Patrick Brennan’s Simon Blake and Molly Gooman’s Mary Rose.
By Stephen Press
Hometown Weekly Editor
In a pandemic-altered year that’s forced changes to nearly everything, among the more disappointing consequences has been watching young, talented members of Hometown Weekly’s communities denied their “close-ups.” It is perhaps most obvious among athletes, whose seasons - and the ways journalists cover them - have been severely restricted by COVID.
There’s another youthful contingent, though, whose penchant for collaboration and teamwork regularly brings cheering crowds to their feet: performing arts students, who have seen the avenues for their passions drastically altered by pandemic-era vigilance measures. It is particularly disheartening in Medfield, whose students carry with them a deserved reputation for excellence in music and theater.
So naturally, when I saw that the MHS Theatre Society had collaborated with Medfield TV to produce two original films, “Mary Rose” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” curiosity killed this cat. I had to see them right away. Luckily for me, they’re available to stream via Medfield TV.
Both films delivered on their promise.
Right off the bat, the viewer notices that these are not simply filmed plays; they take full advantage of the cinematic medium, which includes the ability to frame up some very lovely shots and make edits that jump in time, emphasize specific actions, and allow for rapid changes in perspective. Directors Andrea McCoy (“Mary Rose”) and Nicole Mulready (“The Tell-Tale Heart”) make a meal out of film’s inherent freedoms, and deserve a ton of credit for making these productions not simply surrogates for cancelled stage plays, but entertaining pieces that are memorable on their own. They are fitting vehicles for MHS’ talented thespians and crew.
“The Tell-Tale Heart,” based on the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe and co-adapted by McCoy and Mulready, stars Peter Travis as a murderer driven to madness. What is particularly impressive about this film is that it manages to convey the first-person tension in Poe’s text, but by using more neutral, cinematic means. Travis’ foot taps and his hands wring (and the camera focuses on the gestures, giving them further weight). His fingers rap nervously on the table and his posture becomes tense as he is grilled by the good-cop and bad-cop duo of Mel Lussier and Caitlin Knight. The signature heartbeat, which drives the short story, is ever-present.
“Mary Rose” is J.M. Barrie’s play about a woman’s two unexplained, seemingly supernatural disappearances - a short one as a child, and a much lengthier one as an adult - and how they affect those around her. Molly Gooman steals the show here as Mary Rose, who is full of whimsical, childlike energy, and, as the narrator states, a mysterious “elusiveness of which she is unaware.” Patrick Brennan as Mary Rose’s husband, Simon, is more than up to the task of matching Gooman’s stellar performance, and capably plays opposite her. Neva Fuller’s turn as the faerie narrator, meanwhile, is confident, propulsive and itself a touch mysterious - perfect for the overall vibe of the film. As in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Director Andrea McCoy takes full advantage of the filmed medium - and the need for social distancing - by setting the scenes outdoors. The result is a lush production that showcases not only the quality of Medfield’s young cast and crew, but the beauty of the town itself.
It should be stated that the crew did a phenomenal job with both of these films, and that the decisions made by the directors were carried out wonderfully by those behind the scenes. There are moments in “Mary Rose” in which you could fool yourself into thinking you’re watching an episode of Masterpiece Theater. Credit also belongs to the brilliant individuals at Medfield TV, whose service to the community during COVID-19 has been nothing short of inspiring.
There’s something special and arresting about a stage play, especially one that features your closest friends and colleagues. It is indeed a shame that the individuals behind both “Mary Rose” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” weren’t able to strut their stuff under the bright lights of Lowell Mason Auditorium with their peers watching intently. With that said, there’s also something uniquely special about a feature-length film, produced under the pressure of a globe-stopping pandemic, captured for the ages.
Medfield arts fans, take note: these young men and women are ready for their close-ups.