to a Successful Marriage © 1959,” written by Robert Bastron.
The show follows couples at the onset of meeting through their courtship, and into marriage and thereafter, cataloguing the sweet beginnings to the not-so lovey-dovey hardships they undergo. Add to it the period in which the show takes on challenging social mores of women’s and men’s roles, and it maintains itself an interesting dichotomy of humanity’s expectations on life, love and happiness.
Vernon, who last directed Big Dawg’s “Every Christmas Story Ever Told” in Brunswick County, is leading the way with a host of talent, some of whom are newbies, like Skyler Randolf and Liz Bernardo. The two play high-school sweethearts Mason and Abby.
“They represent the innocence of the times,” Vernon says. “Like a good deal of the cast, this is my first time directing them, and it has been a great experience.”
The other couple, Danny and Ruth, will come to life by Kenneth Rosander and Susan Auten. “They illustrate the burgeoning of the sexual revolution, as well the questioning of a woman’s role in society and what was expected of women,” Vernon explains.
With period costumes and a minimalistic, multi-functional set, exacted by Audrey McCrummen, Aaron Willings and Ron Hasson and Heather Dodd, the most exciting aspect of the show comes in the sense of its sound. The story is told by a narrator and approached like the old-school educational videos shown in classrooms across the nation. “The narrator not only describes the action, but interacts with the characters directly,” Vernon says.
We spoke more with Vernon on why it’s as exciting to see “…Guide to a Successful Marriage” in 2013 as when it was written almost 60 years ago.
encore (e): From what I understand you based the season around the theme of family. Tell me about that decision and why you chose this show as part of the lineup.
Steve Vernon (SV): Instead of just choosing a slate of shows for our season based soley on their merit, I wanted to choose shows that were not only good but held a thematic quality in common. I chose the theme of “family” because I wanted to illustrate that Big Dawg was not just a community theater but also a member of our community, and communities are built on the families that live in them.
I wanted a season of shows that our audiences could be not just entertained by but recognize elements of themselves in. Though not chronological, each show portrays the stresses that families go through (sometimes humorously, sometimes dramatically) during a different period of history. This show is about two families with very different yet similar circumstances in the late 1950s.
e: This follows couples from midwest America. What do you find most interesting about the characters and their relationships?
SV: These characters are caught in a time in our history where the values of previous generations were at odds with realities that were unfolding for the younger generation. As you watch the characters struggle to keep one foot in the past while negotiating the present, you get a real sense of the tension of the expectations that were placed on young people starting families. A lot of those tensions are still present today.
e: Does the show poke fun of traditional marriage?
SV: The show doesn’t necessarily poke fun of traditional marriage as much as it does the unrealistic expectations that we place on marriage, and the aftermath that follows when those expectations become so rigid that we feel trapped or when those expectations fail us.
e: Do you find the writing timeless, especially since the modern-day roles of women and men and the concept of marriage has changed significantly over five decades?
SV: The writing relies heavily on the conventions of the period, and the “voice” of the show reflects that. The dialogue and narrative are rooted in the period, but the characters and situations are universal in a temporal sense.
e: How are you approaching the direction? Anything standing out to you most per themes and what you’d like to see executed?
SV: I just wanted to approach the show in a way that would highlight the humor and also the moments where the connections between characters override the comedy in the script. There are so many themes in the show, and I don’t want to give too much away by going through them, but suffice to say, the script is incredibly rich.
It is also very graphic at times. The play has some (brief) sexual content (a scene where the narrator has to explain what happens on the night of the honeymoon for the couples is priceless but fairly…involved). There are some moments of strong language as well, but there is not a single thing in the script that does not belong there.
e: What’s the hardest part in directing comedy and how is your cast making it easier?
SV: Letting the actors find the humor in the script instead of rushing things and pointing it out to them before they can discover it for themselves. The actors in this show not only have had an excellent reaction to the existing comedic elements but have brought so much of their own sense of humor to the script.