Town Players’ summer production celebrates the 1940s
NEW CANAAN — Stratford resident Richard Mancini fell in love with the World War II era as a teenager when he was helping with a newspaper drive and found a stack of magazines from the 1940s.
“What interests me most was the way the country pulled together and how it was part of the fabric of life, doing whatever you can to win the war,” Mancini said.
Mancini is actually getting the chance to share his love of that time period, thanks to an idea by Sheri Dean, president of the Town Players of New Canaan. To celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary, Dean suggested directors this season find a show from the 1940s and Mancini was quick to jump at the opportunity.
Combining his interest in theater history and World War II, Mancini, a 14-year veteran of the Town Players, found “John Loves Mary,” which opened on Broadway in 1947. A romantic comedy, the play tells the story of two soldiers who’ve returned home to their sweethearts, their homecomings complicated by mistaken identity and good intentions gone awry.
The show is the fourth one Mancini has directed for the Town Players. His knowledge and passion of the period has helped him out with everything from costumes to props, some of which he provided from his own collection, such as furniture from the ‘40s and his own personal magazines. His insight has also been helpful for cast members in their 20s who make up half the cast.
“One of my passions is wartime America, World War II, the homefront, the culture and everything that entails that,” he said. “I’ve just been really interested in that since my teens — that’s always been something that’s been important to me and exposing that to a younger generation is kind of cool.”
That younger generation includes Sally Rose Zuckert, 20, who plays one of the leads, Mary, a senator’s daughter who’s been awaiting the return of her fiance, John. A rising junior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Zuckert studies English and theater with a minor in women’s studies, which has made the play a learning experience for her about many aspects of the 1940s, including how women were viewed.
See the show
“John Loves Mary” runs July 28 through August 12. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors over 62 and students. For showtimes and more information, visit tpnc.org.
“I study a lot of women’s empowerment and history, but it is quite the experience to encounter language or events in a play that don’t align with modern perspectives,” she said. “But it is something to consider. I think of most things in terms of being a woman, because it’s important to me. It provided the opportunity to have in-depth conversations about what it was like to be a woman in the 1940s. It provides unique perspective I wouldn’t have ordinarily.”
While some of the language of the show veers into the antiquated (one particular line that made Zuckert laugh was “Don’t worry, this is women’s work”), the longtime New Canaan resident still feels Mary is a strong, female character.
“What’s cool about ‘John Loves Mary’ is values,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with trust, loyalty and love — a lot of things we have to deal with today. It’s been a chance for me to make Mary a more witty, sort of outspoken character versus someone passive.”
Despite some of the antiquities of the show, a lot of the joy of it is bringing back these memories for older audience members.
“At school, I do a lot of modern theater,” Zuckert said. “What is really great about doing this show is it’s the time of our grandparents and it’s recent enough that there are people alive who can say, ‘I went through that.’ For the older people who come to show, they’re going to recognize that and bring up little memories. It’s easy for an actor to Google images or see old images, but that’s not our reality. For them, it was their reality. It’s the 70th anniversary, so it’s great we can do a show from the year [the Town Players of New Canaan] opened.”