MCT’s Four Old Broads

 

 

By Jocelyn McMahon

FOUR OLD BROADS, by Leslie Kimbell, is a perfect kickoff to Mountain Community Theater’s 37th season. With an almost all female cast (all but one actor is a woman), the script is a refreshing counter to the unfortunate, yet truthful, stereotype that there are limited, and sometimes unappealing, roles for older actresses. Instead, Four Old Broads features bold, witty, and fun women, each with a complete backstory, who fit the classification of “senior.” Kimbell’s geriatric humor hits on touchy themes of aging, friendship, health and love, and addresses them in an uproariously hysterical manner that will make you laugh until your sides are sore (or your back or whatever else seems to be bothering you this week).

Directed by seasoned theater expert Kathie Kratochvil, this production brings MCT veterans and new faces alike to the stage with an authentic cast that brings to life a collection of wacky, but (mostly) amiable, characters that are either residents or staff of Magnolia Place Assisted Living set somewhere in Georgia.

Our journey begins with lights up on Beatrice Shelton, played by zany Jane Chahbandour, as she decides she needs a vacation—but NOT another trip up to Helen, Georgia, to see that “precious little German village for the umpteenth time.” Scouting a travel catalogue she lands on the perfect opportunity: A Sassy Single Seniors Cruise through the Caribbean.

Beatrice, we quickly learn, is a former Burlesque dancer who has had a few rendezvous over the years that she is certainly not ashamed to brag about, begs her friend and fellow member of Magnolia Home, Eaddy Mae Clayton (played by well-offsetting comedic partner Janene Forsyth) to join her on the cruise. A devout Baptist, Eaddy is usually either praying or gossiping, and constantly prefacing her sentences with “I’m not trying to get in your personal business, but…” before prying away. Although Beatrice and Eaddy Mae couldn’t seem more different on the outside, they have a deep friendship that is honest, sometimes to a fault. With great stage chemistry, Forsyth and Chahbandour capture the humor of the hilarious duo and deliver the comedic roasts written in the script with perfect timing.

I’m not exactly sure why, but soon the ladies decide they need a third member to embark on their getaway and set out to find a friend to join them on the cruise. Perfect timing for the newest member of the senior community, the sweet and well-received Imogene Fletcher (an ideal fit for the subtle, yet charming Wendy Edmonds). She quickly agrees to join them on the vacation, and thus becomes the missing piece to the Charlie’s Angels triad, later referenced in the show.

Despite the usual hindrances of aging, everything seems to be dandy, until, one day, Imogene blanks out completely with symptoms of temporary memory loss. Soon Imogene’s memory lapses become more and more frequent. Fearing that the new and despised nurse, Pat Jones (the more than convincing Rebecca Adams) will send her to the other ward, aka “The Dark Side,” Imogene’s friends cover for her in a rather heroic manner. Beatrice also notices something fishy with all the medication changes, and quickly begins a scheme to determine if Nurse Pat is at the bottom of Imogene’s sudden dementia. Of course, a mystery wouldn’t be complete without a couple of sidekicks, and so the angels begin their investigation.

Along the way we get to meet many other eccentric characters of the assisted living community.

There is Maude Jenkins (Kulani Kamaha’o), the funeral planning soap opera junkie, who hasn’t brushed her hair in the last year. After MUCH persuasion the angels finally decide to take her on the singles cruise with them and when Maude decides to enter the Miss Magnolia Place beauty pageant the ladies choose to help her out, providing her dance lessons as well as a little—uh, large—makeover. Kamaha’o is hilarious as the deliberately exaggerated Maude; her sense of physical humor and comedic timing she’s got down to a T (Maude will be played by Marjorie Young at performances March 29-31).

There is also the hip-swinging Casanova, Sam Smith (played by the always delightful Jackson Wolffe), a former Elvis Impersonator who has a certain charm with the ladies, even if he also has a pacemaker and suffers from erectile dysfunction. Sam and Imogene quickly fall into love-struck naïve romance, that proves to be actually quite sincere. Wolffe and Edmonds play the cliché romance well, not taking anything too seriously, and addressing the humorous hurdles of dating, aging and memory loss. We also get to appreciate likeable caring nurse Ruby Sue Bennett who is played by Mary Ann LoBalbo. She might appear a bit dowdy and meek, but Ruby Sue has quite a few surprises to unveil in the final act. (Sorry, you’ll have to see it to find out.)

But the show-stopping performance of the night was Rebecca Adams as the sinister nurse Pat Jones. Though Adams has just returned to the stage from a long hiatus, her performance was powerful and authentic, each ruthless line making me sit up a little straighter in my seat. This is clearly not her first time playing the villain, and wow! she does it well.

An impressive aspect of Four Old Broads I thought of on leaving the theater is the amount of physicality required for a show written primarily about seniors. From carting around oxygen tanks full-show and enacting near fainting, to hopping over and jumping on couches, to tap-dancing and full-gyrating Elvis impersonations, the cast seemed unfazed and was agile and spritely with their physical comedy.

One of my favorite moments is when the three angels (Beatrice, Eaddy Mae and Imogene) sneak out in the middle of the night to investigate what is suspected to be going on in Nurse Pat’s medical kit. Crawling on hands and knees in full army cameo, complete with fake foliage headpieces, the absurdity of the moment is priceless, and left the audience in a fit of hysterical laughter.  

Overall Four Old Broads is amusing and flies by quickly with witty jokes and outrageous scenarios, but one problem with the show is length. It could just be the way the script is written, but the ending just seems superfluous—it doesn’t know where to stop. After the major plot twist/reveal is resolved, it seems like a perfect moment for bows, but the show continued and in the last fifteen minutes energy seemed to take an immediately downfall for actors and audience alike. In addition, the double intermission was unneeded and added over half an hour to a play that runs about two hours (not including intermissions). I personally advocate for cutting second intermissions.

