Monday, September 23, 2019

Millbrook: "Cheaper by the Dozen"

Amidst all the socio-political goings-on around us, it might be time for an old-fashioned family-friendly comedy. -- Based on an autobiographical 1948 book and the 1950 film following it, Christopher Sergel's 1992 stage adaptation of Cheaper by the Dozen just closed its run at the Millbrook Community Players, Inc.

With sixteen actors and a dog at his disposal, director Joe Nolin, Jr. mounted a pleasant production that, despite 21st Century worldliness, manages to touch the necessary buttons that endear it to many.

Mr. Gilbreth [Steve Phillips] is an efficiency expert at work who insists on running his home and family with the same dictatorial style. [Much like Capt. Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Gilbreth summons his expansive family by blowing a whistle, and assigning them tasks with little understanding of the effects on morale.] -- Told via narrative flashbacks to the 1920s by children Frank [Hudson Lee] and Ernestine [Ginny Gunn], their reminiscences piece together an understanding of their father's complicated relationship with them as he deals with financial responsibilities and the imminent impact of his mortality from a heart condition he has kept secret from all but his wife.

Though he calls for a "democratic family counsel", and regularly refers to his wife [Nicole Allen] as the "boss", Gilbreth dismisses any and all of their suggestions or objections as irrelevant or out-of-order, making it abundantly clear that his word is law. -- And there is some rebellion afoot. Eldest daughter Anne's [Shannon Dukes] adolescent desires to go out on dates, and wear silk stockings, are thwarted by her father's uncomprehending restrictions. Yet, there is love in the household, and all the squeaky-clean members support one another without question.

Potential boyfriends [Nate Greenawalt and Connor Carraway] come and go, ever-patient cook [Vicki Moses] tries to keep the peace, disbelieving teacher [Misty Bone] re-tests Anne's high exam scores, and the Doctor [Ken Cochran] warns Gilbreth that his heart condition needs attention -- and there are baby-steps of Gilbreth's capitulation to the family's needs that signal they may be moving into the modern world.

Unfortunately, some of this important information almost goes unheard. Actors need to support their voices, emphasize the operative words in their dialogue, and push vocal energy to the completion of ideas and sentences so audiences are privy to details of plot and character.

But what holds this production together is the strength of its protagonist. Mr. Phillips straddles the edge between an unfeeling dictatorial patriarch and a man  who loves his family but has difficulty expressing it: well done.