Camille, or ‘La Dame aux Camelias’, is a translation of a French play by Alexandre Dumas Fils originally written in 1848. It is now being presented by Independent Players at Elgin Art Showcase through March 19th and the effort and intensity that has gone into bringing it to the stage has to be respected and admired.
In many ways the dedication of the cast and their embrace of each other to deliver a quality product is enough to warrant purchasing tickets to see this magnificent script brought to life.
I was originally slated to review Camille’s opening night, but some unforeseen cast illnesses caused a delay in the production schedule. The show will now have its opening on March 10 and will run through the 19th in what has the potential to be an amazing production.
A SNEAK PEEK
My schedule will not allow me to attend the new opening weekend for Independent Players’ Camille, but I did have the opportunity to see it in rehearsals. It would be unfair to review a production as complex and powerful as Camile based only on what was seen during the rehearsal process, but what I saw was enough to know that this is a production that has a lot of talented people in the cast and the script itself is a bonafide classic.
Camille is a play in five acts that has thematic similarities to the Baz Luhrmann musical Mulan Rouge!, The story follows a young lady, Marguerite Gautier, suffering from consumption, who decides to lift herself from a life of poverty by serving as a courtesan to a wealthy Baron. She then finds her life turned around when she falls in love with a young man with a passionate heart but no wealth.
While the riveting script requires a full ensemble of skilled performers, the actress playing the central role of Marguerite carries the success of the entire show on her shoulders. To be believable, it is a role that requires talent, beauty, and a tender emotional touch. For the Independent Players production, these duties fall to Trace Gamache.
“I don’t know of any other working actress who could pull off this role the way Trace does,” director Donald J. Haefliger told me as we watched Gamache breath life into the role at a recent rehearsal. “I am so lucky to have her. I count my lucky stars every day.”
I have had the pleasure of working opposite Gamache, and I have made no secret that I find her to be an incredible actress. She won a Heartstrings Award for her performance opposite me in I Hate Hamlet in 2022. So, I understand where Haefliger’s high praise comes from.
Indeed, Gamache has the prerequisite talent and beauty to do the role justice. What I saw in rehearsal and what her castmates have to say about her is proof positive that she is up to the challenges of what some call ‘the role of a lifetime.”
Gamache instills in her character the elegance of a socialite and the heart of a soul that dreams of love but fears it will never be worthy of receiving it. Or, if it does get blessed with the emotions of such feelings, that love will be mercilessly torn away.
She is one of those actresses who is always exploring the nuances of her character. It is a delight to see the thought process in her eyes as her character goes through changes in heart and ideals. There is an inherent openness as she lets the audience inside her private world.
Gamache is not the only performer in Camille who I have had the pleasure of working with. The cast includes such favorites of mine as Karen Greuel, Travis Greuel, Steve Connell, Jim Pierce, and Matt Hordyke. Anyone who has seen these performers knows that they have the level of talent to shine in any part. I could not be a bigger cheerleader for them.
The cast also features a number of other talented thespians that are new to me, but not to the theater community on the whole. It’s always exciting to get to experience talents I’ve personally never seen on stage before.
For Camille, the other talents include Gabor Mark, Rebecca Stellato, Laura Schaefer, Brian Varchmin, Steve Delaney, and Jay Stienke. Director Haefliger has worked with many of the actors before.
“I trust these people. When you have actors who have worked together before, they know they can count on each other. I know I can trust them to do anything that needs to be done,” praised Haefliger of his cast.
In some cases, Haefliger’s relationships with his actors dates back to the 1970s. That’s a long-term bond by anyone’s book. Yet that doesn’t mean Haefliger is opposed to working with new talent.
At 18 years old, Jay Stienke is doing his first production with Haefliger, and like the rest of the cast has thrown himself into putting on the best show possible. He exemplifies the way the cast works together to navigate the intricacies of putting on a show as demanding as Camille.
THE TIME IS RIGHT
“Theaters don’t do shows like this often,” Haefliger confided in me, explaining how he had wanted to do this show for years but needed to feel confident he had the talent available to do it justice. “These actors are so good. People are going to be blown away.”
From my time with the cast in rehearsal, I can affirm that there are really talented people in this show. Of the new talents I wasn’t familiar with before, Gabor Mark stands out with his power and sense of indignity playing a less than appealing Baron. Rebecca Stellato is also excellent; she has a very truthful and sincere onstage delivery that invites the audience in.
Brian Varchmin in particular deserves grand praise. He has stepped into a sizable role with just four rehearsals and yet manages to blend seamlessly into the ensemble.
Independent Player’s production of Camille is what theater is all about – good people getting together to combine their talents in an effort to entertain others. Part of theater is overcoming challenges, like illnesses and casting changes.
Haefliger and his cast have faced their fair share of challenges bringing Camille to life, but they have risen to the occasion. When Camille opens, the cast can be proud of what they have worked together to achieve.
As an actor, director, and theater lover myself, I could not be prouder of the sense of teamwork and camaraderie that the cast of Camille showed during rehearsals. It is that level of dedication that will impress audiences with this gritty yet poignant tragedy. I suggest you give it a try.
Camille plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through March 19th. Performances take place at Elgin Art Showcase (164 Division Street, 8th Floor, Elgin, IL).
For tickets visit www.IndependentPlayers.org or call (847) 697-7374.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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What a tribute to a dedicated and talented cast. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of them! Break legs!