GUILFORD—Award-winning writer Michael Nethercott is thoughtful amid the buzz and rush of The Works Bakery Cafe in Brattleboro.
“In a lot of my writing, I’m drawn to history,” he said. “Maybe because history is frozen in amber, it’s very easy to observe and understand.”
Nethercott’s full-length play, Our Enemy’s Cup opens the Guilford Center Stage’s third theater season on Friday, May 5.
The season officially opened in April with a square dance. The dance, with The Falltown String Band, from Bernardston, Mass., and with Bob Livingston, caller, from Middletown, Conn., served as a fundraiser for the organization.
Nethercott will also direct Our Enemy’s Cup, which grew from a one-act play. May 5 will be the premiere of the two-act version.
He is a common sight at The Works, typing on his laptop and occasionally watching the people passing the cafe’s large, plate glass windows.
Speaking again on his love for history, Nethercott said, “Even if [events] have loud echoes, they’re sometimes easier to absorb and perceive.”
A community under pressure
Last year, the Guilford Center Stage showcased two of his one-act plays. The first, Nocturne Titanica, is a mythical retelling — in verse — of the sinking of the Titanic. The Lace Jury followed California’s first all-female jury in 1911, picked for a obscenity case against A.A. King, the editor of the Watts News
Our Enemy’s Cup tackles a possible betrayal within a small French community during the Nazi occupation in World War II. Members of the local resistance movement believe a fellow community member has compromised the movement.
“These are folks who have seen each other’s faces for years and years, but now they’re seeing each other in different ways,” he said. “A number of them belong to the resistance. Someone may have betrayed other members.”
Nethercott describes the characters as, “ordinary people in unordinary times — rising to the occasion ... or falling.”
The close-knit community must come to terms with this suspected betrayal, Nethercott said. Their judgment will have consequences.
Before the war, Nethercott said, the French community maintained personal relationships, trusts, and affections. These people knew each other. There’s the local school teacher, a tavern owner, the doctor who delivered most of the town’s children.
But once caught under the shadow of the Nazis and balancing above the underground of the French Resistance, these once-friends see each other in a new light.
Nethercott said the play asks questions about how communities come back from horrible events and how they hold each other accountable.
“And,” Nethercott said, “Can you betray the betrayer?”
Across class lines
According to Nethercott, the French Resistance developed as an underground organization that recruited men and women from all walks of life, social classes, and education levels.
“Maybe in other parts of their lives they never would have been so bold,” he said. But in the “frenzied” environment of World War II, resistance members brought their skills to the movement.
Our Enemy’s Cup started as an award-winning one-act play. Nethercott said after receiving one award, he heard feedback from viewers that the play merited becoming a full-length two-act. He took the feedback to heart and fleshed out characters only alluded to in the one-act.
According to Nethercott’s website, Our Enemy’s Cup received the Vermont Playwrights Award, along with awards from the Claude Competition and the Nor’easter Playwrights Competition.
Knowing good actors get snatched up early by the local summer theater scene, Nethercott said he pre-cast his play as soon as the Guilford Center Stage producers asked him to participate in the third season.
Some of the actors have worked with Nethercott before. He called the collaboration a “good marriage,” and the most enjoyable part of the production. He credits the cast with bringing the play to life, and said it made him happy to witness the actors bring a fresh perspective to the characters.