Saturday, August 4, 2007
Theater Review: You Can’t Get There From Here is a Hoot!
If you want a good time of mindless 2 hour non-stop laughing then go see this show -- it's worth the drive.
If you have never been to Ennis, Texas, there is one compelling reason to go. This little town of about 19,000 people is located about 30 miles south of Downtown Dallas on I-45. It's known for being on the Bluebonnet trail, and for the National Polka Festival held in May. These aren't the compelling reasons why you should go there. This is why you should go: There is a small theater located just off the highway, in a strip business center that produces some jaw-dropping & amazingly good theatre. Artistic Director Bill Rhoten and his wife Suzanne Rhoten (who serves as Managing Director) have created a theater company that rivals anything that the Dallas/Fort Worth area has to offer. Ennis Public Theatre is a small venue with high production standards, and with talent of such strength that it's easy to see why there is such a long list of supporting members on the back of the program. It also has one of the best dressed audiences. Theatre in this town is still an event to attend. Being someone who loves the performing arts, it's great to see how the people in Ennis must value this art form for they support a theatre of this caliber.
The play You Can't Get There from Here inaugurates their 6th season. This play by Pat Cook has a threadbare plot whose main purpose is to gather on stage a bunch of kooky characters. The premise of the play is very contrived. A "big city" reporter named Arthur gets stuck in a small town because of a pot hole the town "voted" for -- this mother of all pot holes serves as a lesser expensive and more effective way to stop speeding traffic then a speed bump. He meets Liz and Myrtle who run the Mavis Garner Bed & Breakfast, who do double duty as city officials and fleece him out of his money. Since Arthur is stuck in town till his car can get fixed he decides to do an expose on the corruption in this small town until he falls in love with Ann, Liz & Myrtle's niece. What follows is quite expected, but nonetheless, it is funny. The main purpose is to pit the "big city" guy against the "country" yokels. One-liners abound. In fact, the humor hits the audience so rapidly, and the non sequiturs are so plenty, that at one point I felt I was watching a group of inmates in an insane asylum. This play nearly became absurdist theatre. I and the audience giggled, chuckled and guffawed non-stop throughout the entire show. If you want a good time of mindless 2 hour non-stop laughing then go see this show -- it's worth the drive.
Bill Rhoten directed the show with mastery. The action flowed, the blocking worked, the visual sight gags he created were hysterical, and he coaxed strong performances out of his performers. Caryn Spaniel as Liz, with her dead pan humor made every line an unexpected surprise. Every time she spoke she managed to wring out a laugh, even when the line itself wasn't funny. Portia Rogers Lewis who played Myrtle delivered her bad Shakespearean imitations with such gusto she was a riot. Samantha Spradling as Ann, at first seemed like the weakest member of the cast for her characterization wasn't as strong, that is until tempers flare between her character and Arthur. It became apparent that she does have the acting chops and the fault lies more in the script then in Ms. Spradling's performance. She became ferociously comical.
Arthur is the only character with more of an arc and Joshua Reed fully developed it. The look of bewilderment when he encounters the town folk was spot-on, and the one sight gag of getting yanked off stage by what must have been the burliest dog to have ever lived was executed with brilliance. Delinda Ruffino marked her stage debut in the role of Queenie, the local reporter. She was goofy, eccentric, and likeable. Dolores Van Damm was played by Barbara Wolff Webb with such a zesty maliciousness and a flawless superior-then-thou mid-Atlantic accent that I found myself relishing my dislike for her. She was so hateful I loved her. John Schwartz is given the thankless role of Horace McClintock who shows up at the very end of the play to wrap everything up. Even Mr. Schwartz who has to deliver lines full of plot detail was able to imbue his role with an edgy quirk.
I mentioned the high standard in production values. Rickey & Cindy Crenshaw, a husband and wife team, are perhaps some of the best stage designers around. For the set to work effectively they needed to create a room that is charming because it's really not attractive. In other words, the characters in the play think they have decorated the place nicely, but it really isn't, yet at the same time the audience needs to appreciate their attempt at decor and must like it. This is no simple task and the Crenshaw's pulled it off: the realism of the set is amazing. The knick knacks, the doilies, the recliner, the artwork on the walls, etc. were so authentic that the set didn't feel like a set, it actually felt like a small town bed and breakfast.
The only flaw was in the lighting and it occurred at the opening of the play. Only about half the stage lights came on. A few flickers later the lights fully kicked in. Whatever the glitch was I'm sure it will be fixed for the rest of the run.
It is my sincerest hope is that everyone who reads this review gets a chance to go see this play at Ennis Public Theatre. You'll be very glad you did. If you go, here are three tips: first, don't drive all the way into Ennis, the theatre is located on the north side, off of exit 253; secondly, though the quaint downtown area has several small restaurants that looked appetizing, the only sit-down restaurant that stays open after the show is the chain restaurant Chili's; and thirdly, make reservations for this show as soon as you can, for they are running big houses and may possibly sell out this run.
What a wonderful little town! What a great little theatre!
You Can't Get There from Here runs through August 26. Reservations can be made at 972-878-PLAY(7529).