DEAR RUTHWritten by Norman Krasna
Plaza Theatre Company
Director –Taffy Geisel
Set Designer – Parker Barrus
Lighting Designer –Cameron Barrus
Sound Designer – G. Aaron Siler
Costume Designer – Megan A. Liles
CAST (for reviewed performance)
Mrs. Edith Wilkins—Kathy Lemons
Miriam Wilkins—Gabriela Yarbrough
Judge Harry Wilkins—Luke Hunt
Ruth Wilkins—Julia Wood
Lt. William Seawright—Jesse Bowron
Mr. Albert Klummer—Rodney Hudson
Martha Seawright—Anna Looney
Sgt. Chuck Vincent—Quentin Scott
Harold Klobbermeyer—Asher Renfroe
Reviewed Performance: 4/25/2019
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Set in New York in 1944, when America was in the midst of World War II, and sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands were off at war. Sixteen-year old Miriam Wilkins (an early political activist) participates in several of the war efforts on the home front including “Bundles for America.” She befriends Lt. William Seawright (by written correspondence), and the two immediately hit it off, eventually exchanging letters of a romantic nature posing as her older sister Ruth.
When the time comes for Miriam to send a photo, she sends a picture of her older sister, and expects that to be the end of it. What she does not know, is that Lt. Seawright will soon be in New York for a two-day military leave, and arrives at the Wilkins home preparing to woo and marry the woman named Ruth. With humorous and eccentric characters, confusing situations, and quick paced story, the perfect elements to any well-written romantic comedy. It follows the basic and simple formula: boy meets girl, boy loses girl- you get the idea.
Set Designer Parker Barrus nicely transformed Plaza Theatre’s in the round space into the interior of the Wilkins home. I was impressed with his attention to detail, using period issues of Life Magazine to dress the set while also creating a very open atmosphere on stage. I was also impressed with Barrus’ overall vision and design. One of the gems was seeing different areas of the house elevated above the heads of the audience members to suggest upstairs parts of the Wilkins home. It is one of those scenic elements that you are impressed by the moment you walk into the theater. If you have never been to the new Plaza Theatre Company space at Dudley Hall, you are truly missing out! It is such a beautiful space. The best way for me to describe the space is comparing to a blank canvas. Each time I am there, the talented production team has transformed it into something completely different from the previous production. There were several playing spaces that provided effective stage pictures of a simplistic life when families gathered on the porch after supper, read the newspaper and listened to the radio. It was an excellent way to transform the space into a home in 1944.
Lighting was designed by Cameron Barrus. While there are few things a lighting designer can implement in such a straightforward play, I felt the mood was established and consistent throughout the course of the play. The lighting helped to keep the audience informed of time passing throughout the period of two days in the story.
Assisting the lighting and set, G. Aaron Siler also carried through with his selection of music throughout the play. I especially appreciated his vast selection of songs. I believe music can make or break a play, allowing the audience to experience the setting, mood and theme of a production. It was nice to hear some of the old standards that I had not heard in a long time take over the speakers at Dudley Hall. Among some of these songs were “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” These were the quintessential sounds of the early 1940’s, and the sounds that filled USO dances. It was nice to see something as simple as music make such a lasting impression on audiences when often it can be an afterthought in other productions. As an avid audiophile, I was greatly satisfied by the library of songs Mr. Siler chose to take audiences back to the era of World War II.
In my opinion, selecting music for a production can sometimes be the most difficult task. Not only are sound designers trying to set the stage for a specific time period, but they also work tirelessly to research and listen to the right song, or portion of a song to capture a theme, mood, or moment. Mr. Siler does this with great talent, and I am always impressed with his choices. Through the production, the actors overcame some issues with the mics early on, but were able to adapt quickly to some apparent audio issues. It seems that the world cannot go through a live performance with some sort of a mic problem. It is one of those great mysteries of live theatre. T’was ever thus.
Megan A. Liles designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The 1940’s was such a fun time for fashion. Men and women alike dressed more formally, even when merely gathered on the back porch. The hats and gloves, eye glasses and period hairstyles, all added authenticity to the roles. Each costume was visually appealing and certainly complimented the characters portrayed.
Julia Wood was very remarkable in the role of Ruth Wilkins. Through facial expressions, voice, and a lovely youthful and beautiful appearance. She is exactly what I would expect from the “glamour” girls of the 1940’s. Full of innocence, and natural beauty. She brought an excellent sense of the “straight” role to the stage, allowing the other characters to contrast with their comedic timing and situations.
Another standout performance was Luke Hunt in the role of Judge Harry Wilkins. Mr. Hunt was convincing as the patriarch of the Wilkins family, with earnest chemistry between Mrs. Edith Wilkins (played wonderfully by Kathy Lemons) and youngest daughter, Miriam. Not only did Mr. Hunt come across as the quintessential caring father figure, but he also provided quite a bit of the comedy to many situations and scenes. Facial expressions and banter between the characters provided so many comic moments-it was truly enjoyable to watch.
One of the most enjoyable actors to watch was Jesse Bowron in the role of Lt. William Seawright. Mr. Bowron truly conveyed a wonderful sense of naturalism on stage. His facial expressions were very honest, and he was most believable in his characterization. Mr. Bowron looked as if he had stepped right out of the 1940’s. He had a very classic look about him, and was very reminiscent of those young, handsome men that we often see in pictures from the 1940’s. Bravo, Mr. Bowron.
Overall, the ensemble displayed some excellent chemistry together. The Director and the cast worked well together, both veteran and newer actors. It was a pleasure to see such talented actors, and was among the best I have seen in a production in a long time. They were a very tight ensemble, and really drew me into the story instantly.
Every actor brought an element of importance to his or her character. I enjoyed the facial expressions and line delivery of Rodney Hudson (Mr. Albert Klummer- Ruth’s real fiancé) and the quick comic timing of Barbara Rose, playing Dora, the Wilkins’ maid. The ensemble’s youngest member, Gabriela Yarbrough was another standout, playing nosey, but well-meaning and young daughter Miriam Wilkins. Miss. Yarbrough has phenomenal comic timing, fantastic on-stage presence with the adult actors, and a sense of innocence as only a teenager might have in 1944. As Miss Yarbrough matures and expands her acting resume, she will certainly become a well-rounded actress.
Dear Ruth is definitely worth seeing. The care for detail is evident in all aspects of the production, and makes for a wonderful experience at the theater. If you are looking for an opportunity to travel back to the 1940’s, I encourage you to see Dear Ruth at Plaza Theatre Company. This production does exactly what the theatre is intended to do-it suspends reality for a few moments, and brings audiences back to a simpler time. Dear Ruth is a light and fun comedy that audiences of all ages would enjoy.
305 S. Anglin St.
Cleburne, TX 76031
Plays through May 11, 2019.
Thursday-Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm
Tickets are $25.00 and $23.00 for seniors 65+, Students (high school/college) are $23.00, and children (12 and under) are $15.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.plaza-theatre.com or call their box office at 817-202-0600.