by Paula Kaplan-Reiss
[Production photos coming soon!]
“Why do you sleep? Is it because of me?” asks Schuyler Grogan (Matt Benincasa) of his betrothed, Norma (Leigh Fisher-Troche), who constantly, narcoleptically nods off three days before their wedding. In Invitation to a March, a play by Arthur Laurents, this question is central to the relationships depicted. A play first produced in 1961 and rarely seen since, Director, J. Peter Bergman, joyfully brings this story to The Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, New York. While we know Laurents for musicals such as Gypsy and West Side Story, we are introduced to a straight play from the same era with surprisingly contemporary themes.
Set at a beach house on the Long Island shore, also well designed by Bergman, with sounds of the beach by Monk Schane-Lydon, we are introduced to its owner, Camilla Jablonski (Meg Dooley) who is renting the home to the Brown family to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Norma Brown.
Schuyler’s aristocratic parents, DeeDee and Tucker Grogan (Sally McCarthy and Mark Wilson) are invited to meet Norma and her mother, Lily (Jennifer Young) for the first time. DeeDee makes it clear when meeting Lily that she does not fit in with the fancy crowd to which she is accustomed. By referring to Lily by every flower but what she is named, DeeDee commands the stage with her wit and her sharp tongue, reminiscent of Bette Davis, complete with a cigarette in her hand which never seems to reach her lips.
Lily, with her southern drawl and charm, is grieving her deceased husband and hoping for her sleepy daughter to seal the deal with Schuyler. Camilla’s son Aaron (Jerry Byrne) wakes up the ‘sleeping beauty’ on his way to fix the toilet, hinting at a potential cure for Norma’s ‘narcolepsy.’
Camilla’s feelings about love and marriage are awakened mid-play, and conflicts about sex roles, social mores, betrayal and commitment all ensue over the course of three acts. Lily’s pre-teen son, Cary (Noah First-Huneau) plays the omniscient character, privy to everyone’s exploits and announcing his presence playing a drum hanging around his neck.
Invitation to a March is filled with many Ghent Playhouse regulars. Dooley begins the play but does not seem to warm into her part until later in the first act as her character becomes bolder and more self-assured, remarkably so for a woman of that generation.
I completely enjoyed McCarthy’s performance and found myself wishing she had more of a role in Act Two. Wilson, as Tucker is difficult to believe as a lady’s man, yet the script offers little to explain his romantic choices.
Troche, as Norma, plays well at acting clueless, yet I struggle with her one-note performance as she is the object of two men’s affection. Newcomer Byrne, as Aaron is instantly appealing and believable as both Camilla’s son and a rival to Schuyler for Norma’s affections.
Benincasa, as Schuyler, reads true as DeeDee’s son who has strong views on the role of a wife, yet he is less convincing as to why he is choosing Norma. Young First-Huneau, as Cary, provides both humor and wisdom as the play’s conscience, while playing true to his age.
Three acts prove a bit too long for an effective telling of this story. Many times at the end of the third act, the play can effectively conclude. Numerous instances of characters talking to the audience engage us, rather than distract us from the story’s flow.
The dated sexism evident in the characters is counteracted by the modern thinking Camilla and the transformation of Norma. Incidental music, surprisingly composed by Stephen Sondheim, appears sporadically throughout the play. I found myself wondering why, and wishing it was more consistently present.
The lighting, by designer Joe Sicotte, effectively shows the different times of the day at the shore without the set needing to change. Costumes, designed by Joanne Maurer, were period appropriate and attractive, especially on the women, with beautiful dresses on Lily.
A delightful little theater in Ghent, with a long history, is the perfect showcase for this rarely presented Invitation to a March. The story will pull you in and will not put you to sleep.
Invitation to a March by Arthur Laurents, directed by J. Peter Bergman, with incidental music by Stephen Sondheim and runs February 3-19, 2023 at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY. Cast: Meg Dooley as Camilla Jablonski; Matt Benincasa as Schuyler Grogan; Leigh Fisher-Troche as Norma Brown; Sally McCarthy as DeeDee Grogan; Mark Wilson as Tucker Grogan; Jennifer Young as Lily Brown; Jerry Byrne as Aaron Jablonski, and Noah First-Huneau as Cary Brown. Set design by J. Peter Bergman, costume design by Joanne Maurer, lighting design by Joe Sicotte, and sound design by Monk Schane-Lydon.
Invitation to a March runs February 3-5, 10-12, 17-19, 2023. Evening performances at 7:30, Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $23 for members, $28 for non-members, and $12 for students. Visit the Ghent Playhouse website https://www.ghentplayhouse.org/ for more information.