In 1942 World War II, the global war was continuing its deadliest conflict known to human history, civilians in China and the Soviet Union grew to 50 to 85 million fatalities.
WWII included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust and premeditated death from starvation, strategic bombing, and disease while using nuclear weapons.
Playwright George Brant takes us back in time in the early days of WW II, in his modern comedy 'In The Breeches' where the men are fighting in the horrific war, and the women were, as The National War II Museum proclaims, were the American Women: On the Home Front and Beyond. This play where the women of war played an essential role while their men were battling overseas, is set in the fall of 1942, in Evanston IL.
The Oberon Play House ( a community center) is lacking their director and leading men, and for the first time since it's opening, the theater is dark. Will the season be canceled? Not if Maggie, the director's wife, have anything to do with it. Darci Nalepa as Maggie Dalton decides to put on an all-female production, using the neighborhood's female troops.
Moving from the sidelines and shadows of her director husband Andrew and from being nicknamed 'Parrot,' (mimic mindlessly), the tenacious Maggie is positioned to be center stage. Forging ahead with dauntless enthusiasm with the spirit and collaboration of girl power, Maggie is convinced that the show must go on and move forward in the power of art.
The complete cycle of Shakespeare's Henry plays is now in rehearsal at the Oberon Playhouse; however, there's one massive problem. They are about two dozen actors short of having a full ensemble to pull it off. What is Maggie going to do? Improvise and use all of the talents that she has been given to make it happen.
Brant's idea of bringing a seemingly innocent, and charming play of how women supported the war goes much more in-depth behind the red velvet curtains. If you take a closer look, he pulls back the curtains to a much bigger picture in America. Brant brings a view of a world, where women begin to have a voice and speak up for women equality, where gays are accepted, and men can put on a dress and feel free, and where race issues of inequality are at the forefront all while the specter of war looms large in the background.
Director Jessica Thebus tackle these huge issues with a sense of humor. There are heartfelt moments; when a couple of the ladies don't receive letters back from their husbands. However, the writing never gets too sentimental.
Even though Maggie has some challenges when small-minded businessman played by Fred Zimmerman as Ellsworth Snow, who was dead set against the project moving forward because there are no men involved, she continuously finds a way to guilt him into letting her continue. Snow predicts mayhem happening on opening night and the loss of a lot of money. He anxiously waits to cancel the play fearing it would be the laughing stock of the century, causing the Oberon Playhouse to never open again.
However, Maggie is not one to back down. Although the odds are stacked against her and her vision, she's a fighter and is determined to make the play go on. Much to the infuriation of a sputtering Snow, she takes a stance and becomes an advocate, pushing for salaries for the women like the men, standing up for racial discrimination, and cross-dressing men; which is not the norm during the war.
Brant has also come up with a delightful cast of characters to propel this story. Hollis Resnik as the imperious Celeste Fielding the veteran queen who considers herself God's gift to the theater. However, when Maggie suggests that Celeste maybe too old, a bit long in the tooth, and someone else should play the king's son, she storms off to Woonsocket to play Cinderella.
Snow's devoted wife Winifred is one of the many talents that makes this production shine. She's the worst actor of them all until Maggie suggests she add a little Groucho Marx to her routine and with a bit of facial alteration, Winifred transforms into a star. Then there's Mitchell J. Fain, who plays Stuart Lasker, the stage manager, who hesitantly comes out about his sexuality and why he is one of the men not at war. The sweet Winifred pauses for a moment and asks, "Does this mean you're a homosexual?"
After Stuart confirms that he is, one can expect that during that time, Winifred would walk off the stage; however, she says in amazement, "This just keeps getting more delightful."
Among the many issues, this play tackles it shows how the lives of actors are affected behind the scenes. And our lives says Brant, "aren't lived full unless we're willing to take risks."
There was a brief dialogue between Maggie and Grace where Grace discusses her fears and loneliness about her husband being at war; however, we would have loved to have seen more stories from these ladies about their feelings regarding their husband's and saw more of their fear of potential lost; which many women of war had experienced. Those dramatic tear-jerking moments would have brought home why it was so important to continue normalcy of life instead of falling into a deep depression of loneliness and fear.
The World War II Museum website states that fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 70 million to 85 million. Nearly 350,000 American women served in uniform, both at home and abroad, working, they drove trucks, repaired airplanes, worked as laboratory technicians, and test-flew newly restored planes, and even trained anti-aircraft artillery gunners by acting as flying targets.
Let's Play 'Recommend' that you take a trip to the Northlight Theatre to see this splendid play.
Northlight Theatre concludes its 2018-19 season with
Into the Breeches!
Written by George Brant
Directed by Jessica Thebus
May 9 – June 16, 2019
Filed under: ChicagoNow