Article by Lindsey Fleming, The Dominion Post
Following their packed performances of musical comedy Peter and the Starcatcher, West Virginia Public Theatre brings another piece of Broadway to North-Central West Virginia: Directed by WVPT Artistic Director Jerry McGonigle, A Hatful of Rain tells the powerful story of American war hero Johnny Pope as he faces new battles on the home front. Michael V. Gazzo's play premiered on Broadway in 1955, and was adapted into a popular film starring Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint in 1968. Considered shocking and groundbreaking at the time in its unflinching portrayal of issues such as veteran health care scandals and opioid abuse, this classic drama seems even more relevant today.
The play follows a whirlwind two days in the life of Johnny Pope, his pregnant wife Celia, his brother Polo, and their estranged father. During that time, family secrets are laid bare, relationships are tested, and the Popes' picture-perfect image is shattered forever. A review of the original Broadway production, written by Brooks Atkinson for the New York Times, calls A Hatful of Rain "a play of substance," and describes the scenes as ranging from "simple and moving" to "almost unbearably powerful."
"The subject matter is very timely, but the themes of the play are timeless," explains director Jerry McGonigle. "At its core, A Hatful of Rain is about hope, the redemptive power of love, and the reaffirmation that family is our greatest defense."
This production features a cast of eight who have traveled to Morgantown from opposite ends of the country to be part of this meaningful project. Matt Webster, a New York actor and composer whose professional credits have included National tours of West Side Story, dropped everything and flew to West Virginia to take on the lead role of Johnny Pope: "It is kind of a homecoming for me, working with Jerry again," he said. "It's an opportunity for me to dive into a role that's really complicated and multi-layered and to learn something about myself as an actor and a person."
Sadie Bell Freeman, who plays Celia Pope, agrees: "These are fantastic roles to sink your teeth into as an actor," she says. She was also moved by the play's message: "This show deals with things that people don't want to confront, but for so many people this is their reality. That's why we need theatre like this, to create a new perspective and increase our passion and understanding." She's quick to add that it isn't all doom and gloom: "The show is very well-balanced with lighthearted moments. We'll make you laugh, cry, and think!"
A Hatful of Rain is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. Performances are held in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre (WVU Creative Arts Center) at 7:30pm June 20-24, with an additional matinee on Sunday at 2:00pm. Tickets are $18-23 and are available online at www.wvpublictheatre.org/tickets, at the Mountainlair and CAC box offices, or by calling (304) 293-SHOW. Group rates are available by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. This production is recommended for ages 14+. Find out more by following West Virginia Public Theatre on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@wvpublictheatre | #WVPT2018).
Opening West Virginia Public Theatre's summer season on June 1 is Broadway smash-hit, Tony Award-winning Peter and the Starcatcher! Presented for the first time in Morgantown, this family-friendly musical upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan comes to be The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up (a.k.a. Peter Pan). From marauding pirates and jungle tyrants to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the depths of greed and despair... and the bonds of friendship, duty and love.
Artistic Director Jerry McGonigle was drawn to the show because of its universal appeal: "As a father of four ̶ and a grandfather of an ever-expanding number ̶ I am committed to making sure that there is always quality professional entertainment in West Virginia that can be enjoyed by the whole family." Director Lee Blair adds, "There is a timelessness to it. We all still have that child within us that wants to be loved and have fun and have adventures. This tale continues that longing to never grow up."
In Peter and the Starcatcher, a young orphan and his mates are shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk in the captain’s cabin, which contains a precious, otherworldly cargo. At sea, the boys are discovered by a precocious young girl named Molly, a Starcatcher-in-training who realizes that the trunk’s precious cargo is starstuff, a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands.
When the ship is taken over by pirates – led by the fearsome Black Stache, a villain determined to claim the trunk and its treasure for his own – the journey quickly becomes a thrilling adventure. Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 unforgettable characters, Peter and the Starcatcher uses ingenious stagecraft and the limitless possibilities of imagination to bring the story to life.
This "sweet, funny, swashbuckling tale" plays in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre (at the WVU Creative Arts Center) from June 1-3 and 6-10. Helmed by Lee Blair, the show features musical direction by R.J. Nestor and a diverse cast of actors from West Virginia and across the country: McGonigle says, "We have actors coming in from New York, Florida and everywhere in-between, on top of our local talent." The set design is by Robert Klingelhoefer, with lighting and sound by Alan McEwen and costumes by Mary McClung.
Peter and the Starcatcher is written by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker, and is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). Tickets range from $18-23 and are available online at www.wvpublictheatre.org/tickets, in person at the Mountainlair or Creative Arts Center box offices, or by calling (304) 293-SHOW. You can also find behind the scenes photos by following us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (@wvpublictheatre | #WVPT2018)!