THE HOUSEKEEPERby James Prideaux
ONSTAGE in Bedford
Director: None listed
Stage Manager: Alex German
Scenic Designer: Robert Dennard
Lighting Designer: Robert Dennard
Sound Designer: Jerry Price
Properties and Set Decoration: Deborah Dennard
Annie Dankworth - Deborah Dennard
Manley Carstairs - Kit Hussey
Reviewed Performance: 1/20/2013
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Any time I prepare to see a show with a small cast - this one has only two characters - and I know the venue is very small, I realize that any tiny imperfection may seem like a giant blunder. This is because of there being nothing to distract the audience's full attention to the dialogue and interaction between the actors. The combination of experience and chemistry between the two principal (and only) players made this production a smooth breeze through a short period of time in the lives of two individuals "somewhere in a corner of England." The show is rated PG, presumably because of the abundance of sexual innuendos and revelations as we peek into the lives of Manley, a self-published author who has lived with his mother all of his life. We meet Manley shortly after the death of his mother. Annie enters Manley's life as a housekeeper through a series of deceptions and asserts her claim on him as a potential mate. The ensuing dialogue and
friction between the two made for a humorous peek at the lives of aging, not-so-successful, people who have never realized their full potential.
The set, designed by Robert Dennard, consists primarily of the living room of Manley Carstairs. A set of stairs, presumably leading to the bedrooms upstairs, sits stage left, with a window to a garden opposite. Offstage, there is a small table representing the desk of the author, complete with manual typewriter and knickknacks, as well as wadded up pieces of paper. Occasionally, the action moves off stage in out of a door in the theater, which is supposed to represent the kitchen. I found this set to be very well done. The attention to detail, including architectural features and a logical floor plan, as well as the well-placed decor selected by Deborah Dennard, added to the overall experience of seeing the show. All of the furnishings were logical to the surroundings and, surprisingly, even a cast-iron deer graced the garden as seen through the garden window. Also of note is the fact that the portrait of Manley's mother hanging in the living room was
painted by the actor portraying Manley, Kit Hussey, and appeared to be somewhat of a self-portrait. Hussey is very talented and this bit of detail was a delightful addition to the humor of the show.
No attribution was given to a costumer but I want to give credit to whoever was responsible for the costuming of Annie, which was terrific. Walking into the home for the first time, she wore an old housecoat, covered by another dress, covered by a sweater, and topped off with a long coat turned inside out. This combination gave the immediate impression of someone who is down on their luck and slightly eccentric. Manley wore slacks, shirt and sweater vest for the first act, and a collegiate suit with white slacks and navy jacket for the second.
Lighting design by Robert Dennard was sometimes confusing. The stage would go dark and I wasn't sure whether it was for an effect or just to indicate the time of day. During the flashback scenes the lights would go down, but only briefly. I assume this was to give an indication that it was a flashback scene, but was too brief to seem like more than an accidental darkness.
I've saved the best part of the show for last - the actor and actress. Both gave performances that were convincing and natural. Kit Hussey, as Manley Carstairs, delivered his lines with expertise and great comic timing. His dry expression and matter-of-fact delivery of even the funniest lines increased the impact of the jokes. Hussey's English accent was very natural and not overdone. It seemed as though the accent was just a normal part of his dialogue and he never dropped it. Especially impressive was the attention Hussey paid to the entire character and to the range of emotions the character would express through the show. Early in the first act when first meeting Annie - Hussey's expression revealed, very briefly, the emotion Manley felt, which would come to play later in the show. Portrayal of such nuances is testimony of Hussey's experience on stage.
Deborah Dennard portrayed Annie Dankworth. From the moment she stepped on stage, Dennard was a homeless woman in England conning and thieving her way into the life of Carstairs, not just an actress playing one. Her lovable demeanor and frequent assurances that she was from a good family and money meant nothing to her was consistent throughout. As with Hussey's performance, Dennard's accent seemed natural, authentic, and was never overdone. Her smooth performance was marred only by a tendency to look over the head of Hussey when she addressed him. At times this became distracting, but because of the overall performance being so well done, easy to forgive.
As I reflect on the performance, the word smooth comes to mind. The facets of the characters as portrayed by Dennard and Hussey and their interaction and dialogue were very smooth and seemed not over rehearsed and natural. It was a delightful production that didn't take itself too seriously, with the result being seriously good fun. The show has a very limited run - through January 27. It is well worth setting aside a little time to see.
Onstage in Bedford
Trinity Arts Theater at the Bedford Boys Ranch
2821 Forest Ridge Road
Plays through January 27th
Tickets are $20.00 ($15.00 for season pass holders)
Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm
Call 817-354-6444 for more information or to purchase tickets or visit www.onstageinbedford.com