Friday, September 23, 2011

Millbrook: "A Bad Year for Tomatoes"

John Patrick's comedy A Bad Year for Tomatoes is the Millbrook Community Players' current offering this season, playing to almost full houses, and entertaining audiences with the antics of eccentric characters & silly siutations.

Director Stephanie McGuire sensibly changes the script's setting from New England to "somewhere in the South" to accomodate the actors' natural Southern accents, ones which fit so well in the mouths of the local sheriff, bumbling simpleton, and town gossips. And, she has changed some references to actual events and off-stage celebrities to suit the new location in both place and time.

Myra Marlowe [Shea Jackson] is a well-known television actress noted for playing a "granny" on a popular sitcom, who escapes from Hollywood to "search for something real" in her life, winding up in the rural village of Beaver Haven where she believes she can remain incognito to plant tomatoes and write her memoirs. The only person who knows of the pretense is her long-time friend (and potential love-interest), Tom Lamont [John Chain], who swears to keep her secret, as she introduces herself to everyone by her real name, Myrtle Durdle.

No sooner has she arrived, however, than the locals descend on her from all points nearby in the small neighborhood. The "Hospitality Committee" is comprised of Cora Gump [Rae Ann Collier] and Reba Harper [Nancy Power], who proceed to interrupt virtually any sense of privacy. Though Reba often claims "I don't like to gossip...", hardly a word from her mouth is anything else...and Cora backs her up in warning Myrtle/Myra about Willa Mae Wilcox [Ginger Collum], a strange flamboyant person they call a witch among other things.

While the women continually intrude on Myrtle's attempts to dictate her memoirs, a local handyman named Piney [John Collier in a role he perfectly underplays] provides some of the best comic moments in the play as he speaks in monosyllables and takes everything literally while bargaining the cost of his handyman services, much to Myrtle's frustration.

In a desperate move, Myrtle invents a crazy sister named "Sis Sadie" who, if she escapes from her locked room upstairs, will wreak havoc in the community...and winds up disguising herself as "Sis Sadie" on several occasions in her attempts to be left alone.

The cliche-filled plot contrives to insinuate a murder has been committed when "Sis Sadie" mysteriously disappears, and the truth will be revealed through the intervention of a well-meaning Sheriff [Mark McGuire] only after a lot of confusion, accusations, and silliness.

It is too bad that all the action of the play is performed upstage of the proscenium curtain, distancing the actors from the audience; segues between scenes need to be tightened up to avoid long gaps of time in the dark; and more assured delivery of lines and characters will hopefully come in time...but the show is otherwise easy on the eyes and ears.