The amount of detail put into the production is definitely apparent, particularly in the set designed by Larry Cuprys. From the furniture to the wallpaper, every prop is meticulous, and immediately transports us to the world of Magnolia Place Assisted Living Home. Also, a shout-out to Steve Edmonds, Sarah Marsh, and Tara McMilan for their brief, but memorable cameos as voice actors for characters of Alexia, Carlton and Dupree, the stars of Maude’s favorite fictional soap opera “A Search for Love”—absolutely hilarious!

Charming, honest and fun, Four Old Broads caters to Mountain Community Theater’s audience as well as their pool of talent. A great pick for their 2019 season; bring your grandparents, enjoy a glass of wine, and watch a heartfelt comedy that marches to its own drum.

 

Romeo and Juliet

By Philip Pearce

MPC’S NEW PRODUCTION of Romeo and Juliet is beautiful to look at, telling Shakespeare’s story with admirable clarity, and is acted with a high emotional energy on stage but that doesn’t always fully engage the audience. 

It’s an innovative production. Modern dress, of course, is no longer any kind of novelty. But director Justin Matthew Gordon, who did such wonders with last year’s Hamlet at MPC, has turned the table on a script written to be played by an all-male company by casting Romeo, Juliet and all of their contemporaries except Tybalt and Paris with female student performers. Within the confines of Gordon‘s concept, they do a fine job. Just having teenaged lovers of either gender actually played by young actors was a nice change for oldsters like me, who can remember forty-ish Norma Shearer and late-forty-ish Leslie Howard trying to act adolescent and not quite making it. 

The challenge with young actors and Shakespeare is all that 400-year-old Elizabethan language. Gordon attacks the problem by having the cast deal with most of the speeches at a full-throttle emotional level that he combines with elaborate explanatory body language and gestures. All of this makes the plot points and character relationships clear but tends to illustrate rather than portray. For me, the broad acting and detailed stage business had the effect of distancing the characters. What they were up to and even how they felt about it were clearly evident. But they were costumed figures who engagingly explained rather than deeply expressing what was happening.

The effort did at times shine new light on familiar territory. The balcony scene was no moon-drenched Romantic idyll. Anjoli Johnson, a wonderful boisterous, bouncy and irrepressible Romeo, delivers Romeos’s soliloquies in Juliet’s garden as direct back-and-forth debates with the audience in a way that cuts through some of the distancing effect of the Gordon concept. Meanwhile, up on the balcony, Kiana Sorenson’s charming Juliet is no moonstruck fairy tale heroine but a clear-headed analyst of the futilities of the Capulet/Montague feud. The trouble, common to most Juliets, is that Douglas Ridgeway’s dark and otherwise flexible set design fixes Juliet so far upstage that  Romeo, closer to the footlights, steals most of the attention.

If this version has a major flaw it’s (as in last year’s Santa Cruz Shakespeare version) in what it does with Juliet’s nurse. Gordon has her played in toreador pants, spike heels and a sassy attitude, as if she were one of those wise-cracking Eve Arden best-friends-of-the-heroine types who figure in 1930s romantic comedies. It’s an appealing choice, and Lyla Englehorn makes it with impressive skill, but it also makes nonsense of most of what the Nurse says and does in Shakespeare’s text. Englehorn’s Nurse is too young and brisk and trendy ever to engage in geriatric wool gathering about having been present (and already long married) at Juliet’s birth. And she’s too sharp a cookie to be put down or even rattled by the juvenile joshing of a street-load of Montague household louts when she sallies forth with a message from Juliet to Romeo.

The highlights of this new R and J are Gordon’s management of crowd scenes and swordplay and Sarah Horn’s striking dance choreography. Helped by the effective costume plan of Gloria C Mattos Hughes and Ashley Tripp, the Capulet masked ball in Act 1 brings order, beauty and excitement to a complicated sequence of events that too often just end in noise and confusion. The ordinary run of ball-goers wear shades of black and gray, whereas the star-crossed lovers stand out clearly in patterns of white. When it comes to the many sword duels, Matthew Reich, solider and less snaky than your typical Tybalt, kills and gets killed with athleticism and grace, as does River Navaille’s cuckoo/psychotic Mercutio. Even Roland Shorter, who can’t do much with one of Shakespeare’s chronically boring supporting characters, manages to make Count Paris interesting and even exciting in his final swashbuckling moments in the Capulet tomb. 

Sarah Horn is quirky and ironic as Benvolio, usually presented as Romeo’s closest friend but here apparently in some kind of protective same-sex relationship with Mercutio. 

The older generation characters are age- and gender-specific. James Brady does some nice lightning shifts from jovial to tyrannical and back again to jovial as Capulet. Kristi Reimers is appropriately weepy and anxious as his wife, and Mitchell and Phyllis Davis have some effective if brief moments of rage and anxiety as Lord and Lady Montague.

Oliver Banham’s Prince Escalus is so clean-cut and self assured he seems ready at any moment to add his name to the list of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. 

  As Friar Laurence, Howard Burnham, as always, brings an experienced ease, even a note of realism, to the character of the man of God whose efforts to help the lovers unite their quarreling families sets the tragedy in motion. 

No Shakespeare production is perfect, but this one takes a firm hold on the story and keeps it moving swiftly to its tragic climax, even if it sometimes does so at the expense of nuance and the emotional appeal of its characters

It plays weekends on the Morgan Stock Stage at MPC through March 10th.

Photo: Sarah Horn & Niki Moon