Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: I Capture the Castle is a coming-of-age charmer

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is closing its 2010 Season with the American East Coast and regional premiere of British author Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle, a stage adaption of her 1948 popular coming-of-age novel. Little known here in the States, the book is quite popular in the U.K., in fact, in 2003, the British public voted I Capture The Castle one of the nation’s 100 best-loved novels as part of the BBC’s The Big Read.
Cassandra and Rose ( ©Gerry Goodstein. )

The play is a rarity.... a wonderful, charming play for a family audience. This handsome production is directed by Cameron Watson, who premiered I Capture the Castle to American audiences in Los Angeles.

I Capture The Castle is set in the year 1935. The location is a ruined castle in Suffolk, England, inhabited by a very dysfunctional family; the once famous author James Mortmain, now penniless after 10 years of writer's-block., his two daughters, Rose and Cassandra, on the threshold of adulthood, one young son, Thomas, their Bohemian, former model, step-mother Topaz, a nudist and no help at all, and Stephen Colley, all-around handyman and the son of a former maid.

As the play begins the two girls are on stage in the single set (the castle kitchen), one, daughter Rose, is ironing, the other is, the younger of the two, Cassandra.  She is an aspiring writer, who prefers to write sitting in unexpected places, in this case, writing in her journal while sitting in the kitchen sink.

Both girls, deeply devoted to each other, dream of a path out of their poverty, Cassandra via writing, sister Rose, the more practical of the two, would marry for money over love in order to escape, in fact, she states " I'd marry a chimpanzee if he had money! " Salvation comes in the form of their American landlord Simon Cotton and his brother Neil who have just inherited the castle.

Rose, determined to have money so that she can better enjoy life and escape the Mortmain family's  penny pinching while cooped up in their dingy castle, quickly works her charm on Simon and shortly they are engaged, but Cassandra is confident that Rose is only marrying him, not for love, but to improve her life and that of the family;

 "Cassandra: [about Simon] You don't love him, do you? Rose: No. I don't think I do. Shame really. Cassandra: Well... do you want me to tell him? Rose: Tell him what? I'm still going to marry him. Cassandra: That's a wicked, wicked thing to do!

This coming-of-age tale, may be a bit dated and obvious, but it is a a true heart-warmer that has great wit. The greatest asset of all, is the lead actress, a Jersey girl, Rebecca Mozo as the young budding authoress Cassandra Mortmain. Mozo is absolutely charming. She is the play. She wins her man and the audience. Mozo starred as Cassandra in Cameron Watson's  premiere American production of the play in Los Angeles,and she was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best actress for her performance as Cassandra.

The cast is excellent; the beautiful Nisi Sturgis  is Rose Mortmain, Cassandra’s elegant love-struck sister (She is currently appearing in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.);  Erika Rolfsrud is Topaz Mortmain, a beautiful model and the step-mother... very dramatic in the style of Betty Davis and Tallulah Bankhead; Matt Bradford Sullivan plays the father, James Mortmain, the once brilliant and sometimes mad author; Josh Carpenter and Tony Roach play Neil and Simon Cotton, the two wealthy American brothers who have inherited the castle.
Cassandra and Simon Cotton ( ©Gerry Goodstein. )

Also in the cast are Pressly Coker who is impressive as Stephen Colley, the son of a former maid who fancies Cassandra, John FitzGibbon the perfect Vicar, Kristen Kittel is Ivy Stebbins, a local girl who fancies Stephen Colley, Daniel Marconi as the young son Thomas Mortmain; Wendy Barrie-Wilson is Mrs. Fox-Cotton, the regal mother of Simon and Neil; Eric Rolland is Aubry Fox-Cotton who fancies the free sprit, Topaz; Maureen Silliman has fun with the role of Mrs. Marcy, the local who delivers books for the library; and Mary Stewart plays photographer and seducer, Leda Fox-Cotton with great style.

I Capture The Castle began performances on December 1, 2010 and continues through January 2, 2011.  There are no performances on December 25 or January 1. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit    The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre  is located at 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road), in Madison.

A note about the playwright: "Born in Lancashire, England in 1896, playwright and author Dodie Smith is best known for her children’s book The Hundred And One Dalmatians.   Her first novel, I Capture The Castle, was written while she was living in the United States writing screenplays for Paramount.  Smith adapted I Capture The Castle into a stage play in 1952, and is the author of more than 20 plays, novels, and screenplays. Several of her works were adapted into films including Autumn Circus, Call It a Day, Dear Octopus, and The Hundred and One Dalmatians.   I Capture The Castle was made into a feature film and released in 2003 starring Bill Nighy."   
Stephen Colley and Cassandra ( ©Gerry Goodstein. )

The always excellent Artistic Staff of the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ  includes; Set designer Harry Feiner, lighting designer Jared Sayeg, costume designer Hugh Hanson, and sound designer Michael Eisenberg Amanda Michaels is the production stage manager.

Single tickets for I Capture The Castle start at $31.   Single ticket prices include a $2 facility fee not subject to discount.    Student Rush tickets are available a half-hour before curtain for $10 with a valid student ID.   For tickets, call the box office at 973-408-5600, visit or email

For no more than the cost of a regular ticket, three Symposium Series performances for each show include a post-play discussion with the cast and artistic staff.   Symposium performances for I Capture the Castle will be Tuesday, December 7 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, December 11 and 18 at 2:00 p.m.

For each production, The Shakespeare Theatre presents the popular education program Know the Show. From 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., artists from The Shakespeare Theatre will present a pre-performance talk that provides background information and an insider’s perspective on the production.  Know the Show will be held on December 9 at 7:00 p.m.  General admission is $5 for the general public, $4 for ticket package holders. Tickets to that evening’s 8:00 p.m. performance may be purchased separately.

The Saturday, December 18 at 2 p.m. performance will be audio described for those who are blind or have visual impairments.  Audio description enables patrons with visual impairments to hear, through an FM transmitter, a live description of the action on the stage.  A pre-performance sensory seminar is offered that allows patrons to feel props, costumes and set pieces to further enhance their live theatrical experience.   The service is offered free of charge.
Special Holiday Family Performances will be held on Friday, December 24 and Friday, December 31 at 2 p.m.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s Main Stage, the 308-seat F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, is conveniently located in Madison at 36 Madison Avenue (Route 124) at Lancaster Road (on the Drew University campus), just minutes from routes 287, 78 and 10. Parking is free.

 The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre is barrier free with access into the Theatre via a ramp and elevator access to all floors.   Wheelchair seating and transfer seating is available.  Braille and large print programs are available.   Infrared listening devices are available free of charge.  Some performances are audio described.  Contact the theatre for more information.   For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit

The acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is an independent, professional theatre company located on the Drew University campus. One of the leading Shakespeare theatres in the nation, serving 100,000 adults and children annually, it is New Jersey’s only professional theatre company dedicated solely to Shakespeare’s canon and other world classics. Through its distinguished productions and education programs, the company strives to illuminate the universal and lasting relevance of the classics for contemporary audiences.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio (December 4, 2010)

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