Oh, Norman, you can’t possibly sleep with all of them

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff, Theater and Dance

Duff ’n Stuff, June 3, 2013

Acting is great, creative fun and I love to do it. And, with all the theater that happens on this island, I’m lucky that I have many opportunities to do a play or two each season.

But, like many volunteer opportunities, acting is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time and effort. Knowing that I devote about 125 hours of my time to one play for commuting and rehearsals, not including the homework of memorization, I’m in awe of the volunteer effort that went into the upcoming production of “The Norman Conquests,” which opens Friday, June 7 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

It’s not just one play, it’s a trilogy, and that means the six actors had to memorize three plays. I know what it takes to memorize, block, rehearse and polish just one, so I applaud this team. Maybe even a standing ovation before I even see the thing; though we all know that will happen anyway. (See my previous blog post about standing o’s.) The cast features David Mayer as Norman, Phil Jordan as Reg, Gail Liston as Sarah, Michael Morgen as Tom, Laura Persaud as Annie and Julia Tewksbury as Ruth. (Also, this post focuses on the director and actors, but I also applaud the production crew, who also devote a good chunk of their lives for shows.)

Gail Liston, Phil Jordan, Julia Tewksbury, David Mayer, Laura Persaud and Michael Morgen are the brave souls that have taken on the trilogy of plays. (Photo courtesy of WICA)

Gail Liston, Phil Jordan, Julia Tewksbury, David Mayer, Laura Persaud and Michael Morgen are the brave souls that have taken on the trilogy of plays. (Photos courtesy of WICA)

And, by the way, each play stands on its own as a complete piece of theater, but you can see all three at once on Saturday, June 22. In a personal letter in 1976, Mr. Ayckbourn had something to say about that when the plays were first produced in Scarborough, England.

“I wrote all three together and I suppose, ideally, they should all be seen to get the maximum enjoyment and understanding. Hopefully, a lot of the humor is extended and enhanced with the foreknowledge of another play. Also hopefully, they can be seen in any order and it’s not essential to see them all. Audiences do like to revisit old haunts and friends (the secret of soap operas!).”

Three plays about middle-aged, British people of another era, complete with all that British humor (different than American) and four o’clock tea politeness (or not) and all that. That’s a challenge.

I asked the director, Andy Grenier, “what the what!” was he thinking when he decided to do this project.

“Ya know, it was almost whimsical,” he said.

“I love working with actors. It’s what I do. I always wanted to do an actors’ piece; take a group of truly committed actors and really get to the nitty-gritty of our respective skill sets. I really didn’t have anything I wanted to direct this season; but one day I casually mentioned to Deana (Duncan, producing director) that sometime, when the planets were aligned, I think it would be really fun to take a shot at producing Alan Ayckbourn’s challenging ‘Norman Conquests.’ She heard me. Here we are.”


The play was written by Ayckbourn in 1973, so we should consider that, although we are on a little island in the Northwestern United States in 2013, the play is thoroughly British in its humor, characterization and realm. Ayckbourn even draws on a bit of British history for the title, as in the invasion of a guy named William the Bastard of Normandy, who was the first Viking responsible for the “Norman Conquest.”

And, like good ol’ William, Norman (of the play) could be said to be a bit of bastard himself, if one considers a more modern use of the word.

Norman, you bastard. Why are you trying to schtup every woman in this English country household?

Tewksbury as Ruth and Mayer as Norman get down and dirty on the rug.

Tewksbury as Ruth and Mayer as Norman get down and dirty on the rug.

“It is easy to say Norman is the embodiment of an archetype; the noncommittal man, the one for whom the chase is the end game,” Mayer said of his character.

But Mayer also said his portrait of Norman is painted in complexities that are not easily dismissed. It’s a kind of nature versus nurture argument and he claims Norman is not just after a good roll in the hay.

“There are so many juicy notions going on,” Mayer said.

“Norman seems to bring to the fore that which is buried in the other characters:  How our views of ourselves distort; the extent of our own freedom; what we should expect from love; what’s worth regretting …  and I find myself thanking him for exploring, unapologetically, those things we judge harshly within ourselves,” he added.

Say no more, say no more, Norman.

Grenier, in typical theater director fashion, gets all excited and proud watching the actors become grounded in their characters, which usually doesn’t happen until fairly late in the process and continues through the run of a show. It’s like birthing a baby.

David Mayer, Phil Jordan, Gail Liston and Laura Persaud rehearse "The Norman Conquests," opening June 7 at WICA in Langley.

David Mayer, Phil Jordan, Gail Liston and Laura Persaud rehearse “The Norman Conquests,” opening June 7 at WICA in Langley.

“Last night, out of the blue, we ran our first dress run of “Table Manners” and it all burst into flame,” he said.

“The company caught fire.  They are owning their experience; their truth. Nice to be a small part of that.”

Mayer said he thinks these middle-aged, suburban British folks are eager for something elusive and that Ayckbourn knew it.

“I think by setting this story in England among a generation too young to fight in WWII and too old to rebel with the Baby Boomers, Ayckbourn is able to create a hilarious extreme, forcing a group of ‘stuck’ people to deal with a situation completely out of their comfort zones,” the actor said.

“These characters, all teetering on the edge of losing it, make their own beds in ways we all recognize, and then they just try to hold on.  They might get away with it if not for one man.  No one can be ready for Norman.”

I’m ready! Bring it on, Norman, you dog.

(Break a leg, actors.)

From the heart of the audience,
Patricia Duff

Get tickets here.

Speaking of acting, I heard this great radio segment on KUOW this morning “An Interview With Actor Kyle MacLachlanby Marcie Sillman for “Weekday.” It’s a great look at the real life experience of a working actor who happened to get his start at the UDub theater department.


More upcoming theater on Whidbey Island:

  • Whidbey Children’s Theater opens “The Wizard of Oz” on June 28 to July 14.
  • OutCast Productions opens “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” on July 19 to Aug. 3 at the fairgrounds and, by the way, one more female singer/actor is needed for the show. Email director Sandy O’Brien to audition at ksandyo@whidbey.com.
  • Island Shakespeare Festival will open “Much Ado About Nothing” Aug.3 to Sept. 15  in their brand new, custom-made circus tent (see “Spotlight” on Kickstarter campaign!) behind the old Langley Middle School http://www.islandshakespearefest.org/.
  • Up in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Playhouse opens “Sister Anne’s Cabaret Class” on June 14 to June 30.

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