Thursday, March 22, 2012

Millbrook: "Father Knows Best"

It's nostalgia time in Millbrook, a dose of which comes in the form of a stage version of the beloved radio & television program Father Knows Best -- Here are the Anderson clan: father Jim [John Collier], mother Margaret [Kayla Georgiafandis], and children Betty [Katie Moore], Bud [Tyler Burns], and Kathy [Lauren Crane], whose idyllic Spic-and-Span lives in Springfield are fraught only with incidents that directly impact the domestic scene: a broken washing machine, Jim's insurance sales, Garden Club scrutiny, and various teen & pre-teen angst-ridden concerns.

True to situation comedy format, this play's first act introduces problems that will predictably be settled before the ending -- fix the washing machine or buy a new car, whether or not Betty can go on a date with Ralph [Daniel Harms] without Jim's permission and interrogation, whether Bud can go out for basketball practice without finishing chores, whether Kathy can go to a friend's house for a sleepover that Jim had unwittingly agreed to through his youngest daughter's sly ability to get his consent while he was distracted, and how to seal an insurance deal with Mr. Brinkworth [Charlie Mulcahy] who coincidentally is Ralph's father.

Jim's naive solution to his children's wishes is to have everything at home -- Betty & Ralph can dance here, Bud can play basketball in the basement [much to the chagrin of the washing machine repairman played by Randy Burdick], and Kathy's friend Patty [Grace Moore] who has a crush on Bud can sleepover at the Anderson's. -- Only Kathy is happy with the decision, while her older siblings are understandably mortified at the prospect of parental scrutiny and control.

While Betty's rebellion in taking the car keys to run off with Ralph to the dance may appear atypical for a 1950s teenager, and Bud's dicision to get a job to rescue his father's finances seems a bit far-fetched in this day and age, the young actors invest a lot of truth in their roles; and Kathy's manipulation of both her parents is done with a conviction that is unquestionably credible.

Most of the secondary characters serve as simple plot devices and, in the case of the Garden Club ladies who call themselves the "Bloomin Girls", are little more than outrageous caricatures.

But Jim and Margaret are the solid foundation of both the family and the play, and though they are often frustrated and bewildered by events going on around them, Mr. Collier and Ms. Georgiafandis play with such understatement that we feel comfortable in their presence and might wish our families had such parental models with strength of character and clear values. As Brinkworth, Mr. Mulcahy's admiration of Jim as "a man who stands by his principles" is well placed.

Director Joe Nolin, Jr. provides a gently humorous reminder of a not-too-distant past in this sweet 1 1/2 hour production. -- No terrorist plots here, no political causes, no dysfunctional families, no provocative sexuality beyond a very chaste kiss, no vulgar language, no racial inequality -- this is white-bread America after all, where the loving family unit is intact and where the kindly [if slightly befuddled] patriarch is the arbiter of all problems, and everyone agrees even reluctantly that "father knows best".