February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 37°F


Ithaca’s own nonsense

There’s a new kind of “Precious” in town. It’s not a candidate for an Academy Award but is instead a local theater encore production titled “Precious Nonsense” at the Kitchen Theatre.

Written by the Kitchen Theatre’s artistic director Rachel Lampert, “Precious Nonsense,” was originally performed in 2005 at the theater. The musical is influenced by the lyrics and music of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, two Victorian-era composers who wrote comic operas such as “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Mikado.” The show provides powerful vocals and sidesplitting laughter for the entire family.

Lampert said she believes in the idea that theater is an escape from everyday life.

“We brought it back because it was very popular five years ago, and we thought it would be a great way to get through the winter doldrums,” she said.

“Precious Nonsense” will be one of the last few productions at the Kitchen Theatre’s historic Clinton House location. Lampert said she hopes the Kitchen Theatre will be relocated to the new space on West State Street by May.

The story of “Precious Nonsense” focuses on the touring company of the Carter Family Savoyards. The ensemble travels the country performing Gilbert and Sullivan classics, all while exploring their romantic relationships. It’s their mediocre performance of “Pirates of Penzance” in the second act that generates the most laughs. In the end, each character finds his or her true love, learning that there is more to love than what’s on the outside.

The play is set in 1938 during the Great Depression. The life of a touring company is unpredictable and members of the troupe do whatever they can to earn a paycheck. Lampert said this social climate is appropriate for 2010, as well.

“People are going a long way to make a buck and to make ends meet, so it’s timeliness, and it’s a period piece,” she said.

Ithaca College freshman Kurt Merrill, a musical theater major, plays Samuel Stapleton in “Precious Nonsense.” Samuel is the son of the theater director who demands a performance of “Pirates of Penzance” from the family.

Merrill got the part after being recommended by Susannah Berryman, an associate professor of theater arts at the college. He said he was grateful for the connections he has made in the college’s theater department.

“My training [at Ithaca College] really helped me, especially in the analysis of the script and picking up little things that help the development of my character,” he said.

Erica Steinhagen ’99 plays Josephine, a company member of the Carter Family Savoyards. She said the show is different because it’s a “backstage comedy” — really showing all of the things that can go wrong in a production, while hoping things don’t actually go wrong in real life.

Underneath the riotous moments and mayhem, Merrill said he thinks “Precious Nonsense” will remind audiences to take life as it comes and learn to laugh at it. Steinhagen seconds this idea with the common theater phrase, “The show must go on.”

Lampert drew inspiration from Gilbert and Sullivan when it came to naming the show.

“It’s actually a quote from Gilbert and Sullivan,” she said. “‘Nonsense, yes, perhaps — but, oh, what precious nonsense!’”

Lampert said love is one of the main themes in the play.

“It’s very much about how love has the potential to transform us and conquer all,” she said.

Lampert said she wants people to come because the show will also touch on a vital part of life — amusement.

“Laughter is absolutely critical to people,” she said. “We have to sometimes laugh, like really laugh, almost in a cathartic way. Uncontrollable laughing is just as cleansing as uncontrollable crying.”

Lampert said the show will please any theatergoer.

“People who like good music should come too because the space is so small that when eight people are singing, it resonates with your sternum, and it’s pretty extraordinary,” Lampert said.

“Precious Nonsense” will warm the hearts of all audience members in the cold month of January here in Ithaca, Lampert said.

“This play has a remedy for what ails you, which is laughter,” she said.