There’s nothing like a dame. (Photo:Hardin)
Martha Reynolds’ path to the director’s chair is the kind of story artists love to tell. She has a degree in Theater from her college days in Michigan, but works as a nurse at Bishop’s Northern Inyo Hospital. A chance audition landed her a part in Playhouse 395’s production of “The Sound of Music.” Working as Stage Manager on “Annie” and another turn onstage in “The Music Man” led Playhouse 395’s Executive Director Jeff Pratt to ask if she’d thought about directing. “I’m kind of bossy anyway, so directing kind of suited me,” Reynolds good-naturedly quipped.
Her directorial debut in 2009’s “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” resulted in a hit, and set her up to direct another show, one she’s personally very fond of: “South Pacific,” which opens for three weekends starting Friday, March 12.
Based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1948 novel, “Tales of the South Pacific,” the 1949 musical, widely regarded as one of the stage’s very best, is a tale of love, racial intolerance and class struggle as viewed through the prism of the U.S. battle with the Empire of Japan during WWII in the South Pacific.
“South Pacific” was her pick, and her familiarity with it dates back to her youth. “It was a favorite of my mom and dad,” she said. “I was cast in a Summerstock production of it when I was a teenager.”
This production, she added, is dedicated to the memory of her father. “He was a Marine Sergeant in the South Pacific during WWII, and didn’t like to talk about what happened then too much,” Reynolds related. “Doing the show now gives me a new connection with my dad, even though he’s been gone for some 30 years.”
The cast is impressive, with no less than 48 performers of varying ages, including several previously seen in “Joseph.”
At least one, however, is making his Playhouse 395 debut in this show: well-known Mammoth actor Chuck Scatolini. “I’ve been a big fan of their productions and youth shows. I’ve got lots of friends who’ve been in them,” Scatolini said. “We’re all supportive of each other. I go see their shows, they come out and see me in ones I’m doing.”
He jumped at the chance to play French plantation owner Emile DeBeque. “As time goes by, there are more roles I’m not suited for anymore,” the ageless Scatolini allowed disarmingly. “I’ve seen the show several times and when this opportunity presented itself, I said, ‘Gotta do it.’”
The show’s period and themes may be products of a specific time, but for Scatolini, the drama still resonates. “It’s 1942, but only six months since Pearl Harbor. Nothing’s going our way,” he described. “All these characters are converging on what will be a major turning point for them.”
Debeque, he said, is a realist, with a battle-weary view of the world involved in a terrible war. Then he meets U.S. Navy Ensign Nellie Forbush, played by Jessica Burchette, a ray of sunshine, young, fresh … naive. “She’s attractive to someone whose heart has been broken and hardened,” Scatolini mused. “But she’s from the South (Arkansas) and there are conflicts arising out of how she feels about his previous wife — an islander — and their kids by a previous marriage.”
In how the show addresses racial intolerance, including how the Japanese enemy was stereotyped, “South Pacific” was arguably ahead of its time in the 1940s. “Remember this was pre-Civil Rights, pre-Dr. Martin Luther King,” he said. Flaws inherent in the well-to-do social caste system back in the States are also examined in some of the show’s relationships.
The show also features a 26 piece orchestra, including a harp, a key instrument in some of the arrangements. “I got to see a production at Lincoln Center last year and when I got back, I told Jeff, ‘We’re gonna need a harp!’”
Reynolds said she thinks the show is funny, certainly, but more of a musical “drama” rather than a comedy. “It’s partly about bigotry, so there’s certainly some mature subject matter,” she advised. “In movie ratings terms, it’s PG.”
“South Pacific” plays Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., with Saturday matinee performances at 2 p.m., at Bishop Union High School. Tickets can be purchased online at www.playhouse395.com or by calling 760.920.9100.