Seth Duerr and Kate Holland in the Jean Cocteau Repertory Companys 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.
Im dressed up as a maid named Anemia Kilgore, and I chat with the customers. Thats 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-Broadways Jean Cocteau Repertory Company.
How young? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?
Ill 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 its four years shes 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 shes been Tillie in Paul Zindels The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Claire in Jean Genets The Maids, Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaws 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 its a minor part (Shaw would say there are no minor parts), and though theres 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 Prossys complaint. In short, the secretary is in love with her boss, though Prossy would die before shed 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 bosss wife and of said employers 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. Its enough to drive anyone out of their senses to hear a woman raved about in that absurd manner merely because shes got good hair and a tolerable figure.
To which Prossy adds that shes really very fond of her, and can appreciate her real qualities better than any man can.
When you read a play, says trouper Kate Holland, you immediately look to see what women are in it. Id 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 shes funny. And I dont really like Candida as a person.
You sure dont in the play.
I sure dont. I find her a little bit manipulative, and self-satisfied. Thats it, self-satisfied. I just dont like her. Shes the one in the play Id 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 whos gone into the role, on Broadway, of Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanleys Doubt. We got talking, interviewer and interviewee, about certain latter-day Womens Libbers who deplore Shaws Candida, seeing it an outworn argument for Woman as subservient appendage to male necessities.
Hmpff! said Dame Eileen. Its the great play about how women get along in this world, and always have, through manipulation. And its high time for a Shaw revival.
Kate Hollands tenure with Cocteau Rep coincides with a period of considerable transition in the company New Yorks 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 Smiths word for it, by latter-day artistic director David Fuller. (Veteran Angus Hepburn remains to give a fine, knotty performance as Candidas 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 Cant lie down between scenes because of the corset at the Cocteaus 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.