Production explores relationships and the forces that influence them
APRIL 23, 2019 BY
Do you believe in destiny? What about free will? How do you feel about the idea that we’re all made of stars, and that the stars themselves may be pulling us around like so many puppets on so many strings?
These and other metaphysical questions are explored – with sweetness and song – in the final production of the University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film’s 2018-19 season.
“Fly by Night” opens Friday (April 26) for a short run in Fulton Chapel and closes Sunday (April 28), with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The opening-night performance will be followed by a reception at the Oxford-University Depot. Tickets are available at the Ole Miss Box Office or by calling 662-915-7411.
The basic plot is a love triangle involving two sisters, Daphne and Miriam, who’ve moved to New York – Daphne chasing a dream to be a Broadway star and Miriam reluctantly following along – and a young man, Harold, struggling as a sandwich-maker and aspiring singer-songwriter. The climax is set during the Northeast blackout of 1965, when the tangled guitar strings of their lives are pulled taught and snap in the dark.
“One of the things that’s talked about in the play is this idea of how we’re connected to the stars, and the stars, through constellations, have these connections,” said director Rory Ledbetter, associate professor of voice and acting.
“So you have these six main characters who are like stars in their own way … it’s all about how their lives and the major people connected in their lives intersect and crisscross. The story itself is a kind of tapestry weaving in and out of time and examining this love triangle between two sisters and a guy.”
The three characters enmeshed in the love triangle are orbited by several outer planets, including Harold’s father, McClam, and his boss, Crabble; Joey, a playwright who casts Daphne as the lead in one of his plays; and the narrator, who assumes nearly a dozen seemingly incidental roles over the course of the show – a couple of which turn out not to be so incidental after all.
The story takes place over a one-year period, jumping backward and forward in time and location in a way that Ledbetter likens to a cinematic experience.
“It’s so exciting because we’re in the diner; five seconds later, we’re three months before that; two minutes later, we’re in a dress shop; and then a minute later, we’re back in the diner,” Ledbetter said. “It’s constantly shifting before our eyes.
“As with our modern-day filmmaking that has edit, edit, edit, edit, edit to keep you engaged, I think this is one of the closest things I’ve seen onstage to have that sensibility but still honor the sense of life and groundedness that theater holds.”
Gregor Patti, a sophomore in the acting for stage and screen program who stars as Harold, cites the show’s rapid-fire pace as the kind of challenge he enjoys as an actor.
“The way the scenes are constructed, something will be referenced, and you have to remember exactly how you said it before, and where it came from, and how it’s inextricably linked to this other thing that occurs 30 minutes before that and then again an hour later,” Patti said.
“It’s a skill we’ve all had to practice, this muscle we’ve had to flex.”
Patti also had to flex his fingers for the role – by learning to play the guitar, something that Patti, who described himself as more of a singer, found daunting, but in a good way.
“I like the idea of doing things that are way outside of who I am and that are challenging me a lot more,” Patti said. “I’d rather by scared by the opportunity than bored by it.”
Anderson Bandy, a senior acting major who is set to graduate in May, had a similar challenge with her role of Crabble, the cantankerous owner of the sandwich shop where Harold plods away. Crabble was written as a male character; the department was given permission to make that character a woman. But that wasn’t the hard part for Bandy – at least, not exactly.
“It’s not my first time playing someone who is a man,” Bandy said. “In this we did switch it to where I will be a female in a part that’s originally written as a man, but I have also played a boy six-and-a-half times on stage before, so I was ready for either one.”
For Bandy, it was the score, not the script, that provided an obstacle.
“I’m not a musical theater major, and this is a musical; I’ve actually never been in an Ole Miss musical,” Bandy said. “And this isn’t something where I can just hide behind the ensemble, because it’s a small cast and everything is very tight and very specific.”
Bandy explained that her character’s song is written in a low tenor range that changes up to a tenor: “It’s a little too low for me in the lower part, so I have to sing it very high, and that’s something a little bit challenging for me because I wouldn’t classify myself as a soprano, but we are up there.”
Nicole Fava, a senior graduating from the musical theater program, said that her character, Daphne, resonated with her in multiple ways: Nicole moved to Mississippi from California to pursue theater, and Daphne moved from South Dakota to New York; Daphne is pursuing Broadway stardom, and Nicole’s next step will be to move to New York to chase the same dream. Even their personalities overlap – Fava described both herself and her character as outgoing, driven, bubbly and energetic.
But just as things seem to be coming together for Daphne, she experiences something of a rude awakening when she discovers that what she thought she wanted didn’t look quite like she’d imagined.
“She’s young, and she’s trying to do these grandiose things in life,” Fava said. “She had this path she thought she had to go down: moving to New York, finding the boy, taking the job, getting the role. And I think she’s thrown off when life gets real, and it turns out not to be those exact things in that exact equation.”
Fava viewed Daphne’s moment of disillusionment as a caution to stay grounded and focus on what’s most important.
“That’s one of the biggest lessons, not just from Daphne, but that I’ve taken away from other characters, too,” Fava said “What is following your dreams, or reaching your goals, without sharing that with the people who support you and love you the most?”
Ultimately, it’s a story about relationships and the forces – unseen or otherwise – that push us together and pull us apart.
“If we’ve done what we want to do, people are going to cry at least once, they’re going to feel a lot of joy, some sadness, and they’re just going to delight in the magic of theater,” Ledbetter said.
“When you put it all together, this is going to be a magical night, a magical theatrical experience.”