‘Our Hearts Were Young and Gay’ Runs Sept. 2-4
The young actors at Loudoun’s Jupiter Theater are on a mission to breathe new life into classic (and sometimes forgotten) plays. Their latest comedic gem is a 1940s bestseller essentially unknown to contemporary audiences. But for actor Jane White, “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” is just too funny not to share.
“It’s so funny and nobody else had ever heard of it,” said White, who fell in love with the play as a teen after coming across the first act in a literary anthology. White convinced her fellow troupe members to put on the play, based on a 1942 memoir by actress Cornelia Otis Skinner and journalist Emily Kimbrough. “Hearts” details the real-life comic adventures of two recent Bryn Mawr graduates on a European tour in the 1920s. The memoir was a New York Times bestseller and was dramatized as a three-act play in 1946 by Jean Kerr.
White plays the melodramatic Cornelia, starring with Elisabeth Kamakawiwoole as her zany and slightly neurotic best friend Emily. The friendship and dynamics between the two young women are at the heart of the play. Cornelia, who is heading to Europe to launch her career as an actress, is intent on trying out different roles on the steamship journey to Paris, while Emily spends the voyage in constant fear of drowning. On the ship, the young women meet all-American medical students Leo and Dick played by Elias Gannage and Josh Ryan, who serve as straight men to the comedic leads.
“You have a little bit of romance budding and what that looks like with these quirky characters. It’s got a little bit of an ‘I Love Lucy’ feel. …The relationship dynamics are really fun,” Kamakawiwoole said.
“The main focus of the show is very much the friendship between the two leads. But what Leo and Dick provide are the characters the girls bounce off of,” Gannage said.
The juicy roles for women and 1920s girl power message were part of the appeal for White.
“When we do a Shakespeare show—and in a lot of classical theater—there are two female roles that everybody is fighting over. That’s not the case in this one. We’ve got an opportunity for the girls to shine and really get a chance to play with their acting chops,” White said.
Jupiter’s leadership also made the decision to produce “Hearts” as a Renaissance-style show, Kamakawiwoole noted. In these productions, the company works to replicate 17th century theater practices, including a shortened rehearsal schedule and more intense rehearsal conditions. The play is fully rehearsed within the span of just one month and has no director, costume designer or props manager. Instead, individual actors are in charge of artistic direction and set their own schedules. It’s a practice that’s virtually unheard of in local theater but often used by the acclaimed American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA where Jupiter Theater founder Christian Fernandez honed his craft while earning a master’s degree in Shakespeare and performance from Mary Baldwin University. It’s an approach that’s both challenging and liberating for the actors involved.
“It’s a really interesting challenge. … In order for the show to be the best it can be, it means learning how to provide and receive feedback in a way that’s constructive,” Gannage said. “There isn’t a director with a unified vision. So it means figuring out how to work together. Running a show as a democracy is a really interesting thing that you don’t have in most theater.”
The unusual approach requires an extra level of trust and an ongoing give-and-take among actors. But White says it creates an energy that’s hard to find.
“The intensity of the rehearsal schedule—I feed on that. I live for it. It’s fast paced and interesting and just a delight,” White said. “The most exciting time for any show is dress rehearsals, tech week and performance. This process kind of isolates that energy, that sort of creative fervor.”
Kamakawiwoole adds that “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” is a family-oriented show with laughs for all ages, and the company has worked to keep ticket prices low to allow families and students to attend. The actors producing the show hope that a comedy set in the roaring ’20s that was a hit with World War II-era audiences will also resonate with fans in 2022.
“It was published at that time and popular at that time because people were looking for a little bit of an escape, something lighthearted,” White said. “And that is exactly what we’re doing now.”
Jupiter Theater Company’s production of “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” runs Friday, Sept. 2 through Sunday, Sept. 4 at Middleburg Community Center. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for students. For tickets and information, go to jupitertheatercompany.com.