The Column Online



by Eddie McPherson

Wylie Acting Group

Marissa Leraas – Delores
Melanie Barton – Keeper of the Desk
Joshua Hargrove – Tanner Conners
Desirea Brown – Ms. Flagg
Brigham Miller – Justin
Tyler Harbison – Ranger
Ella Barton – Meagan
Katie Harris – Nicole
Savannah Harrod – Gillian
Kristina Murphy – Mrs. Jolly
Jason Sturgeon – Mr. Peterson
George Lannan – Sammy Malone
Justin Coleman – Raven Malone
Rose Maxey – Rona
Molly Halligan – Marion
Michelle Smith – Judge
Lucy Lively – Keeper 2
Luke Brown -- Banker and Juror
Hudson Madden – Landlord and Policeman
Evelyn Seddig – Cook and Juror
Grant Morrison – Nurse/Plumber
Colton Smith – Mr. Laney
Isabella Salmon -- Mrs. Laney
Ben Kimbrel – Gunter Gunderson and Juror
Katie Jacobs – Annie Belle and Juror
Zachery Fuller – Dusty Rhodes and Juror
Paul Brown – Joe McQuack and Juror
Kylee Sanders – Opal McQuack

Directors: Melissa Harbison and Tiffany Harrod
Production Managers: Melanie Barton and Sandra Shaw
Stage Manager: Shirley Berthelot (Youth Crew: Maggie Smith and Sam Carman)
Technical Manager: Paul Kimbrel (Youth Lighting Crew: Jacob Sanders)
Set Design: Debi Harris (Youth Backstage Crew: Savannah Jobe and Ethan Vicknair)
Costume Design: Michelle Smith
Props: Kasi Smith and Christine Vicknair
Makeup: Jami Maxi (Youth Crew: Kimberly Irby)

Reviewed Performance: 9/21/2019

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Non-profit Wylie Acting Group’s mission is to “educate and enrich the lives of children and families through the magic of community theatre.” Now in their 10th year of productions, the hard-working WAG board and volunteer army has created a sturdy acting space in a converted commercial building. They have a small but welcoming lobby and the seats are comfortable, with good sight lines to watch the proceedings on the raised proscenium stage. Their lighting and sound equipment is great. The theatre’s productions are primarily children and youth-centered, with young actors filling roles both onstage and behind it, but they have started producing shows with all-adult casts as well. Their current offering, “Legend of Sammy’s Swamp,” is primarily a youth production, with a few game adults in the mix as well.

You don’t go to a play titled “Legend of Sammy’s Swamp” expecting anything other than a campy good time and that is exactly what you will find at this fun youth production, that riffs on the kind of goofy mystery the old “Scooby Doo” cartoon would depict. The adult directing team of Melissa Harbison and Tiffany Harrod have done a fine job getting their 28-person cast moving on the well-appointed stage. While there were pacing issues throughout the show, overall this is an enjoyable two hours of theatre. They are especially to be commended on the obvious care taken to make sure each actor had a moment to shine onstage, even in the smallest roles, and their blocking of the relatively small space was well done. The large ensemble did an admirable job of storytelling, cracking jokes, improving comic bits, embodying whacky characters, several of them showed they have some solid acting chops beneath the broad comedy required by this script.

In brief, a group of students on a botany trip spend the night at a spooky and remote Inn that used to be the Lake Shimmer Resort, but which has fallen into disrepair after a tragic murder involving a family dispute by the original builder of the inn, Sammy Malone, played with excellent comic instincts by George Lannan. Now the Inn seems to be haunted by a moaning swamp creature, although this is denied by the woman at the front desk. “We’re not haunted, but we are disturbed.” The kids in the class (hilariously costumed like the characters in “Scooby Doo”) are quickly embroiled in the spooky goings-on, with one of them, the excellent standout Brigham Miller as Justin, finally figuring out the secrets behind the murder and the swamp monster. He brings the real murderer to justice with the help of his narcoleptic classmate Gillian, played with pitch-perfect nerdism by Savannah Harrod. Ella Barton and Katie Harris have fun moments as they embody characters that act and sound suspiciously like Daphne and Velma. It is noteworthy that both of these actresses had long spells of not being in the spotlight, but both found non-distracting and amusing character reactions to fill the corners of the stage. Talented Tyler Harbison as their other classmate Ranger gets some of the biggest laughs of the show as he tries to get himself a girlfriend. Young Harbison is excellent at taking the stage when it is his turn to move the action forward, but then allowing his fellow actors their own space. These performers all deserve high-fives for staying in character throughout the wacky proceedings. Each were on top of all their lines and entrances, and you can see some acting pros in the making.

Another youth standout performer is Marissa Leraas as Delores, a cook/maid at the hotel who yearns to find a love of her own. This is one of the usually thankless ‘straight’ roles you find in broad comedy that can swallow up a performer, but Lerass didn’t let that happen. Leraas was able to convey many emotions despite not being in a showy role, and she won me over completely with her ability to keep a straight face during one scene when the very funny Joshua Hargrove as woe-begone Tanner Conner started singing “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” to her in a clearly un-rehearsed moment. Hargrove has delightful comedic instincts, and rather consistently challenged his young cast-mates to stay in character over his antics. To their credit, the kids were all up for the challenge, and it gave us a lot of laughs.

Another very funny performer is Jason Sturgeon as the crazy Mr. Peterson, who makes his first entrance wearing a sizeable deer antler hat made out of foil. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s just that kind of play. Sturgeon is clearly having a ball with his role, and relates well with the younger performers. Kristina Murphy as a reporter trying to get a photo of the elusive Swamp Creature gives a nice balance to this show. She is slightly goofy but not overly so, and never overplayed her role. Melanie Barton as the very sad Keeper of the Desk didn’t have a strong start at the top of the show, and was difficult to hear at times, but as the play went on she gained confidence and volume. Desirea Brown as teacher Ms. Flagg chewed through her part loudly and with campy abandon.

The story-within-a-story flashback that encompasses much of the second act was well-carried by the rest of the ensemble youth. Michelle Smith as the adult Judge was also strong. Lannan’s portrayal of the doomed Sammy Malone had some real pathos in it, while Justin Coleman took on the swaggering “bad-guy” Raven Malone with verve. His dicey girlfriend, Madonna-wanna-be Rona, was played by Rose Maxey, and she seemed like she was having a great time with the vampy role, so we enjoyed it too.

The set design by Debi Harris worked very well for this play, allowing for good flow for the many actors as they moved in and out of the story. Props were impressive and varied, lighting worked great, especially the clever use of a scrim at various points in the proceedings. The costumes by Michelle Smith were simply fabulous and earn my vote as best costuming for a play I’ve seen in the DFW area thus far this year. Makeup was also good. It is always a treat to see the technical aspects of community theatre given the space and respect they deserve, and this theatre has done that, with great success. WAG seems to be doing an outstanding job in fulfilling its mission to educate kids in all aspects of the theatre, not just the ones out front performing. They also put on a darn funny show.

PERFORMANCES are Friday 20th & 27th at 7pm and Saturday 21st and 28th at 2pm and 7pm
Wylie Acting Group. 205 Industrial Court, Wylie TX. 469.298.8061.