By Yeol-Shim Bell and Erica Russelman
The crowd of people milled around, making conversation and lounging on the several sofas in the Wanaque campus lobby. Suddenly, a voice rang out, and heads swiveled to see a girl in a floral dress and a man with a cane engaged in conversation. A hush fell over the onlookers, and the scene proceeded.
After the man and girl parted, the actors excitedly ushered the audience into the connecting theater. A simple stage scattered with orange leaves stood in front of the rows of seats. A couple of people in the audience noted how comfortable the seats were. The comedy shortly launched into full swing, and laughter could be heard throughout the performance.
From April 9th – 12th 2019, PCCC’s theater department held a 14th century play Robin and Marion under the direction of the department head, Professor R. G. Rader. The play starred a cast of PCCC faculty and students acting out a romantic comedy in one act. The third play performed in the Wanaque campus theater, Robin and Marion entertained packed audiences with all three nights of opening.
The play centers around the shenanigans of Robin, a knight, and Marion, a shepherdess, who are falling in love. Other characters are featured, but there were variations made in this adaptation of the play from the original, partly out of necessity. Two of the characters were played by one person, and the two musicians were filled by one experienced and apt player, Professor Alan Mitnick.
Brittanica states that the original work Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion was written in 1282 BC and published centuries later in 1895. According to the director, Professor Rader, this was part of the fun: “I like taking old ideas and bringing them to life with new interpretations.”
Nicolette Villanueva, the volunteer stage manager, described the long afternoons preparing for the play and what her role included. With the minimalist setup, Nicolette was placed in charge of helping Director Rader with the lights, costumes, music, and other preparations. Villanueva said, “We worked everyday from 5:30 to 9. It was later as the days got closer. Get here before the show two hours just to making sure everything’s set up, everything’s prepped yea; and we’ve had a big crowd every night yea. It really amazing.”
Villanueva is an early childhood education major, but her interest in theater had preceded her time at PCCC. “I liked theater and school, and I always liked this, always like show business, but I was never comfortable being onstage but being friends with people who are is really eye opening and amazing and yea Professor Rader has been really awesome.”
Rader likened the act of play setup to the act of creation. All people involved with Robin and Marion added to the final performance. The actors were also allowed/encouraged to improvise, and the Fiddler had a part beyond the musical accompaniment.
“A couple of the things in there I just added in for the humor. A lot of the things were added in there by our fantastic actors and Professor Rader, but it was different to have like an outside view of the show the night I showed up and yea, it came together really well,” Villanueva added.
“Some of the lines…like the oh shit part…we weren’t doing we were just glancing at one another. We wanted to make it something big, and Professor Rader was like, ‘What do you think?’ and…I was like “Everyone is going to be surprised and everyone is going to laugh (if we just cussed).” There was also a variation of Marion’s behavior towards the knight attempting to court her hand.
“It was awesome; there were a lot of laughs tonight, which made everyone feel great because we’d been working so hard. “The lines out of the actual script were planned out, but they would add just the looks and the gestures that went really well together.”
“It says in the play, two fiddlers. I (originally) wanted to make a musical of this.” Rader reflected. After some issue with the original cast, Rader decided to rely the musical part on one talented player.” I thought of Alan. I remembered that he played the mandolin, and I said ‘Bring the mandolin one night.’ It was perfect for the 13th century music. It fit perfectly. Then I said ‘Now play it. Improvise!’ I didn’t have to teach him to act…He just plays himself…and it worked.”
Professor Rader has been directing PCCC plays for 13 years. His involvement in the 14-year-old program has been crucial to its development and success.
“I love the creative power to make what is written come alive through actors and set design,”
Professor Rader shared bringing sets to life in a way that captures the playwright’s intentions can be a tricky yet rewarding task.
The leading actress, Christine Fernicola, is a 20-year-old Theater major in her last semester at PCCC. Like Professor Rader, she also enjoys the modernization of works from different time periods.
Fernicola plans to finish her degree and work hard for Broadway. Her performance as Marion in Play of Robin and Marion: A Medieval Folk Comedy…With a Modern Twist proves that her talents will take her wherever she is determined.
“It was such a fun experience,” Fernicola stated. “Any opportunity to be on stage is enjoyable for me.”
The theater program, with such passionate people behind the scenes pushing it forward, has continued with much-enjoyed renditions such as this one. “For some bizarre strange reason for the last thirteen years, it’s worked, without any additional budget. For the last seven eight years, without anything…” Through his prior experience as theater director, Rader learned how to, in his words, “make theater happen.”
The show came together beautifully for four nights admission-free. In case you missed it, the PCCC Theater Program will upload the performance on the PCCC Theater page.