“An Afternoon In France” Explores Family Secrets

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(Host) David Moats is perhaps best known as the editorial writer for the Rutland Herald – work that’s earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 2001.  But Moats is also a playwright.  His fifth and newest work, "An Afternoon in France" will premiere Thursday, February 16th, at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury.  

VPR’s Nina Keck went backstage and has this report. 

(Keck) David Moats began writing plays in the 1980s.   While his work as a journalist immerses him in the local and distant events of real life, writing for the stage he says is more intense – more personal.

(Moats) "Plays come from inside – things that I’m feeling and thinking and then finding ways to depict it."

(Keck) His most recent play, An Afternoon in France" tells the story of a soldier from World War One and the three generations of his family that followed.

(Moats) "This whole play started because I was wondering about my own grandfather, then I saw this documentary at one point and I saw a little snippet of film of a soldier standing and watching a train go by.  And I thought – wow, who is this guy?   This guy who had a life and what was his life all about?"

(Keck) Moats tells that soldier’s story in fragments – some dating back to 1918 – others from present day.

(Moats) "The play begins with these two British camera men in 1918 and they’re taking a movie of an American soldier standing watching a train go by. And then the man from the present day walks through the scene and the men from 1918 freeze and the guy says . " 

"That’s my grandfather a long time ago – a warm summer day and a couple Brits come by making a film of World War One ."

(Keck)  Actor Scott Atherton plays Michael Branch, a middle aged professor who’s going through a kind of midlife crisis.   Almost as a way to understand himself better, Branch begins to ask his father questions about his father – the soldier in the newsreel. 

(Scene)  "Looking at grandpa in that film, I started to think – about what?  well he was engaged to grandma right?  that’s right.  Wasn’t there was a story about a French girl? – There are lots of stories Mike. . ."

(Walsh) I think what the audience is going to see is clues – as we move back and forth from 1918 to present day and they’re going to pick up little bits about relationships. "

(Keck) That’s Cathy Walsh – she plays Carol Branch – Michael’s wife.

(Walsh) "There are secrets – everybody in this show – almost everybody has a secret and that’s part of the tension of what’s happening on stage and what makes it so much fun.  And I think what David’s done really a terrific job at is actually tying these family lines together and how this secret or group of secrets has traveled from one generation to the next."

(Keck)  Secrets about love about longing and about betrayal.   David Moats nods.

(Moats) "At one point the central character says we’re all living the same story.  Because everybody has their struggles and as things come to life we realize we’re all in this together – this life."

(Keck)  The Middlebury Community Players will present David Moat’s "An Afternoon in France" Thursday through Sunday at the Middlebury Town Hall Theater.  

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

Showtime will be 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16; Friday, Feb. 17; and Saturday, Feb. 18. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 19.

Tickets are available from the Town Hall Theater box office at (802) 382-9222 Monday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. or online at www.townhalltheater.org.


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