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The Winslow Boy
by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Steven Woolf
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
February 18, 2014

Jeff Hayenga, Kathleen Wise Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jeff Hayenga, Kathleen Wise
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The latest production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a classic play that brings the audience back to early 20th Century England with a look at family dynamics, politics, and social expectations. It’s a story that’s been produced many times and filmed at least twice. Staged in a decidedly measured manner, it takes a bit of time and patience to hold the attention, although it’s a good-looking show with a fine cast.

The Winslow Boy is somewhat of a deceptive title. Although the action revolves around an accusation of theft by young military school cadet Ronnie Winslow (Jay Stalder), Ronnie himself isn’t the primary focus of the plot. Instead, the story revolves much more around Ronnie’s banker father, Arthur (Jeff Hayenga)–who is determined to bring the case to trial in order to clear his son’s name–as well as Ronnie’s older sister Catherine, or Kate (Kathleen Wise), a progressive thinker and suffragette for whom the case also becomes an important cause. In the midst of the case, which eventually draws local gossip and national attention, there are romantic entanglements for Kate, as her involvement with the case brings her into conflict with her fiance John Watherstone (William Connell), and as she deals with the unrequited attentions of much-older family friend and legal adviser Desmond Curry (Michael James Reed).  As the legal proceedings stretch on, the Winslows have to deal with the urgency of finding the best legal representation, which leads them to celebrated barrister Sir Robert Morton (Jay Stratton), who they hope will help them argue their case and gain a fair trial. There’s also the challenge of having to find money to pay for legal expenses.  As the months go by, Arthur and Kate, along with Arthur’s devoted wife Grace (Carol Schultz) and their aimless older son Dickie (Hunter Canning), face dilemma after dilemma as the case becomes more and more time-consuming, and its effects on the whole family become more intense.

This is an old play, and although it’s been staged many times, this production seems somewhat dated and old fashioned, with very leisurely pacing,  an interesting but slowly developing plot, and British accents that are, for the most part, unconvincing and sometimes distracting. Still, the leading players are engaging, particularly Hayenga as the single-minded, increasingly weary Arthur and Wise as the conflicted but determined Kate.  There’s also a memorable, energetic performance by Peggy Billo as the family longtime housemaid, Violet, the supplies a lot of the play’s warmth and comic relief, along with a particularly fastidious turn by Reed as Desmond. The rest of the cast is fine, as well, although Stalder, as the young teenager Ronnie, seems rather too old for his role.

Technically, the production looks somewhat old-fashioned as well, although that’s fitting to this production.  John Ezell’s set starts out sufficiently ornate, although it’s noticeably altered and increasingly sparse as the play proceeds, reflecting the Winslow family’s financial distress.  The costumes by Dorothy Marshall Englis suitably reflect the time period as well.  It’s a good-looking play, although I find myself wishing the staging were as vibrant as the production values.

Ultimately, The Winslow Boy is an interesting play that runs a little too long, although it does get more intriguing as it goes along.  The strong production values and good cast makes the most of the somewhat pedestrian staging. It’s worth seeing for the subject matter and strength of the lead performances, as well as the little glimpse into life in a bygone era.

Jay Stratton, Jay Stalder Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Jay Stratton, Jay Stalder
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

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