Monday, September 10, 2012
Theater review: The Girls in 509 by Rover Dramawerks in Plano
Some of the performances felt false.
PLANO Rover Dramawerks’ production of The Girls in 509 was a perfect show selection in this season of political conventions and non-stop election coverage. Though it first premiered in 1958, most of the writing is timely as it addresses governmental concerns like social security and taxation – topics upon which our politicians remain focused today. Doesn’t sound much like a comedy, huh?
The comedy comes into play when both the Republican and Democratic parties are equally derided for their platforms, actions, and inactions. Regardless of which side of the fence you ride, it’s amazing what hasn’t changed in the 50-plus years since Howard Teichmann wrote this two-act play.
Perhaps I was just missing my standard Saturday night fare of jazz hands and false eyelashes, but I didn’t connect with this material at all. Several in the audience around me laughed at the appropriate jokes and at the site gags, but I found the subject matter – regardless of its bi-partisan nature – brittle and dry.
Unfortunately, the production itself didn’t offer much to moisten the material.
The main premise of the play is that two wealthy women are disgusted with the outcome of the presidential election of 1932 and subsequently lock themselves in a hotel apartment for the next quarter century. They don’t accept visitors, they stopped taking newspapers after the first several years, and they slowly whittle away their valuables to pay for their living expenses. Needless to say, the action of the story takes place inside the hotel apartment, as well as in the hallway immediately outside the ladies’ door.
Set Designer Lindsey Humphries did a nice job laying out the semi-dilapidated flat with the living room as the centerpiece of the set. Humphries used classic furniture pieces that were somewhat worn to reflect the ladies’ one time wealth, as well as the amount of time they’ve been holed up (the ladies also rejected visits from the hotel maintenance staff, so they handled leaking faucets and noisy radiators on their own). A very large tapestry lined the back wall of the set and a lovely wooden chest displayed approximately a dozen black and white photos in ornate silver frames. Many of the color choices didn’t flow together (terracotta colored walls with burgundy upholstered chairs and a cream damask sofa) which I can only assume was an attempt to reinforce the ladies’ eccentricity. The tapestry is removed in Act II to reveal a clever secret which I won’t spoil for you here.
The costumes, designed by Shanna Gobin, seemed of the period and they fit nicely on the female actors in the show. Many of the male actors wore jackets that were too large, but the colors and fabrics gelled well with the characters.
Speaking of characters: Mimsy and Aunt Hettie are the two hermits living in apartment 509. Played by Veronica Day and Alice Montgomery respectively, both actors did her best to cement character differences, quirks, and nuances. Much of the action, however, was overplayed with exaggerated facial expressions and seemingly random blocking.
That last sentence was true of most of the actors in this cast – it felt as if most performances were completely overacted, whether with the aforementioned facial expression, or tone of voice, or a caricature-like accent. Further, I noted several actors glancing at the audience when not involved in a scene, which distracted me from the action on stage.
It’s hard to determine whether a performance reveals more of an actor’s choices or more of the director’s choices, and that was definitely true with this production. Whichever the case here, only Walt Threlkeld as Professor Pusey seemed to be playing a real human being. He was appropriately nervous and almost manic in some scenes, but his performance didn’t feel false.
While all of the actors seemed engaged in the material, the production never took off for me, or had an "aha!" moment of greatness. There were some problems with props not working as they should and dropped lines here and there, and a general lack of charm and appeal. As with all things political, however, each person should cast their own vote.
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