My Cousin Rachel Notebook: My 10 minutes of off-the-cuff bit of publicity

9780316252966One of the things they don’t tell you when you start directing is how often you’ll be asked to just toss some publicity out there for the production. Directors and producers (and sometimes actors) have to be prepared to talk about the show at the drop of a hat because very often publicity opportunities come at you fast – and they always have a deadline.

So it is helpful to have some “patter” about your show prepared in advance. And ten years ago I used to prepare it in advance. But after many years of promoting shows in a variety of ways, I’ve gotten a little lazy.

So when Donald Munro of The Munro Review asked if I or some cast members could take a slot on his show in a couple of days, I did what I could to make it happen. I lined up cast members to appear because I wasn’t available at the time. But he also needed the background on the show and some thoughts in which he could formulate an interview.

And I didn’t have it. So on a 10 minute break at work, I pounded out the following in an e-mail hoping it made some sense!  Turns out, years of producing publicity has taught me how to solidify my directorial thoughts on a show through freewriting for an promo opportunity!


MY COUSIN RACHEL INFO

The classic murder mystery novel comes to life onstage as the widow of a man who died inexplicably bewitches his heir. A mesmerizing plot, full of twists, turns and stunning revelations. Rated PG.

August 16 – October 13, 2019
Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre
928 E. Olive Ave.
$20 general admission
$18 students & seniors
559-266-0660 or online at gcplayers.com

Background:

My Cousin Rachel is a novel by British author Daphne du Maurier (who also wrote Rebecca and short story The Birds, both adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock), published in 1951. Like the earlier Rebecca, it is a mystery-romance, set primarily on a large estate in Cornwall in 1847 (or so).

Philip Ashley is a young and inexperienced Englishman who finds his cousin Ambrose dead after traveling to Florence, Italy and marrying quite suddenly. He vows revenge against Ambrose’s missing widow Rachel, blaming her for his untimely demise. When Philip meets Rachel for the first time, his mood suddenly changes as he finds himself falling for her seductive charms. Is Rachel is a liar, a gold-digger, or a murderer? Or is Rachel just a complicated woman in a restrictive society, suffering from great loss? The doubts and suspicions mount as Philip falls inexplicably ill himself. Is Philip the victim of a vixen’s scheme? Or is he exposed for his own dark turn of mind?

My unformed thoughts for you:

It is an age-old story in Gothic novels: sexually inexperienced ingenue becomes infatuated with someone years older, and with a past. Then our ingenue falls in love and is initiated into sex, assuming all the time that marriage, or at least everlasting love, is on the cards. But no, she wakes next morning – ecstatic and feeling that “everything in life was now resolved” – to discover that the object of her affections is cool and distant, acting as if nothing much has happened. What were his real motives? And whom can she now trust?

The Daphne duMaurier twist: The ingenue is a young man and the “menace”, as she called such characters, is an attractive widow.

While Philip Ashley (Anthony teNyenhuis) is the principal point of view character in My Cousin Rachel, it is Rachel who wields the power – and who possesses the mystery, sexuality, and ambiguity that society so often deems threatening.

That ambiguity is at the root of My Cousin Rachel. Doubt is everywhere in this story, even through to the end. People’s assumptions are questioned, the facts of the case reversed, and reversed again, until finally no firm answers can be found. Even as Philip declares his love for Rachel, he doubts her.

Eventually, suspicion and doubt take hold in all of the relationships in the play. . . the insidiousness of suspicion affecting neighbors (Emily Kearns as Louise, Philip’s friend), family, and servants alike. And while the play has a definite resolution, it doesn’t offer answers.

Audiences will be walking away with firm opinions about the guilt or innocence of both Rachel and Philip. They will have judgments about their actions and their inactions. But they won’t be able to say for certain that they’re right.

It’s my favorite kind of theater. The kind that keeps turning over in your head for days after you’ve seen it.

This cast has a real knack for the playing the period and the “just a hint of melodrama” style required to make this story sing with tension, reversals and suspense. And of course, the great work of the staff at Good Company Players will deliver a period piece full of spectacle for those who love stories set in the past.

But though it is set in the Victorian age, these characters are fully breathing, visceral people, full of complexities and “all the human weaknesses, good and bad mixed together” as Rachel says.

And doubt. . . always full of doubts.
HP

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