Review: Northlight rallies first-rate cast for comic 'Into the Breeches!'

  • Oberon Play House director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), center, confers with stage manager Stuart Lasker (Mitchell Fain) and costume designer Ida Green (Penelope Walker) in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

    Oberon Play House director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), center, confers with stage manager Stuart Lasker (Mitchell Fain) and costume designer Ida Green (Penelope Walker) in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Northlight Theatre

 
 
Updated 5/23/2019 6:32 AM

"Into the Breeches!" -- ★ ★ ★

Shakespeare and proto-feminism joyously combine in Northlight Theatre's regional premiere of "Into the Breeches!" -- a delightful 2018 comedy written by Morton Grove native George Brant. The play's clever pun title, a variation on a rallying cry from "Henry V," offers up clues as to what's to come.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Set in 1942, "Into the Breeches!" imagines the efforts of enterprising first-time theater director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa) to stage an epic adaptation of three Shakespeare history plays (Parts I and II of "Henry IV" and "Henry V") with an all-female cast. The gender switch is necessary to keep the Oberon Play House running with many men off fighting in World War II, including Maggie's unseen theater producer husband.

Shakespearean actress Celeste Fielding (Hollis Resnik), right, is grateful that director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa) plans to reopen Evanston's Oberon Play House in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through Sunday, June 16.
Shakespearean actress Celeste Fielding (Hollis Resnik), right, is grateful that director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa) plans to reopen Evanston's Oberon Play House in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through Sunday, June 16. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Northlight Theatre

Maggie faces skepticism for her long-distance artistic collaboration with her husband. She also must sell both moneyed theater board member Ellsworth Snow (Fred Zimmerman) and the Oberon's grande dame leading lady, Celeste Fielding (Hollis Resnik), on her plan.

Then there's the matter of turning amateurs Winifred Snow (Penny Slusher), Grace Richards (Annie Munch) and June Bennett (Molly Hernandez) into believable Shakespearean actors. They struggle to learn their lines, most facing the uncertainty of their husbands fighting at the front.

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Actress Celeste Fielding (Hollis Resnik), left, is skeptical that director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), standing, can stage a nontraditional Shakespeare drama with amateur actors (Annie Munch, Molly Hernandez and Penny Slusher) in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre.
Actress Celeste Fielding (Hollis Resnik), left, is skeptical that director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), standing, can stage a nontraditional Shakespeare drama with amateur actors (Annie Munch, Molly Hernandez and Penny Slusher) in "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Northlight Theatre

Bolstering Maggie's efforts are costume designer Ida Green (Penelope Walker) and stage manager Stuart Lasker (Mitchell Fain). Yet their valiant offers of help lead to bigger societal challenges of integration and tolerance.

The basic will-they-or-won't-they-succeed plot drives the drama of "Into the Breeches!" There's also plenty of natural humor from the rehearsal process.

Stage manager Stuart Lasker (Mitchell Fain) gives some advice to amateur actor Winifred Snow (Penny Slusher) in "Into the Breeches!" The regional premiere of George Brant's Evanston-set comedy continues at Northlight Theatre through Sunday, June 16.
Stage manager Stuart Lasker (Mitchell Fain) gives some advice to amateur actor Winifred Snow (Penny Slusher) in "Into the Breeches!" The regional premiere of George Brant's Evanston-set comedy continues at Northlight Theatre through Sunday, June 16. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Northlight Theatre
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Backstage jealousies arise, especially when Maggie suggests that Grace and Celeste switch leading roles to be more age appropriate. Meanwhile efforts to make the women act more manly -- with an extended bit about codpieces -- leave the audience in stitches.

In light of the views and biases of the play's era, however, "Into the Breeches!" ends a tad too tidily.

Yet Brant's comedy does make several important statements on the unifying power of art and the importance of sisterhood. He also scores points for increasing the audience's ownership of the play by allowing it to be reset in Evanston. (Previous productions were localized to Providence, Rhode Island, and Montgomery, Alabama.)

Director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), left, encourages Grace Richards (Annie Munch) in the regional premiere of "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre.
Director Maggie Dalton (Darci Nalepa), left, encourages Grace Richards (Annie Munch) in the regional premiere of "Into the Breeches!" at Northlight Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Northlight Theatre

Director Jessica Thebus and her top-notch cast and crew have a field day bringing this theatrical love letter to life. From Samantha C. Jones' gorgeous period costumes to the determined and comical performances by Nalepa, Resnik, Slusher and others, everything works in tandem for "Into the Breeches!"

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Location: Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300 or northlight.org

Showtimes: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (no matinee May 29), 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday (also 7 p.m. June 2); through June 16

Tickets: $30-$88

Running time: About 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission

Parking: Free adjacent parking garage and lot

Rating: Some mild sexuality, but largely for general audiences

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