Performing arts faculty member Darlene Anastas has been teaching at Milton since 1981. This year’s production of No Mother to Guide Her by Anthony Forsythe will be the first production of its genre to be staged at Milton in her 27 years. No Mother to Guide Her is old-fashioned melodrama, rife with ladies feigning “Help! Help!” and villains twirling their handlebar mustaches. Melodramatic acting is new to Milton students.
The tale’s heroine, Spring Overton, has lost her memory and turns up on the steps of the Vandenburgh home. The villainous rogue, Talbot Twillingham, does his best to woo Spring, but she denies his advances. Scorned, Talbot turns against Spring and the Vandenburgh family; his intents are foiled in the nick of time by the manly hero, Casper Vandenburgh.
“We’re staging this production in the style of high melodrama,” explains Dar Anastas, director of the production. “We have ladies in hoop skirts and bonnets, and men in frock coats. We also have all the stock characters—the villain, the hero, the heroine, the French maid, the butler, the gossip. Melodramas by nature do not have strong scripts, so the performance and direction have to be that much stronger.”
Since the students have had no experience with this type of acting, and no real point of reference, Dar sent them to study some unlikely sources: 1960s cartoons such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and Underdog where damsels are in distress, villains are thwarted, and heroes save the day. “The students had so much fun with this,” Dar says. “Rehearsals brought lots of laughter.”
Because Dar wanted to underscore the scenes with music, she searched for instrumental pieces that would add to the mood but avoid ready-made connotations for the audience. An online search turned up some silent film sheet music that Dar pitched to classical pianist Jaclyn Siu (II), pianist for the production. Just as the acting style was new to the actors, this type of music was new to Jaclyn. Dar enlisted Alison Brace (I) to act as a “musical translator.” “Jaclyn had neither heard nor played ragtime music before, so getting used to it took time,” Dar explains. “Each of the characters has his or her own musical accompaniment, which typically announces their arrival on stage. Some of that was developed by my saying to Ali, ‘Okay, I need a little duh-dum-dum-daaahere,’ and Ali would turn to Jaclyn and say, ‘We need an F flat.’
“The thing that made this play so fun to do was that everyone was such a willing participant—they were all excited to explore and to learn something new. My only regret is that we don’t have another season to [continue studying this genre]. We’ve only had time to do a broad sweep of what’s involved, but it’s a great show and a good night out for everyone—adults and children alike.”
No Mother to Guide Her will take place in Ruth King Theatre on Thursday, February 21 and Friday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday, February 23 at 7 p.m. For ticket information, please contact Dar at firstname.lastname@example.org.