Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 22
Spend time with DaddyPCPA's production of Daddy Long Legs is a winner
BY SHELLY CONE
One of the basic rules of writing is “show, don’t tell” when engaging a reader in a story. This rules seems logical—not to mention easy—when it comes to writing a play. After all, it is a show.
When a play is about a writer, however, and the plot revolves around letters, it might be best to focus less on the obviousness of the show and focus more on the tell.
In Daddy Long Legs, the latest offering from PCPA, there’s a lot of telling going on—but it adds a lyrical beauty to an otherwise minimal production. The entire musical is carried by two actors: Ephie Aardema as Jerusha Abbot and Kevin Earley as Jervis Pendleton.
A library is the backdrop, standing in as a study, an orphanage, a college, and a farmhouse. the main props are several trunks and a few books. With such sparse resources, the talented production staff at PCPA does some amazing things.
The story, from the Tony and Olivier Award-winning director of Les Miserables John Caird, and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, involves an orphan gifted with a college education by a wealthy benefactor: Jervis Pendleton, who wishes to remain anonymous and so goes by the name Mr. John Smith. He pays for tuition, room, and board in order for Jerusha to pursue a career as a writer. As a requirement of the funding, Jerusha is to send him letters once a month detailing her life, in much the way she would send them to her parents if they were alive. Jerusha sees Mr. Smith only once, the light casting a long shadow, so she decides to call him Daddy Long Legs in her letters.
Jervis, who had no intent of getting to know the subject of his generosity, reads the letters and is enthralled by her personality and wit. She tells him about her friends and her life in college; she asks him for advice and begs him to respond. With each letter, Jervis becomes even more intrigued with this young woman he’s never seen.
Jerusha, on the other hand, desperately wants to meet this man to whom she pours out her heart yet knows nothing about. To help her feel like she knows something about him, Jerusha creates an identity for him, imagining him as an old man, so she never suspects when Jervis comes to meet her as her best friend’s uncle. After spending time with Jerusha, he falls for her but can’t figure out how to tell her he deceived her.
Aardema, as Jerusha, is absolutely charming. She expertly captures the wide-eyed wonder, vulnerability, and honesty of a young woman first seeing the world, moving the audience to delight when she writes with excitement about all the things she’s learned, and then alternately causing viewers to feel her pain when she expresses frustration that her benefactor knows everything about her but refuses to communicate with even one letter.
When Jerusha writes to Daddy about her feelings for Jervis—not knowing they’re one and the same—she talks about how proper he is until he laughs like a boy, but then seems to feel embarrassed about it. Earley portrays that perfect balance between a sophisticated, formal businessman and a lovestruck—and jealous—young man.
The minimal set, by Olivier Award-winner David Farley, is used in interesting ways. The story unfolds over a four-year period, and handwriting is projected on a wall to highlight the passing of each year. The effect is also often used when letters are being sent back and forth. One style of handwriting is projected for Jerusha, another style for Jervis. Typewritten words are employed when Jervis sends off terse letters from Mr. Smith’s “secretary.”
Lighting helps to set the scene from the college campus to the farm where Jerusha summers. The trunks that litter the stage not only represent the instability in Jerusha’s life, but also hold the dresses into which she changes to represent her growth into a sophisticated academic.
You won’t see it from the audience, but the production also features a live orchestra. Sitting behind the stage, the musicians deliver an emotionally moving soundtrack that’s so flawless, there’s no way of knowing it isn’t a recording.
Daddy Long Legs has a keen balance of romance, wit, emotion and humor. It’s a real feel-good story.
Arts Editor Shelly Cone wonders which is better, showing off or telling off? Contact her at email@example.com.