Friday, November 26, 2021

Millbrook: "Not a Creature was Stirring...not even a Moose"

The holiday season is off to a good start with the Millbrook Community Players' gently affectionate production of Pat Cook's Not a Creature was Stirring...not even a Moose.

A lot of silliness occurs in the office of J. J. Garnes [Steve Phillips], the editor of a weekly newspaper who is always looking for an angle on a story that would sell more papers than those of his frenemy Winona Pershing's [Tracey Quates] rival newspaper.

While he bemoans the commercialization of Christmas, it is clear that J. J. is eager to reap its benefits when he discovers a sentimental note to Santa from "Joey", and sets out to discover the boy's identity to capitalize on his heartwarming story. -- Act I is replete with two staff members -- Delilah [Karla McGhee] and Sarah [Donna Young] --whose pointed quips entertain us and challenge J. J.; and a corrupt Mayor [Michael Snead]. 

To complicate matters, there is a story about a mysterious "wish-granting ornament" in the shape of a Moose that seems to fulfill the wishes of anyone holding it.

Act II brings in an eccentric crop-duster pilot aptly named Buzzy [Carol Majors adds significant energy every moment she is on stage]; her escapades as Santa in dropping presents from her plane to needy children are hilarious. The presents are provided by Fiona [Cheryl Phillips] whose compassion for the children is laudable. -- But when concerns arise regarding the presents, both the Mayor and his inept henchman Sgt. Slattery [Hudson Lee-Thor] get more in the way than being helpful

At the center of the play's Christmas themes is the janitor Barney [John Chain], whose pearls of wisdom and unassuming demeanor in describing the magical ornament and his repeated message os Hope and Faith argue the true meaning of Christmas, and force others to wonder whether Barney is the real Santa or one of his Elves.

There is a kind of Scrooge reclamation when J. J. finds out "Joey's" true identity, and he winds up doing something decent for the needy children [and perhaps for his employees as well].

An enjoyable light comedy to start the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Theatre AUM: "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Oscar Wilde's ever witty The Importance of Being Earnest has been a theatrical staple for professional, community, university, and high school companies for as long as one can remember, and is now showing at Theatre AUM in director Mike Winkelman's fast-paced, energetic, and inventive interpretation.

With its attention to COVID protocols [everyone on stage and in the audience wears a mask, and safe distanced limited seating is observed], the ensemble acting company once again exhibits AUM's commitment to quality productions that explore various aspects of world theatre. -- Here is a comedy from a bygone era presented [with a few contemporary mannerisms] that affords actors and audience members a glittering display of witty dialogue from actors who embody their characters eccentricities with aplomb. 

Whether its contrived plot is credible, or whether anyone ever actually spoke with such precious affectation is beside the point; the actors carry it off. -- It's all about the language, and as one of the characters notes: style is more important than sincerity. The script shows Wilde at his best, and though some of the actors often lack the vocal support that stresses operative words to communicate information and make the cleverness understood, they make up for it in delineating the character relationships that keep the plot moving forward.

It is also an old-fashioned three act play that sets up the action, brings it to a climax, and resolves the confusions. -- Jack Worthing [Jared Jones] visits his London friend Algernon Moncrieff [Worth Harris] who interrogates him about his name: you see, Ernest is the name he uses in town, and Jack is his name in the country, having invented a fictitious brother to afford an excuse to leave one or the other place. And Algy has a fictitious sick friend Bunbury he uses for the same purpose. -- Complicating matters is that Ernest/Jack is in love with Algy's cousin Gwendolyn [Tabitha Neyerlin], but his desire to marry her is being thwarted by her mother, Lady Bracknell [Cole Hamric], whose interrogation of Ernest finds that he is an orphan who can't prove his heritage, and concludes that he is not a proper match for her daughter.

Jack returns to the country, having determined to get rid of his fictitious brother to avoid further complications; but Algy gets there before him and falls for Jack's ward Cecily [Kaylee Baker] by pretending to be Jack's brother. -- Cecily is schooled by Miss Prism [Yahzane Palmer] who likes the local man of the cloth Canon Chausuble [Brandon Baggin]. -- Both of the young men have proposed to their chosen ladies who know them by the name of Ernest; so when Gwendolyn shows up in the country, much confusion occurs...and, as it is a comedy, must be resolved, not the least of which is Jack's parentage.

Mr. Winkelman guides his troupe through the complications of the plot, and engages us with their assorted antics along the way. Even the servant roles -- Lane [David Wilson] and Merriman [Jonah Maynard] -- are expanded with quirky stage business. He is abetted by Val Winkelman's character driven period costumes [with a few modern touches], and an evocative minimalist scenic design by Aileen Zeigler. And a clever use of Gilbert & Sullivan tunes sustains a spirited lightheartedness throughout.

The Importance of Being Earnest at Theatre AUM tickles the funny bone in this delightful production.