Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006


By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Michael Halberstam
A Jean Cocteau Repertory Company Production
Through February 11
Bouwerie Lane Theatre
330 Bowery at the corner of Bond
(212-677-0060; jeancocteaurep.org)

Rachel Macklin

Seth Duerr and Kate Holland in the Jean Cocteau Repertory Company’s revival of “Candida,” extended through February 11.

Fitting in ‘Candida,’ between shifts

By Jerry Tallmer

Miss Prossy sits all day, prim and stiff-backed, at her writing machine, typing out the sermons and miscellaneous correspondence of the Reverend James Mavor Morell, and then goes off to one of her day jobs, either taking care of reservations at Nobu restaurant in Tribeca or, uptown, strolling around, feather duster in hand, at Jekyll & Hyde, Sixth Avenue and 57th Street.

“I’m dressed up as a maid named Anemia Kilgore, and I chat with the customers. That’s how I got my Equity card! Pretty ironic,” says straitlaced Miss Proserpine Garnett, otherwise known as the somewhat more outgoing Kate Holland, a young actress on the rise with Off-Broadway’s Jean Cocteau Repertory Company.

How young? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?

“I’ll just let you continue to think that way,” says the dark-haired, dark-eyed Ms. Holland, who lives in Brooklyn with her actor boyfriend. Actually it’s four years she’s been with the Cocteau after three years at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. England, following two yet earlier years at NYU (if anyone wants to do the math).

At the Cocteau she’s been Tillie in Paul Zindel’s “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds,” Claire in Jean Genet’s “The Maids,” Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” a number of other persons in a number of other works, and now Miss Prossy in a great play called “Candida,” also by Bernard Shaw.

She portrays uptight Prossy — speaks her — with a sort of squeezed-out, fluted regional accent, maybe Scots, and though it’s a minor part (Shaw would say there are no minor parts), and though there’s also not normally much to be said for UK intonations on American tongues, Ms. Holland struck this listener/viewer as one of the more interesting resources on that stage.

The center of the play itself is, as we all know, womankind as embodied in the serene, sympathetic, even-keel, ultra-capable Candida Morell, who has to choose between two men, her good, liberal, handsome 40-year-old minister husband (David Tillistrand) or the fiery, neurotic, super-perceptive little poet Eugene Marchbanks (Donaher Dempsey), a lost boy just turning 18, who wants Candida to run away with him. She famously chooses the weaker of the two.

For her part, Proserpine Garnett suffers from what Candida (Amanda Jones) terms “Prossy’s complaint.” In short, the secretary is in love with her boss, though Prossy would die before she’d admit it, even to herself.

What Prossy does admit, loud and clear — as she slams a letter out of the typewriter — is her opinion of her boss’s wife and of said employer’s open adoration of his better half:

PROSSY: Oh, a man ought to be able to be fond of his wife without making a fool of himself about her … Candida here, Candida there, and Candida everywhere. It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses to hear a woman raved about in that absurd manner merely because she’s got good hair and a tolerable figure.

 To which Prossy adds that she’s really “very fond of her, and can appreciate her real qualities better than any man can.”

Guess what:

“When you read a play,” says trouper Kate Holland, “you immediately look to see what women are in it. I’d never read ‘Candida.’ When I now read it [as auditions at the Cocteau were approaching], I immediately wanted to play Prossy. I like her. I like her prickly quality. I like it that she’s funny. And I don’t really like Candida as a person.”

You sure don’t in the play.

“I sure don’t. I find her a little bit manipulative, and self-satisfied. That’s it, self-satisfied. I just don’t like her. She’s the one in the play I’d least like to be friends with.”

Guess what again:

This writer had occasion the other day to call on Eileen Atkins, the brilliant British actor/playwright who’s gone into the role, on Broadway, of Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt.” We got talking, interviewer and interviewee, about certain latter-day Women’s Libbers who deplore Shaw’s “Candida,” seeing it an outworn argument for Woman as subservient appendage to male necessities.

“Hmpff!’ said Dame Eileen. “It’s the great play about how women get along in this world, and always have, through manipulation. And it’s high time for a Shaw revival.”

Kate Holland’s tenure with Cocteau Rep coincides with a period of considerable transition in the company — New York’s only true rotating repertory — founded 35 years ago in a Bond Street storefront by Eve Adamson.

Gone now are the core actors, the spine, the bread-and-butter — Craig Smith, Elise Stone, Harris Berlinsky — who in recent years were “marginalized,” to use Smith’s word for it, by latter-day artistic director David Fuller. (Veteran Angus Hepburn remains to give a fine, knotty performance as Candida’s corrupt old union-busting father.)

Fuller himself resigned last spring, making way for Ernest Johns to take over the artistic directorship. For the staging of “Candida,” Jones brought in Michael Halberstam, head of the highly regarded Writers’ Theatre of Chicago.

What has not changed is the need for Cocteau troupers — netting what Kate Holland calls “a stipend, even the Equity actors” — to have outside jobs for sheer economic survival. She figures her Nobu and Jekyll & Hyde tasks entail something like 30 hours a week on top of five or six shows a week — “Can’t lie down between scenes because of the corset” — at the Cocteau’s Bouwerie Lane Theater, corner of Bond Street, not to mention endless, endless hours of rehearsals and such.

Then she goes home to Brooklyn to Seth Powers, the fellow she met four summers ago at Shakespeare & Co. in the Berkshires. “He asked me to move with him to New York. So I did.” Miss Prossy would be shocked.

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