By SUE SUCHYTA
The Players Guild of Dearborn announced the cast of Bernard Slade’s romantic comedy “Return Engagements” on Jan. 15, a decision director Mike Moseley of Allen Park said was very difficult.
“This is a great cast,” Moseley said. “I lucked out big time, and as is true of the Guild, our auditions were an embarrassment of riches, and so it was a struggle to piece the people together, and a lot of that had to do with look and age. I had a great set of people to be able to choose from and we came up with a cast that I think will present this script really well.”
The show runs for three weekends, March 1 to 3, 8 to 10 and 15 to 17, with 8 p.m. shows Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. For tickets, call 313-561-TKTS, and go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org for show times and more information.
Slade, who wrote “Same Time, Next Year” and “Romantic Comedy,” once again shows in a play how his characters change over time.
“Return Engagements” initially spotlights three couples: A tipsy actress and a bellboy who have just had a one-night stand; a strong-willed Polish woman who survived World War II and the man whose baby she hopes to conceive, and an acerbic columnist and his aloof psychotherapist wife who are about to end their relationship.
Audiences then see what happens to the couples 20, 25 and 30 years later, the path their lives followed and how their stories intersect.
The cast includes Tiffany Mullins of Livonia as Daisy Lawrence and Brian Townsend of Dearborn as Raymond MacKay, and Chris Boudreau of Dearborn as Joe Bristol and Kori Bielaniec of Livonia as both Miranda Jablonski and Miranda Nigorski, mother and daughter.
Alan Ellias of Farmington Hills plays Oliver Edwards and Margaret Kinnell of Dearborn portrays Fern Edwards, with Kirk Haas of Inkster as Henry Metcalf and Kate McClaine of Detroit as Dawn Hammond.
Mullins said she enjoys playing the part of Daisy because of the variety of emotions she expresses and the turbulence the character has had in her life. She said Daisy also has to decide what will bring her happiness in her life.
“She has big decisions to make and then has to live with the consequences, as do we all,” Mullins said. “Daisy had to learn the hard way about finding some happiness in her life.”
Boudreau said he liked the relationship between Joe and the Mirandas when he read the script for the show.
“I think Joe’s big heart and his ability to take care of people is what drew me to this character,” Boudreau said.
Boudreau said the range of emotions he must convey as Joe is challenging.
“Joe goes through a rollercoaster of emotions,” Boudreau said, “Finally coming full circle and being happy in the end.”
Moseley said the show’s happy ending appeals to him as well, and he wanted to direct the show because of the way the characters express humor.
“I grew up with this kind of show,” Moseley said. “In the ’70s and ’80s, my own awakening in theater was with this style of romantic comedy. What’s wonderful about this particular show and of this genre of show is that it’s not all slapstick, it’s not all about the joke; the humor is in the situation, but made real by the depth of the character. These characters are not caricatures – they are very much real people.”
Moseley said audience members might see themselves in the play’s characters as they struggle with love and learn about themselves.
“There is humor and charm and a little pathos, and all of the things that are true about love come out in ‘Return Engagements,’” Moseley said.
The show starts in the 1950s, and the characters age between 20 and 30 years, with the exception of Bielaniec, who plays two characters, a mother and her daughter.
The first Miranda that Bielaniec plays is a Polish immigrant in the 1950s, and the second Miranda is her daughter, raised in Canada. The two characters are very similar, except for the accent.
“I get to play my own daughter and my own mother,” Bielaniec said.
Bielaniec is part Polish, and remembers her grandmother speaking with a Polish accent when she was a child. She said she had a friend write out Miranda’s lines phonetically to help her deliver a Polish accent for her audition.
“I really like the idea of visiting characters – seeing them at one point in their life and then seeing them at another point,” Bielaniec said. “Obviously it’s a little different with mine – it is two different people – but just the play as a whole, seeing how these characters have aged and matured or not matured is a really fun journey to go on with all of the other actors and to see what they do with their parts.”
Moseley said the character aging happens more through their acting than through makeup and costumes.
“You can’t make up, you can’t costume for character,” Moseley said. “The makeup and costume only enhance and support what the actor is able to do. So we’re going to work real hard with these actors at finding a specific youthfulness right in their 20, late twentysomething character.”
He said the characters in the second act are his age, which he said is easy for him to direct but could be a challenge for some of the actors to master.
Moseley said the storylines, which are standalone, come together as well.
“Maybe this is just what I lean into,” Moseley said. “A lot of theater doesn’t end nice necessarily. Well, you know, this show ends nice. It is a happy ending – people will enjoy this.”
He said “Return Engagements” is a different type of comedy than “First Things First,” the Guild’s previous offering, which was a classic farce.
“It will bring a tear to people’s eyes,” Moseley said. “As well as another moment where people will have tears coming out of their eyes because (when) they’re crying, they’ll be laughing.”
He said he does not think he could have directed this show 20 or 30 years ago.
“There’s a wonderful resonance in how life teaches us,” Moseley said. “With age comes grace and wisdom. And I think this show speaks to that very well.”