AND MISS REARDON DRINKS A LITTLEBy Paul Zindel
Garland Civic Theatre
Directed by Kyle McClaran
Set and Costume Design – Kyle McClaran
Lighting Design – Josh Hensley
Sound Design – Kyle McClaran and Jodi Kopaniky
Master Carpenter – Joshua Hensley
Master Electrician – Cole Marcus
Catherine – Marilyn Twyman
Anna – Mary Ellen Alexander
Ceil – Peyton Hayslip
Mrs. Petrano – Mildred Austin
Fleur Stein – Brandy Townsend
Bob Stein – Jacob Drum
Delivery Boy – Jacob Drum
Reviewed Performance: 9/16/2017
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It has a good pedigree. The play was written by Paul Zindel, author of the 1971 Pulitzer Prize winning drama “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds”, as well as “The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild”, “Ladies at the Alamo”, and several others. I have seen productions of “…Mildred Wild” and “Ladies at the Alamo”. Zindel is an excellent playwright with the ability to provide huge belly laughs amid emotional landscapes that barren and brittle. His focus seems to be on personal hopes-hopes dashed; hopes attained at the expense of others; hopes constantly deferred until there is no longer a reason to continue hoping. His humor allows us to survive visiting this landscape but does not prevent us from being touched by it. This is the world of “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little”.
The set pull you into this world immediately. Kyle McClaran gave a breath-taking apartment to step into. The play is set in the 1980’s but the apartment pulls you back decades. This is place that has been home to a family for years and years. It shows faded elegance and has the feel of a place that people live in. The set made me look forward to what was to come.
You see, we have stepped into the world of three sisters, Catherine, Anna and Ceil. They grew up there and Catherine and Anna have never left. All work in the New York Education System. Ceil is the Superintendent of Schools and Catherine and Anna work in the same school, Catherine as an assistant principal and Anna as Chemistry teacher. Anna spent many years caring for her ailing mother. After the mother’s death (this is a guess on my part) Catherine moved back to the apartment with Anna and they make a trip to Rome during which Anna begins to exhibit strange behavior. Upon coming back to the apartment Catherine and Anna both begin to have trouble at work, becoming targets of school gossip. As we meet them at the beginning of the play, Anna is at home after an undefined incident with a high school boy and Catherine is anticipating a visit from Ceil with all the hatred the Arayan Nation might show pending a visit by Jay Z.
We are observing the continuation of ancient battles among the sisters. And because we begin with Catherine and Anna’s observations about Ceil we see her as the interloper, the schemer, the destroyer of relationships for her own gain, at least I did. But I found myself in the hands of unreliable witnesses to the past. I was made to change my point of view, something Catherine and Anna were incapable of doing. I ended up not taking sides at all. I could only watch as frustrated human beings vented at each other.
It takes skilled and capable actors to make this kind of exercise watchable and Mr. McClaran has assembled a very strong cast. Marilyn Twyman plays Catherine with a Caustic edge. She is dealing with her sister Anna who believes she has a disease she can’t possibly have and has also become a fanatical vegetarian. And as the Miss Reardon of the title, Catherine is struggling to hold her own demons at bay. Ms. Tyman is onstage for most of the show and her ability to convey anger fueled by despair displays amazing endurance.
Mary Ellen Alexander is Anna and she is a scene stealer. Anna is the kind of out-there character that actors love. But her Anna is hurting and that pain feeds every antic. Ms. Alexander knows when to dial up the weirdness and when to dial it down for the sake of the storyline. It is the work of a professional and I applaud her for it.
Ceil is set up as the bad guy in the beginning and Peyton Hayslip comes in ready for business. The character is desperately trying to find out what happened with Anna and the high school boy and Ms. Hayslip shows the strain of dealing with the situation as an administrator yet still trying to care for her sister. Ceil is hated by both sisters and seems bewildered by it. Ms. Hayslip’s performance is the reason I changed my allegiance from the sisters. Maybe I am not firmly on her side but I came to see that Ceil was the object of the other sisters’ hatred because of what she was able to achieve outside of the apartment, the world of their mother.
I was sad that Mildred Austin’s character Mrs. Pentrano made such a short appearance. She played the part of the busy-body wife of the building superintendent with such joy. And the playwright gave her lines with glorious mispronunciations that were wonderfully funny. I will never be able to picture two lebanons fighting under a window the same way again. You’ll need to see the play for the explanation to that.
Jacob Drum plays both the delivery boy in the beginning of the play and Bob Stein near the middle. The delivery boy’s part is brief and there to give a tiny hint of Anna’s weird behavior at school. Bob Stein, on the other hand, along with his wife Fleur (played with breathless earnestness by Brandy Townsend) is the fuel poured upon fire the sisters live in. Bob, like his wife Fleur, is frustrated by the emptiness in his own life, so using the guise of being honest, he spits out his bile at Anna as if it were good advice. He is incapable of seeing the damage he does because he doesn’t care, not even about himself. Mr. Drum does a good job showing Bob’s insensitivity. I did find his oddly fitted mustache a little distracting but this is a tiny thing.
Brandy Townsend’s Fleur was laughable and heart-breaking. Fleur, the school counselor, is there to suck up to Ceil and let her know that she is capably handling Anna’s infraction at work while at the same time sharing confidential information with her husband and, presumably, anyone else who will listen. Ms. Townsend makes Fleur so earnest yet the character is incompetent and incapable of advancing in a career she is not suited for. Fleur’s final lines made me sympathetic towards her but also glad she was leaving. Thank you, Brandy, for a job well done.
If my descriptions of the characters make them seem formidable it’s because they are. If it makes it seem that this would not be a way to spend a Friday or Saturday night I would ask you to give this play a try. It is beautifully written and very well acted and it worth your time. And at the end you will end up with evening well spent. And maybe you’ll end up like me and like the title. It’s a cool title.
Garland Civic Theatre
Through September 30, 2017
Performances at 8:00 PM
September 24, 2017 – 2:30 PM
Performances are in the Small Theatre in the Granville Arts Center.
300 N. Fifth Street, Garland, Texas, 75040.
Tickets at 972-205-2790 or www.GarlandCivicTheatre.org