The Stratton Players present ‘The Dresser'

Margaret Smith

A radio crackles with music that is chipper and wistful in turns.

This is the background sound of England during World War II, yet even here, in this unnamed place in the provinces, no one is immune from fear.

Everyone struggles to tries to carry on, including a thespian (John McAuliffe) famous for playing Shakespearean roles. But even if this were a more peaceful time, he’d be under siege.

 His hands shake, and he has to be reminded that he’s playing King Lear tonight – even as he reaches for the dark makeup of Othello.

Palsy and confusion notwithstanding, he’s clear on one thing. He wants everyone to call him by the title, “Sir” – a specious demand, as he has never been knighted – and insists his partner, (Ioanna Karamanou) who is his put-upon Cordelia, be referred to as “Her Ladyship.”

It’s up to his personal assistant, Norman, (Victor Dupuis,) plays along with fantasies lived out onstage and off, and keeps his charge’s fragmented world on its axis.

The Stratton Players’ production of “The Dresser,” a 1980 play by Ronald Harwood based loosely on Harwood's real-life relationship with a classical stage star, is true to the comedic drama about an actor in winter and those in his orbit who depend on his viability for their own.

In this small playhouse, a spare stage is transformed innovatively to convey a multi-dimensional setting.

The rapport between Norman and Sir is a natural blend of tenderness and friction in Dupuis’ and McAuliffe’s renderings; they are supported by a strong cast that gives the most incidental parts a subtle forcefulness.

Steely and compassionate, often wryly funny, this interpretation disarms as it reaches from the turbulence of a past era to our own.

The Stratton Players present ‘The Dresser,’ by Ronald Harwood. Directed by Amy Newberg. Starring Victor Dupuis, John McAuliffe, Ioanna Karamanou, and Lynne Armstrong,. At the Stratton Playhouse, 60 Wallace Ave., Fitchburg, with performances through Sunday, June 15. With dinner theater performances Friday, June 13, at The Fay Club in Fitchburg.. For more information, call 978-345-6066 or visit www.strattonplayers.com.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor for Community Newspaper Company’s northwest unit. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.