DEAR RUTHby Norman Krasna
Plaza Theatre Company
Directed by Taffy Geisel
Set Design – JaceSon P. Barrus
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Lighting Design – Cameron Barrus
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Property Design – Tammie Phillips, G. Aaron Siler
Stage Manager – Emily Warwick
Military Patch Design – Stacey Greenawalt King
CAST (as appearing on the reviewed evening):
Ruth Wilkins – Kelly Nickell
Lieutenant William Seawright – David Goza
Miriam Wilkins – Rachel Browning
Judge Harry Wilkins – Luke Hunt
Albert Klummer – Jonathan Metting
Mrs. Edith Wilkins – Katy Wood
Martha Seawright – Dora Hunt
Sgt. Chuck Vincent – Michael Sorter
Harold Klobbermeyer – Christopher Wood
Dora – Becki Schoen
Photos by Stacey Greenawalt King
Reviewed Performance: 9/14/2013
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
This story sets up like a grand tragedy. Instead it’s a comedy, called Dear Ruth, written by Normal Krasna. You likely don’t know him, but you’ll probably remember White Christmas with Bing Crosby. Krasna co-wrote the screen play and had four Academy Award nominations and an Oscar in 1943. Moss Hart, well-known playwright of the time, suggested he write a commercial comedy for the stage. Krasna wrote Dear Ruth, reportedly based on Groucho Marx’s family. The production was directed by Moss Hart and premiered on Broadway December 1944, playing for 680 performances. In 1947 a film version grossed almost $4 Million, about $40 Million today.
Dear Ruthis now playing at Plaza Theatre Company in downtown Cleburne. Krasna’s comic script translates wonderfully to today, in spite of a 70-year difference, and this play is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Everything about the set, costumes, props, sounds and ambience of PTC’s in-the-square stage screamed golden age of the 40’s. JaceSon P. Barrus created a living/dining room set which was the house of a local judge with lavish furnishings. Characters wore period costumes created by Tina Barrus, including US Army WWII Air Corps uniforms with military patches designed by Stacey Greenawalt King. The household furnishings and a host of props added to the story and atmosphere. Tammie Phillips and G. Aaron Siler must have worked overtime to put the dressing on Barrus’ beautifully colorful set.
Siler also created a soundtrack from the 40’s with loads of Glenn Miller playing before, during and after the show. Cameron Barrus made sure the set was extra bright for comedy.
Comedy works best when the actors play their lines in total seriousness. Good comedy works when the lines are crisp and delivered with speed. Great comedy works when every moment of line delivery is synchronized with every moment of action. And Dear Ruth had all three, including well-directed comic beats to nail the actors’ responses and allow for audience laughter. All actors played in full belief of their characters’ desires and allowed the lines and physical responses to create the “funny.”
Ruth Wilkins, played by Kelly Nickell, a young woman who has just decided to marry her local boyfriend gets totally confused when the new man arrives. That would be Lt. William Seawright, played by David Goza. As a man who is convinced his letters mean a sure thing for a wife, Goza none-the-less had to make William tentative and nervous about a possible rejection and dumbfounded, yet resolute as the story unfolded.
One could see a spark between Ruth and “Bill” almost immediately, though Nickell had to play out Ruth’s shock and dismay against Bill’s advances. Nickell showed this ambivalence throughout the show and we got to see her clear transformation.
Goza seemed a bit under-whelming at first, but this calm, polite confidence is something we often see in young military officers. In time it became a legitimate character choice.
Ruth’s intended is Albert Klummer, played by Jonathan Metting. Metting created a bumbling banker in Albert. He seemed over-the-top at first with anger and indignation, but as time went on this became a believable norm for Albert and soon the character was exactly as we might imagine. Metting’s outrage and responses were hilarious, especially when he was “off-scene.”
Ruth has a sister, young Miriam Wilkins. Played by Rachel Browning, Miriam is the cause of all the trouble with her young teenage political activism and the letters she wrote in Ruth’s name. Browning played Miriam as a head-strong young patriot, sure that she has to solve the ills of America and counteract the older generation. Browning showed us a “little girl” with a big mind.
The biggest laughs through the show were delivered by Judge Harry Wilkins. Played by Luke Hunt, his father-knows-best reactions to his daughter’s troubles provided a running commentary on everything that was happening around him. Hunt’s matter-of-fact near-deadpan looks made the lines he was saying even funnier. He was able to say things we were thinking. The mother of this family, Edith Wilkins, was played by Katy Wood and she often mirrored or countered Hunt. Their character relationship was often point-counterpoint but also touching and they were completely entertaining as parents watching their kids enter adulthood. Together Hunt and Wood created a powerful comedic couple.
Around this core group was a set of support characters who either enhanced the situations the main characters were experiencing or introduced complications. The family maid, Dora, was played by Becki Schoen as the one who had stamina to keep up with the confusion around her while being constantly frustrated by it. Martha Seawright, Bill’s sister, was played by Dora Hunt, and her pen-pal boyfriend and Bill’s war buddy, Sgt. Chuck Vincent, played by Michael Sorter, added a parallel love story. Hunt and Sorter had to play a similar story to Goza and Nickell, but make it different enough that we could see how a different couple might handle the challenges differently.
Finally a closing button scene was added by minor character, Harold Klobbermeyer, played by Christopher Wood. While on-stage only a moment, Wood’s entrance took the story into blackout with a line and a look and the final moments were comedy to the end.
Dear Ruth was directed by Taffy Geisel and her handiwork permeated this show. From a strong connection within the ensemble to a sense of quality in production values, from actors who let the script breathe and tell the story to simply playing the motivations each character felt, from selecting actors who were as good together as they were as characters, this play had the vision of Taffy Geisel all over it.
Dear Ruth ended with a creative high-energy bows sequence that I’ve not seen before which continued the story right through their dances, bows and exits and the audience seemed both surprised and pleased. I know I was.
Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main St., Cleburne, TX 76033
Plays through October 5th
Tickets are $15.00 ($14.00 for 65+ and students; $13 under 13 years).
For information and to purchase tickets visit http://www.plaza-theatre.com/ or call (817) 202-0600.