Bowdoin Department of Theater and Dance recently presented End of Summer by S.N. Behrman, directed by Professor of Theater Davis Robinson. This high comedy, written in 1936, takes place in a wealthy oil family’s grand summer home on the coast of Maine.
Though the show and playwright are largely unknown by modern audiences and theater artists, the play could not have been timelier for the weekend before Election Day. Robinson compared the class struggle in End of Summer to recent happenings in the American social sphere.
“I always look at election years as emotionally upsetting times of the year. There was something about last year with the 99 percent protests and that sense of a new kind of social movement,” explained Robinson. “Will and Dennis in the play have the same spirit of [those] rallies. In that first scene with Mrs. Wyler, Will says they weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to do, but they knew what they were against.”
Will Dexter is a spitfire socialist and unemployed recent Amherst grad, played by James Jelin ’16. Dennis McCarthy is Will’s unabashed partner-in-crime and blatant third wheel, brought to life in this production by Jared Littlejohn ’15. Evan Horwitz ’15 plays Will’s father Dr. Dexter, who is a fired scientist and gets into playful arguments with the insolent Dennis.
Mrs. Wyler is a feisty and very rich family matriarch, played by Margot Howard ’13 (who is also the writer of this article). Mrs. Wyler, with the help of her ex-son-in-law Sam Frothingham (Xander Jonhson ’14) keeps a sharp eye on the hearts, and future fortunes, of her divorced daughter Leonie and granddaughter Paula Frothingham. Paula, played by Tess Chardiet ’13, is in love with Will.
Paula’s whimsical mother Leonie juggles various eccentric men vying for her affection and affluence. Sarah Chalfie ’14 gave a knockout performance as Leonie. “It’s my first department play at Bowdoin and I have loved every minute,” Chalfie said. “[Leonie] is a ball to play.”
Trouble begins in the narrative when a mysterious psychoanalyst descends on the Wyler estate. Dr. Kenneth Rice, played with cunning reserve by Jacob de Heer-Erpelding ’15, easily beats the moody Russian writer named Boris, played by Nate Houran ’13, in their contest for Leonie’s heart. However, things are not all they seem when Dr. Rice begins showing interest in Leonie’s daughter Paula.
Robinson said he “had this play on [his] radar for years” because he’s “always on the lookout for pieces that have particular relevance to where we are geographically or historically.” The play strikes home for a Bowdoin audience: it is set on the coast of Maine, in the midst of an economic depression, and features students who graduate from top institutions, move to New York and can’t find work.
However, Robinson emphasized the liberal-arts-like way in which Behrman was careful not to favor one perspective over the other. “Behrman as a writer gives both sides of that class struggle some real psychological depth so they are real human beings,” he said, “and you get a real humanized conversation about class struggle, but no one is demonized.”
Despite the play’s heady themes, the feel of the show itself is light and snappy. Written in that classic style of old Hollywood black-and-white films, each character brings enough wit, style and charm to entertain audiences through all three acts.
“I loved the dialogue,” exclaimed audience member Sue O’Hara ’88 after opening night. “It’s a language that’s just died out.” O’Hara’s friend, Shawn Carraher ’88, agreed, “It was funny but also thought-provoking.”
Not only were students featured as actors, but the backstage leadership was filled by Bowdoin students as well. Jenni Stobiecki ’13 served as assistant director and dramaturg, while Yimin Peng ’14 was the stage manager.
The hard work put in by the tech team, which consists of both Bowdoin students and department staff, was not overlooked. Many theater-goers were especially struck by the august set and costumes, including Nikki Kuna ’13, who said, “I have never seen such beautiful scenery in the play. The house seemed so real, down to every detail.”
The show received a standing ovation every night, something Robinson had yet to experience at his time at Bowdoin. Concluded Robinson, “It’s a great cast- couldn’t be better to work with.”
Story by Margot Howard ’13 and photos by Emily du Houx