The Cast of Quartet

The actors are on break, but an issue has arisen.

“I think it’s forty-seven-eleven.” (That’s the director, Rachel Hockett, to Judy Levitt, who’s playing Jean, the group’s diva, a soprano) “Not four-seven-eleven.”

The reference is to a cologne, produced in Germany since 1799 and referenced in the script of Quartet, the season-ender for the Homecoming Players, to be presented at the Kitchen Theatre July 24 through 26, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Susannah Berryman, playing Cissy, is one for finding things out quickly and has jumped to her smartphone. She remarks that it has uses as a mosquito repellent. For some reason that gets Arthur Bicknell, playing Wilf, on to tsetse flies. He wonders if he is pronouncing that correctly. Yes, says Greg Bostwick, playing Reg, the final member of the quartet. He elegantly pronounces both the t and the s, “They’re a rather effeminate species of fly,” he adds. 

Post-break, they solve that problem, and quickly dive into playwright Ronald Harwood’s delicious words, spoken by a group of once important artists who have landed at a retirement home in Kent for retired opera singers.

Harwood, an Oscar-winning screenwriter as well (for Roman Polanski’s 2003 film, The Pianist) was inspired to write this 1999 bittersweet comedy by the film Tosca’s Kiss about the residents of Milan’s Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, which Verdi established in 1896 for “elderly singers who have not been favoured by fortune, or who, when they were young, did not have the virtue of saving their money. Poor and dear companions of my life!” (Harwood also wrote the screenplay for the 2012 film, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring Maggie Smith.)

The Independent called the play’s original production “an unashamed—no, shameless—vehicle for four feisty old troupers whose task is to make us laugh a little, sigh a little and cry a little as they take us into the bittersweet world of facing up to age and mortality.”

Berryman, Bostwick, and Levitt all teach acting in Ithaca College’s Department of Theatre Arts, while Bicknell is an alumnus, and their easy camaraderie makes the rehearsal skip along. There is a special resonance in this group of tight knit actors tackling the roles of singers, where issues of aging, the ability to perform and some regrets collide. To give credence to their roles, the actors have also been coached by Patrice Pastore of IC’s music faculty in Italian dialect and the musical score.

The pivot of the play is Verdi’s birthday gala, an annual event for the retirement home’s residents and the invitation for the four to reprise their famous quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Jean, the last to join the “inmates” as Wilf calls the residents, is horrified at the prospect and resists. Why?

“We think Quartet is the quintessential closer for our third full season (our lucky thirteenth) show—one with heart, humor, and a homily for our complicated times,” said Hockett. •

Tickets are available by phone (607-272-0570), online (bit.ly/quartettickets) or at the door.

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