STEADY HAND: Milburn Stone mainstay returns to direct ‘ The Women of Lockerbie’
Milburn Stone mainstay returns to direct ‘The Women of Lockerbie’
ELKTON — Marshall B. Garrett sat with his eyes looking off at the wall above some nearby vending machines. The 29-year-old director of Milburn Stone Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Women of Lockerbie” was considering how other people — namely, the play’s actors — must view his demeanor.
He didn’t jump to any definite conclusions because, as he noted himself, how could he possibly know what others were thinking?
“I like to think respectful, first and foremost,” Garrett said. “A lot of times my job is not really just to tell them where to stand, though I do that too, but it’s also to be a receptive, open audience to them, and to hear what they’re saying. Say, ‘That rings true to me, that doesn’t,’ and ‘Let’s find the honesty in that moment.’”
Garrett, who was born in Colorado and raised in Ohio, comes across as disarmingly warm and thoughtful in person, almost stereotypically Midwestern. “I’m a steady stream,” he joked. He’s quick to laugh and quicker to make other people laugh, or at least to make them feel comfortable. The current production man- ager, Dann Combs, said that compared to some of the other directors he’s had to work with, Garrett has been a relief: patient and easygoing, at least as much as can be expected of a director mid-production.
This directing gig is his first at Milburn Stone since 2014, when he left his role as resident director to earn two masters degrees at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. He was welcomed back with open arms for this show.
Part of that probably has to do with his history with the theater. He got his first job at Milburn Stone in 2010 as the assistant managing director and, within a year, he was promoted to the full-time position of production manager. In 2012, he earned the unofficial title of resident director — he was directing about half the shows.
The theater holds a special place in his heart for other reasons, too. He met his wife, Theresa Garrett, in the cast of “Hamlet” in 2011. When they married in August 2014, Milburn Stone moved the date of that month’s musical so there would be no performance or rehearsal on the day of the wedding.
Garrett was also instrumental in joining the old with the new when the company re- branded from the “Covered Bridge Theatre” to its current ideation.
“There was a contingent of people that had been part of the Covered Bridge Theatre for two decades, three decades, who were apprehensive that the theater was not going to be the theater anymore,” Garrett said. “So that was my goal, to make sure that they all knew that the theater was going to retain its soul, that we were going to continue to be what we had always been, and that they would always have a home here.”
Debra R. McGuire, who plays an extremely poignant version of Olive Allison in “The Women of Lockerbie,” is one of those theater veterans who holds him in high regard. The Middletown, Del., resident has been with the company for more than three decades.
“Marshall knows what he wants and he has a really good way of leading people there,” McGuire said. “I don’t want to say he’s unusual, but he’s very refreshing.”
“The Women of Lockerbie,” written by Deborah Brevoort, follows the story of a New Jersey wife and husband grieving for their son, who has died in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The two come to know several of the local women, who help them understand the meaning of their loss and how to overcome the anger associated with it. It’s a dark play (both literally and figuratively in this production) but it ends with a glowing ray of light.
After the Wednesday dress rehearsal at Elkton Station, Garrett assembled the cast and went over some criticism he had for the performance. These were the typical pointers, mostly related to timing and cadence, and he delivered them calmly with frequent uh’s and um’s — not out of nervousness, but as if to lessen the blow. He seemed to want the cast to feel he was on the same level as them, rather than somewhere above.
Of course, with the criticism came praise. If an actor could do one thing better, he or she was still doing another thing very well. Everyone seemed to take well to this. At one point, a litany of happy, laughing voices emerged from the theater room, shattering the tension still lingering from the grief play they’d completed.
If the cast of “The Women of Lockerbie” doesn’t like each other, they’re at least very good at faking it. Garrett might have something to do with that.
“The Women of Lockerbie” runs this weekend with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at milburnstone.com or at the door — $15.
The theater set-up during a dress rehearsal for “The Women of Lockerbie” on Wednesday. The production team hung clothes from poles along the ceiling and for much of the play a line of blue denim articles divides the stage. Garrett is sitting in the seat nearest to the center. At just 29 years old, Marshall B. Garrett has established himself as one of Milburn Stone Theatre’s most prolific and popular directors. He’s the man in charge of this weekend’s production of “The Women of Lockerbie” at Elkton Station.