A Taste of Home: Behind the Scenes of Broth, This Semester’s School Play

By Peter Andreas

It’s a dark, chilly evening in early February, but as students begin to gather inside Landmark College’s Greenhoe Theater, the air seems to crackle with a sort of nervous energy. This anticipatory atmosphere seems to be justified—tonight is one of the last rehearsals before the premier of Broth, a three-act comedic play set to debut on the Friday of Family Weekend.

After a few opening pleasantries, it’s time to begin. “All right, everyone,” calls the director, Nevada Bromley, “Places for the start of act one!” Members of the cast scurry off to the wings, and soon the lights fade on to reveal another world.

It’s early springtime in the year 1969. As America struggles with the war in Vietnam and protests mount across the nation, many people are feeling lost in the relentless current of societal change and future uncertainty. But for the inhabitants of a small town nestled among the rocky outcrops of the New England coast, an otherwise inconspicuous boarding house provides refuge from the chaotic world. The boarding house is run by Nell Bannister, a strong, independent woman in her middle years. She is assisted by her orphaned niece Justine, and a wise, older gentleman named Mr. Waters who makes the delicious broth that gives the play its title.

The boarding house is home to colorful characters from all walks of life, and is also the meeting place of a weekly support group called the “Quit Smokers”. When the local bank suddenly threatens to foreclose on the property, all the members of this unlikely community must band together to save their home, and themselves.

Broth holds a special importance for Nevada Bromley, who is the show’s playwright as well as its director. Nevada spent much of her childhood during the sixties, and has fond memories of her parents’ diverse community of friends. “I took in the images that I saw around me,” she says. “I took in the pop era, and Andy Warhol, and Gloria Steinem. My mother was very much into the sixties movement, and I was also around quite a few people who still kind of had a foot in the fifties, and even the forties and thirties.”

But on a deeper level, Nevada can strongly remember the warm, communal atmosphere of the social environment she was raised in. It is this feeling in particular that serves as the basis for Broth. “That kind of homey, comfortable, connected feeling that’s in the play was very much there for me at that particular time in my life,” she explains.

Despite being rooted in early childhood experiences, Broth was not truly conceived until the fall of 2010, when Nevada was working on another production with a talented cast of young performers. “Coming out of that play, I was feeling really energized instead of tired,” Nevada explains, “I was left with this strong feeling about the connections in that particular cast, and a few people in the cast inspired three characters: Mr. Waters, Justine, and Nell. These characters formed and then the play followed. I wrote the first draft of the play during J Term while I was off, and then worked with those students that spring semester on a workshop.”

During the workshopping process, Nevada worked with the actors to try out new material and develop a more polished final script. “Students had feedback and I developed some more ideas,” explains Nevada. “We presented a version that was probably three-quarters of the length of this version. But I could see that it needed a clearer ending, and there were a few scenes that really needed to be rewritten and fleshed out a bit. So that’s what I did periodically over the next couple years when I had some time off.”

Nevada finished writing Broth in 2014, but it wasn’t performed until last year, when the local Apron Theater Company put on a staged reading of the play at a theater in Brattleboro. Some time later, Nevada found herself wondering whether Broth would be a good fit for one of Landmark’s yearly theater productions. After getting the approval of the administration, the current incarnation of Broth was born.

Presently, the stage of the Greenhoe Theater has been decorated with a set representing the living room of Nell’s boarding house. It’s full of delightful odds and ends, including a hand-carved seagull, an antique radio, and a gorgeous painting of a quaint New England harbor. These antique furnishings imbue the place with a sort of twee, rustic charm that harkens back to the middle-class comforts of a bygone era. For Nevada, the staging of Broth in a single room is an appropriate reflection of the play’s themes. “It’s definitely a very homebound play,” she says, “The sense of place is extremely important because ultimately what the characters each find in this place together is very valuable to them, and that’s why they’re willing to come together to save it. So the sense of place, and also the image of broth as something that comes from the kitchen, that’s nourishing, that’s a tonic, that’s fortifying, also has that sense of home, or a connection to it.”

Nevada looks forward to seeing Broth on opening night. “I’m hoping to see the nice dance between the actors onstage and the audience, that liveliness that happens,” she says, “I’m hoping that the students onstage have fun, and really get to the point where it’s flowing and they’re having a good time. I’m hoping for a symbiotic, fun experience.”

Nevada is also quick to encourage parents and students to attend. “I think they can get a heartwarming, enjoyable evening together, and just have a fun night out,” she says, “It’s free, it’s lively, and I think they will be impressed at how this cast does with this play. Even if it’s not quite perfect yet, I get to sit out there and see the pieces that are coming together, and see where it’s heading, and I think they’re going to really love it.”

As rehearsal draws to a close, the cast members gather for a few quick notes before packing their bags and heading out into the night. The lights are turned down, and the set of Nell’s boarding house falls into shadow. Soon, the familiar characters will return, and a real audience will laugh and applaud as they see the story unfold for the first time. But for now, the stage is dark and quiet—a little world, waiting.

 

A Scene from “Broth”: “That sense of home, or a connection to it” Photo by Paul Howe

A Scene from “Broth”: “That sense of home, or a connection to it”
Photo by Paul Howe

One Response to “A Taste of Home: Behind the Scenes of Broth, This Semester’s School Play”

  1. Debbie Hayward Says:

    A delightful read. I look forward to the the Saturday night performance.
    Thank you,
    Debbie Hayward