Oldcastle Theatre Company, Bennington, VT
Souvenir, A Fantasy on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins, by Stephen Temperley.
Directed by Nathan Stith. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Was I in the presence of delusion, or mere dementia?"
The first thing you need to know about "Souvenir," now playing at the Bennington Performing Performing Arts Center (BPAC) is that the characters are real people who really existed and, for the most part, really did all the things you'll hear about and witness in the play. The dialogue may have come from a playwright and the timeline may leave a few questions, but this is real folks, Honest. It is. How, you may ask yourself, could this have happened? How could this woman not have known she was not a talented singer? How could he, a genuine musician, have maintained their professional relationship without committing suicide?. How is it all possible? You will come away from this delightful, genuinely funny, play with the answer but I'll clue you in right here: love. Love and mutual admiration. You have to admire the self-deluded in their sincerity and honesty dealing with their beliefs. You have to admire the lyalty that grows from the heart. You just have to. Florence Foster Jenkins had the money to back her dreams and the dream to guarantee her future. Cosme McMoon had Madame Jenkins. and that was really all he needed. Their relationship lasted for more than a dozen years but the play shows us that the lasting effects of such a friendship go on indefinitely. That's the story.
From their first meeting there is something special between them. It is trust. She trusts him to be loyal to her and honest with her. He is actually neither of those things. He trusts her to be amusing and to pay him well for services, both real and faked. She does. Therefore, a fine professional relationship is established. The arrangement comes back to him in the mid-1950s when he is reduced to playing incidental music in bars and seedy clubs. That's where we find him in Stephen Temperley's powerful play about talent and will. .Cosme has one but not really the other. No Madame Jenkins he. It's a pity that we know from the outset what his destiny will be. If you don't know the Jenkins story there will be many surprises ahead, but if you do then you can delight in witnessing it all play out for yourself. This show gives its audience a lot of music, makig it doubly worth the price of a ticket. Or, if not double than at least one and a half times the price.
Tim Howard is an excellent Cosme, playing fine piano and singing lyrically, all the while acting his part to perfection. He makes friendship feel a bit slimy and he redeems his character more than once with comfort and ease. Kate Monroe is a sensational Florence, singing without fear and frightening any birds who might be listening. Her emotional portrayal never misses and she turns obsession into a very dirty word. It is a performance that will be hard to forget. Both players have been well directed by Oldcastle's Artistic Director Nathan Stith. He has taken this play seriously and given its realities room to play our well without removing the author's incidental comic turn.on this mismatched pair.
The actors are placed on a beautiful set designed by Ken Moooney who has also designed the costumes. Jenkins' real clothes smartly define the passing years, but her Carnegie costumes (Hall, not Hattie) are good but not quite funny enough. Nichael Gianitti has designed lighting that lets us follow Cosme through time. Corey White's sound design work is excellent. Whoever is working costume changes backstage deserves a kudo or two also. If Ms. Monroe has a vocal coach (no one is credited) she or he has done an excellent job for the vocals are wonderfully played by t6his actress. They are, after all, mot of what this story is about and they land front and center on the stage before hopefully enchanted audiences. Be prepared to hear the Queen of the Night's aria by Mozart, Adele's Laughing Song by Johann Strauss and Gounod's Ave Maria more than once. It is a privilege to spend two plus hours in a theater with this music surrounding the event side by side with songs by Frank Loesser, DeSylvia, Brown and Henderson, Jule Styne and Harold Arlen. Temperley, Tim Howard and company give a really fine show in Vermont.
+ 06/17/2022 +
Souvenir plays at the Bennington Performing Arts Center for Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main Street, Bennington, VT. For information and tickets call 802-447-0564.