By David Brooks Andrews
WELLESLEY—When Wellesley Summer Theatre opens its production of “And a Nightingale Sang,” the cast will be familiar to audiences who have followed the close-knit company over the years, with one exception.
Will Bouvier will be a new face, unless you happened to catch him several months ago in the Wellesley College Theatre’s production of “An American Wife.” Bouvier lives in Shirley with his wife and his five-year-old stepson, whom he calls his best friend.
He was returning from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, where he had attended a screening of “Black Rock,” in which he’s featured with Katie Aselton, who also directed the film, when he received an e-mail from his sister about auditions at Wellesley College. “I wanted to keep the ball rolling,” he said. So he went to the auditions and was cast in “An American Wife,” which led to his current role in WST’s professional production of “Nightingale” by C.P. Taylor.
“Nightingale” is a bittersweet comedy about a family in Newcastle upon Tyne, on the northeast coast of England, during World War II. “The family is a group of eccentrics who love each other but are over the top with their lives and problems,” said Bouvier. “It is a comedy of amazing personalities in the midst of the tragedy of World War II.”
He plays Norman, a British soldier who takes an interest in Helen, a woman with a limp who never thought of herself as appealing to men. “Norman is not forthcoming,” said Bouvier. “He tries to hide things from people as long as he can, until the jig is up, but he doesn’t do it maliciously.”
The title of the play was taken from the song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square,” which Vera Lynn sang to the troops during the Second World War. The father of the family, George, plunks the song out on a piano as he and others sing it. But the show is a comedy/drama with music sprinkled in, not a musical with characters bursting into song.
As Bouvier has worked on the role of Norman, he’s struggled with disliking him and liking him so much that he finds it hard to admit that what he does is wrong. “He parallels myself so much it scares me,” he said. “Not that I’ve made mistakes like his, but I know that he means so well while he’s doing it the wrong way.” Bouvier won’t reveal what Norman’s mistakes are so audiences will be surprised.
All of the actors, except for Bouvier, speak in Newcastle’s Geordie dialect, which sounds Scottish. He has to speak with a Brummie accent, since his character is from Birmigham. He said it sounds a like a Liverpool or Cockney accent. He loves accents and dialects and won an award for using them in plays while studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. But he’s finding it a challenge to preserve his Brummie vowels while the others use their Geordie ones.
One of the reasons for the two different accents is to underscore how much of an outsider Norman is to the family. Bouvier found that being a newcomer to a cast that has worked together for years, in spite of their warm welcome, helped him to understand something of Norman’s position as an outsider to Helen’s family. After several weeks of working with the cast, however, he said, “We’re a family now.”
Bouvier has deep family roots in the entertainment and theater industry. His grandfather, Mickey Alpert, was a casting agent and a bandleader. He had just started to conduct the National Anthem at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub when the terrible fire broke out on November 28, 1942. He survived by breaking out a basement window and helped to save several people. His mother is host of the weekly talk show “Around Town with Jane Bouvier” on the Groton Channel, a local community access station.
Bouvier’s first role in theater was as a young street urchin in “Oliver!” He turned to a fellow child actor and asked, “Is this the way it always is?” referring to the lights, costumes and excitement. He knew immediately it was what he wanted to do with his life. And now he’s waiting for this summer’s opening of the film “Black Rock” and the boost it could give his career.
As Bouvier makes his first appearance with Wellesley Summer Theatre, Derek Stone Nelson, a founding member and mainstay of the company, will be making what’s probably his last stage appearance for a while as the father in “Nightingale.” Nelson recently accepted the position of director of drama at Roxbury Latin School and expects to have his hands full as he gets established there.
Nelson has performed in many WST shows, often playing the male lead. Some of his favorite productions include “An Ideal Husband” and “The Trip to Bountiful.” He won an Independent Reviewers of New England Best Actor award for his work in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“It has been a great artistic home for me,” said Nelson. “ I value the solid friendships with people I’ve worked with there.”
Even with a company as close as WST’s, occasionally new actors arrive with their gifts, and deeply loved ones, who’ve been with the company for a long time, step into the wings for a while as they take on new assignments.
WHAT: “And a Nightingale Sang” by C.P Taylor
May 24-June 24
Wellesley Summer Theatre, Wellesley College
Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre
$20/$10 for students and seniors