Monday, August 13, 2012

Wetumpka Depot: "Panache"

At the Wetumpka Depot, director Tom Salter's evenly paced production of Don Gordon's two act comedy-drama Panache has quite a bit of, well panache of its own. Salter has a talented cast that effortlessly inhabit Gordon's characters and gradually make audiences connect with their lives, even though the script relies on a most unlikely and improbable circumstance.

Affluent, socially-conscious (one might say obsessed) matron Kathleen [Kim Mason] from Scarsdale, NY has taken great pains to search out Harry [Stephen Dubberley], a down and out artist in his squalid Brooklyn apartment in order to get him to release his vanity license plate -- the "panache" of the title -- so she can give it to her husband, a high roller in industry and politics. -- Kathleen's tip-toeing around the detritus in Harry's apartment, her belief that staying in a Holiday Inn is "slumming", and the fact that her position and connections would allow her to pay someone else to bargain with Harry, makes her foray into the depths of Brooklyn far-fetched; but once our disbelief is suspended for the sake of the play, we are in good hands.

Finding Harry in the middle of a poker game with his friend Jumbo [Joseph Miller], Kathleen insinuates herself into their lives in several scenes that humorously demonstrate her persistence, despite Harry's refusal to give up the panache license plate.

Predictably, they each divulge a lot about their unhappy private lives, as is often the case between relative strangers: her superficially ideal marriage is little more than a sham, and his solitary existence the result of an inability to deal with a past tragedy. -- But this is also a very funny play, thanks to the witty dialogue and the expert delivery of it from the ensemble cast.

Harry's backstory involves a fellow named Irwin [Colgan Meanor] he helped gain confidence by arranging a date for him with Laura [Sonjha Cannon]. Told in flashback-dreamlike sequences, we see Irwin becoming Harry's conscience & guide; and Laura marries Harry.

The easy fit between Ms. Mason and Mr. Dubberley makes Kathleen's and Harry's contrasting life-styles and behavior completely believable. Her confident manner contrasts with his reticence; her brightness with his gloom; her "good breeding" with his "common man". Between them, they produce some of the best dramatic & comic & truthful moments seen recently on the Depot's stage...panache indeed.

It becomes clear quite early in the play that they are destined to be together, but the journey is enjoyable, as they are abetted by the supporting characters. -- Mr. Miller is thoroughly convincing as Harry's friend; Ms. Cannon proves her ability to develop a sensitive persona as we watch her mature over time; and Mr. Meanor [soon to attend the University of South Alabama] creates a memorable character in Irwin, growing from a nerdy sort into a man-about-town and eventually the most settled and secure of them all.