From the moment the curtain opens on the Little Colonel Playhouse’s current production, the audience’s attention is grabbed. As the lights come up, we hear the sound of a woman sobbing. Then we can see a solitary female in a train car, weeping as she works intently on a crossword. Moments later, the somber mood is broken when a jolly gentleman enters the car in a rush and immediately asks her to give him her seat (it’s his lucky spot). This jarring jump from melancholy to humor sets the tone for the evening of theater ahead.
As we learn more about these two, we discover that she takes her crossword puzzles extremely seriously (to the point of lugging around a huge bag full of dictionaries and atlases), while he does not; when the words get too difficult, he chucks the crossword page for the sports section. This does nothing to get her to warm to him. She feels that anyone who can’t complete the small things in life, like crosswords, can’t be expected to accomplish the big things either.
It’s a strange setup for a romantic comedy, but it works. As the two polar opposites (both wearing wedding rings, I might add) finding love in the wee hours of the morning on a transit train, Sean Childress and Kathy Norton have amazing chemistry and comic timing. Childress’s performance has a playfulness recalling Steve Martin at his best; and Norton’s no-nonsense, buttoned-up-but-dying-to-let-her-hair-down portrayal is vintage Diane Keaton. Possibly one of the best pairings you could expect from our local pool of actors!
Jerry Meyer’s script is engaging and fun. It premiered in 2005 in a dinner theater production starring Bonnie Franklin and Bruce Weitz. But it strongly reminds me of the type of shot-on-video TV plays they used to occasionally show on the networks in the seventies. I could easily envision Alan Alda and Carol Burnett in the roles. In fact, Meyer was a sitcom writer who wrote for many of the classic television comedies of the era, and this show is definitely influenced by his earlier work. It is consistently funny, except where it seems to drag a bit during the second half of the first act.
George Bailey’s direction for the most part keeps the story flowing, although it does get a bit repetitive at times (the two performers seem to be constantly getting up and moving to the opposite side of the train car for no apparent reason); and there are occasional bits of blocking that just don’t make sense. But he has elicited strong performances from his actors that also make up for some lulls in the script itself.
With its minor flaws and great performances, this is a fun show for a date night. And to top it off, I learned a few new words in the process (hormonomimetic, anyone?)!
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner