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By Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal
Special to The Village News 

'Gabriel' is a compelling retelling of a World War II drama


Last updated 3/11/2019 at 7:04pm

Offering tea and sympathy, Jeanne Becquet, played by Jessica John, sits next to Richard Baird as Nazi officer Von Pfunz with Estelle, played by Catalina Zelles, explaining the importance of telling the truth, in North Coast Repertory's "Gabriel."

At the outbreak of World War II in Europe, England prepared its coastline against an invasion. Shoring up the mainland, it was clear their resources could not protect every holding. The Channel Islands were amongst those unfortified.

The idea being if the army was not met with gunfire the invading forces would be kinder to their "new neighbors." Consequently, anyone refusing to leave the islands had their weapons removed in hopes of allowing the Nazi army entry without resistance to "walk right in."

At first it seemed to work. Except as time went on and all the island's resources were seized to feed the occupying German forces, locals were either starved or worked to death. Subsequently resistance mounted.

This story unfolds on the Isle of Guernsey during that occupation.

Facing her paralyzing fear, the tempestuous widow Jeanne Becquet works diligently to keep her daughter Estelle and her son's Jewish wife Lily safe.

Through Jeanne's personal sacrifice to protect her small family, she uses her cunning resourcefulness to keep them protected and fed.

Jessica John as Jeanne Becquet is magnificent. Clever, with displays of blistering wit, she bandies with the Nazi Commander Von Pfunz, alas, unintentionally exposing family secrets. Von Pfunz is her adversary. He taunts her. It's an ongoing cat and mouse game. Together they pull the audience into a vortex of untold terror of menacing events yet to come.

Richard Baird plays the ominous Nazi German officer Von Pfunz. His stage presence is foreboding and occasionally even creepy. Baird is so good; he radiates horror. Sometimes to cover up his evil past, he'll offer explanations shrouded in artifice. Like when he suggests, "if I were my own master, I'd never be hated by children." Emanating malevolence with his very presence, his performance is riveting and powerful.

The Jewish daughter-in-law Lily, whose presence puts the family in danger, is played by Lilli Passero. Further jeopardizing the family's safety, Lily takes it upon herself to rescue an unconscious man who washes up on the beach. It is Lily's gullibility that perpetuates the angst in this compelling drama.

Placed in the attic to recover, he awakens after three days of watchful care with amnesia. Because Estelle believes him to be a fallen angel, she names him Gabriel. Gabriel is played by SoCal newcomer Alan Littlehales. His every moment onstage is enthralling and believable.

Another outstanding performance is by Annabella Price as Lake, the trusted housekeeper. She provides calm through her presence and lyrical voice that offsets the always lurking danger. It is her second appearance at North Coast Repertory, and it isn't any wonder why she was asked back.

Estelle, played by Catalina Zelles, is the young annoying daughter of Jeanne Becquet. But of course, aren't all preteen girls annoying? Her behavior is so wretched at times, placing the family in peril; it's hard to not wish her beaten. Well done, Catalina. She gives an accomplished, realistic performance.

In North Coast Repertory's "Gabriel," Jeanne, played by Jessica John, stands next to Alan Littlehales as title character Gabriel while he interprets Von Pfunz's secret black book with Lilli Passero as Lily looking on.

"Gabriel" is the daunting drama now playing at North Coast Repertory in Solana Beach. It is superbly directed by Christopher Williams. An accomplished actor as well, he truly works magic with this cast leading them in the right direction. The German language coach Andreas Kern is to be congratulated for her efforts too.

The costume design by Elisa Benzoni is well thought out and fine fitting. Marty Burnett created a masterful stage design. Ryan Ford's haunting sound plan added to the scariness of the plot worthy of an award. Lighting is always important and again Matthew Novotny enhanced the production with his clever design.

A note to the many sponsors who supported this cast, thank you. It was an investment. Another success by the house of North Coast Repertory.

"Gabriel" plays at North Coast Repertory Theater in Solana Beach until March 17. With free parking out front at 987 Lomas Santa Fe, the theater sits in the back of the lot. Reach the box office at (858) 481-1055 or Rated 10 out of 10.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected]


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