Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine, directed by Mary A. James, is Church Hill Theatre’s first 2019 show. The play is a vintage American drama, with several heroic characters, an attractive villain, charming children, and a few comic moments along the way. It’s also a “traditional” CHT production, with an elegantly furnished living room set and costumes that match the period. The production opens on Friday, January 18 and will run for three weekends.
But Watch on the Rhine is much more than a drawing room comedy—it is an eloquent defense of American democratic values and responsibilities. Although written shortly before the outbreak of WWII as an anti-Nazi statement, it still resonates strongly and has enjoyed a number of recent revivals. The original play won the 1941 Drama Critics’ Circle Award and was made into a film starring Bette Davis.
Watch on the Rhine takes place in 1940 at Fanny Farrelly’s estate near Washington, DC, where she and her lawyer son David eagerly await the arrival of his sister, Sara Muller, and her family. Sara, married to a German patriot, for twenty years has made a new life in Europe, far from her domineering mother. Tensions arise when Fanny’s houseguests, a titled Romanian couple, meddle in family affairs. What is going on between the Countess and David Farrelly? And is the Count a Nazi—or just a cad? Matters are resolved during a long cocktail hour that reveals secrets and rips apart Fanny’s comfortably complacent life.
Jane Copple takes on the role of Fanny Farrelly, a cosmopolitan and well-connected matron who is perhaps too used to getting her own way. Darlene Greer portrays Fanny’s daughter, Sara Muller, stronger than we first think. Robert McGrory plays Kurt Muller, a former engineer and anti-Nazi activist. Lisa Wojehowski, Calla McCluskey, and Connor Christopher play their children, Joshua, Babette and Bodo. Complicating matters are Fanny’s houseguests, the sinisterly attractive Count Teck de Brancovis, played by Will Robinson, and his American-born wife Marthe, played by Genevieve Croker. Howard Mesick portrays Fanny’s lawyer son David, a man who finds more backbone as his comfortable world changes. Sheila Austrian plays Fanny’s French housekeeper/companion Anise.
James, with substantial experience at St. Martin’s Community Theatre and the Colonial Players, is making her directorial debut at Church Hill Theatre. Her production team includes Producer Hester Sachse and Lighting Designer Doug Kaufmann. The set was designed by the director and Temple Worth and constructed by Carmen Grasso. Speedy Christopher will be helping backstage.
Watch on the Rhine will open on January 18, 2019 and run until February 3. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm. Special two-for-one ticket pricing is available for the opening night. Reservations can be made on line at churchhilltheatre.org or by calling 410-556-6003.