AND A NIGHTINGALE SANG, C. P. Taylor’s exquisite WWII dramedy (about life beneath the bombs), is getting a first rate production at the Wellesley Summer Theatre (through June 24th). Britain’s ordeal is almost eclipsed by the family crises unfolding in Newcastle. Grandpa’s beloved dog has died. A marriage proposal looms. The would-be groom could be sent to the front. And mother frets, prays and brews tempests in their teapot.
The voice of reason is daughter Helen whose charming narration forms the backbone of the story. Margaret Dunn gives a luminous performance as the plain sister, the one with the limp, the solid one everybody looks to for advice. To their astonishment she falls in love with a handsome soldier (Will Bouvier gives a deftly nuanced performance in a difficult role.). Dunn transforms herself, with a light, it seems, from within. Their romance is the stuff of Masterpiece Theatre. When they dance, your heart rejoices. Director Nora Hussey captures that era brilliantly, aided in large part by Derek Stone Nelson at the piano, as father, singing the songs of the day, happily escaping any way he can, from mother’s gaze.
Lisa Foley is marvelous as the frenetic mother who won’t let father, or anyone else, get a word in edgewise. You can imagine the hysteria when the bombs are directly overhead. Ashley Gramolini is her mother’s daughter, frantically trying to decide about marriage while Will Keary, a delight as her foolish beau, mucks about waiting for her decision. It’s granddad who steals the show, toting various animals about (both alive and dead) much to mother’s consternation. John Davin as the old soldier/philosopher offers hilarious advice, gets in everyone’s hair and provides some of the best comic moments in the show.
A topnotch ensemble, David Towlin’s no nonsense, multi-purpose set (with scrim of gorgeous war drawings and posters), George Cooke’s singular sound design (lovely period recordings and genuinely frightening percussive noise), Nancy Stevenson’s authentic forties costumes, especially for Helen who becomes more and more beautiful as she learns to love …and dance (choreography by Colleen Royal) and Ken Loewit’s muted, evocative lighting, especially for the Elton Square rendezvous scenes -- all conspire to make this NIGHTINGALE soar.