The Column Online



Adapted by Christopher Sergel

Plaza Theatre Company

Directed by Taffy Geisel
Stage Manager – Ruth Ann Warwick
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Lighting Design – Cameron Barrus
Set Design – Taffy Geisel and Parker Barrus
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Props – Soni Barrus

Frank Gilbreth Sr. - JaceSon P. Barrus
Lillian Moller Gilbreth – Katy Wood
Anne Gilbreth – Julia Wood
Ernestine Gilbreth – Jude Lewis
Martha Gilbreth – Gabriela Yarbrough
Bill Gilbreth – Gavin Clark
Lillian Gilbreth – Ayvrie Tarron
Fred Gilbreth – Anthony Sullivan
Frank Gilbreth Jr – Matthew Leake
Darla Gilbreth – Kylie Kimball
Jackie Gilbreth – Maddox Marino
Mrs. Fitzgerald – Stacey Blanton
Dr. Burton – Jonathan Nash
Larry – Nate Frederickson
Miss Brill – Megan A. Liles
Joe Scales – Liam Blanton

Reviewed Performance: 9/8/2018

Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Cheaper by the Dozen is a semi-autobiographic story written by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, two of the twelve children in the story. The book was first adapted into a movie in 1950 and then a stage play in 1992. Christopher Sergel also made a musical out of the show with a score by David Rogers and Mark Bucci.

It is the story of real-life Motion Studies expert Frank Gilbreth Sr who did indeed have twelve children. Gilbreth’s home doubled as a sort of real-world laboratory that tested Frank’s ideas about efficiency. When questioned about why he had so many kids he would quip, “Well, you know you get ‘em cheaper by the dozen.” Thus, the title of the book and play.

JaceSon P. Barrus plays Frank Sr just as standoffish and regimental as you would think an efficiency expert would be. I thoroughly believe Frank Sr was just that; a man more worried about shaving a few seconds off a task than pretty much anything else. I don’t like this guy. I know people like this and they are hard to be around. So initially I balked at the characterization that Barrus was putting forth. That being said, Barrus somehow found aspects of Frank that made him more human, that made you empathize with and come to care about this man that was so driven by one thing... efficiency. He truly allowed us to enter his brain and realize the why and wherefores of his passion. The result is a most compelling performance by a talented actor.

Katy Wood plays his wife, Lillian. In real life, Lillian was an efficiency expert as well. You never really get that idea in this play but that is not the fault of anything Katy did or did not do. It is just never really brought out in the script. She is written as a very supportive wife and a compassionate mother and Ms. Wood brings both of those aspects to life wonderfully.

The acting does faulter slightly with the children. Jude Lewis and Matthew Leake open the show as Ernestine and Frank Jr respectively. They are supposed to be older, looking back and remembering the events that will unfold over the next hour and a half. It took me a minute or two to figure that out as their conversation melted into the scene on stage. They didn’t immediately come across as older than they appeared and their ‘memories’ did not have nostalgic emotions. When they were kids in the house interacting with the other kids, it was fine and believable. But, when they had to remove themselves from the scene and become the adult Ernestine and Frank Jr remembering the time spent, they struggled a bit conveying the age difference.

The other two older girls Anne, the oldest child played by Julia Wood and Martha (delightfully whiny Gabriela Yarborough) were strong and meek and cute all at the same time. The scenes between the three girls were gold. Wood makes a wonderful rebellious daughter on the verge of becoming a woman, finding ways to assert herself in the family and the world. She purchases silk stockings of all things...egads. Did I mention this show is set in the 1920s? Gabriela Yarborough and Lewis want to follow their sister’s lead and become strong women but Martha (Yarborough) realizes she is still too young to try her parent’s patience with the things that Anne is doing. The dynamic of these three girls is one of the best aspects of the show.

The other children fill in the gaps of the story and do it well enough. However, Gavin Clark as Bill steals almost every scene he can. He is tasked with being the third wheel on Anne’s dates to the moving pictures or soda shop. He ends up with a tagline in the show that he delivers like an arrow from William Tell; quick, sharp and dead on target. He was definitely a bright spot in the show.

You might notice that there are only nine children listed instead of a dozen. The other three, constantly referred to as “the babies” are off-stage characters. Miss Brill, the school teacher who hates children is overplayed by Megan A. Liles. In a show where the rest of the cast is realistic and believable, she almost turns into a caricature of the spinster schoolmarm.

One of the best things in the show was the costuming. This show is set in the roaring twenties. All the girl’s dresses were perfectly period and the silk stocking were a beautiful touch. The boys were dressed as dapper little gentlemen as they should have been for a well-to-do family from New Jersey. The boyfriends had the straw hats and the big fur coats that were all the rage at the time. Nate Frederickson as Larry played the Jazz Kool Kat with glee and was very effective in that role. Liam Blanton as Anne’s more serious love interest, Joe Scales, was cultured, gentlemanly and considerate. Not to mention he was a quite handsome young suitor as well. His interaction with Anne was warm and caring and so true, another bright spot in the show. I’m sure that came straight from Taffy Geisel’s direction. The entire show flowed well and although it was short on time, she was able to present a well-founded story that left you with the sense of wanting to know what comes next.

Plaza Theatre Company consistently produces quality shows and this production, while not as spectacular as their musicals, is still good solid theatre.

"Cheaper by the Dozen" plays through Sept 29th at Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall in Cleburne, TX.
Thur/Fri/Sat Evening 7:30
Sat Matinee 3:00
Tickets $15-25
To purchase tickets, visit or call the Box Office @ 817-202-0600.