By Michael McKeever
Theatre Off The Square
Director –Tim Herndon
Set Designer—Tim Herndon
Lighting Designer – Wally Jones, Connor Kirchhefer
Sound Designer – Tim Herndon, Wally Jones, Connor Kirchhefer
Costume Designer – Toni Ogle, Cast
Property Design—Toni Ogle, Michelle Newman
Stage Manager—Toni Ogle
Bernard S. Dunlap—Wally Jones
Mrs. Everett P. Osgood—Laurie Jones
Dora Del Rio—Dana Powers
Claudia McFadden—Connie Ingram
Mr. Pippett-Charlie Hodges
Murphy Stevens—Kadence Dye
Athena Sinclair—Amanda Livengood
Reviewed Performance: 12/10/2022
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
What do you get when you combine outlandishly wild characters, mistaken identity, and lots of doors? The equation for the perfect comedic farce. One of my favorite styles of comedy, farce is a light, humorous style in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation, rather than development of character. Usually, the characters stay the same throughout the story, and the situation is constantly changing. Think “Three’s Company,” “The Birdcage,” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It can be an extremely difficult style of comedy to master, but, when it is, it definitely delivers.
Set in 1942, in the Presidential Suite of the Palm Beach Royale Hotel in Palm Beach, “Suite Surrender” follows the story of two of Hollywood’s biggest divas who have arrived to play a World War II USO Benefit while managing a legendary feud with one another. Everything seems to be in order to keep the two divas separated, until they are assigned to the same suite. Told in a 1940’s screwball style, “Suite Surrender” is chock-full of 1940s double entendres, and is a delightful homage to the classic farces of the 1940’s. As with any comedy, expect the unexpected during the course of the plot-and prepare yourself to belly laugh. Director Tim Herndon brought together a small and talented ensemble cast that worked well together and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together design elements that enhanced the story being told by these eccentric characters. In my opinion, farce can be an extremely difficult style of comedy to master for a director and the actors. If you don’t deliver, the comedy falls flat. Mr. Herndon definitely delivers in the farce style. The overall vision and concept for the production were executed well.
This was my first trek out to Weatherford and Theatre Off The Square, and I can say that I was extremely impressed with the space that is used for the production. Situated in an old church, Theatre Off The Square uses the interior of the old church to create a very intimate space that allows audiences to be up close and personal with the action of the play. In this production, sets were designed by the director, Tim Herndon. In keeping with the cozy space, the one-location set designed by Herndon was marvelous. The functionality of the sets that is put together on stage was fantastic! It is exactly what was necessary for a farce of this caliber. Herndon’s beautiful set evokes the sedate glamour of an old hotel. Details such as the upright piano, and wonderful period bar helped to create the time and place of the charming 1940’s resort in Palm Beach. From the fabulous little details (such as a double door French style balcony bathed in light blue to suggest a pool below) to the wonderfully amazing detail of chair railing that was once standard architecture in fancy hotels. Under Herndon’s direction and set design, audiences are truly transported to a different time and place-the main responsibility of the Director and Scenic Designer.
The sound was designed by director Tim Herndon (an artisan of various talents), Wally Jones, and Connor Kirchhefer. From the moment I entered the theatre, I was in love with the music. It immediately caught my attention and took me back to the early sounds of the 1940’s-one of my favorite time periods. From the sounds of Artie Shaw and “Begin the Beguine,” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” to vault audio items such as “Bugle Call Rag” (Benny Goodman) and the ever-recognizable voice of Jimmy “The Schnoz” Durante with “Inka Dinka Doo.” It is apparently quite a bit of research, detail, and time that went into creating the audio backdrop for the pre-show and intermission music. Perhaps one of the most fun (and most time-consuming) elements of design the music can really make or break a production. In this production of “Suite Surrender,” the sound design is impressive and definitely delivers. Bravo!
Costumes were designed by Toni Ogle and members of the cast. While the majority of the costumes were indicative of the period, I found that some of the wardrobe choices were sadly ill-fitting, and really did not do much to flatter the actors. The costumes serve the purpose of the production and help to identify characters, but, unfortunately, leave much to be desired. I was a tad disappointed that the costumes did not do as much for me to take me back to the 40s as the music did. The costumes were functional, but they were not much to write home about.
Connie Ingram was incredibly believable in the role of Claudia McFadden. Through extremely humorous facial expressions, body language, and incredible comic timing, Ingram convincingly portrayed the ultimate demanding diva, McFadden, complete with her obnoxious affection for her dog, Mr. Boodles, and her requirement for dozens of white roses to decorate her hotel room. Ingram has a phenomenal voice and wows audiences with her performance behind the piano as Miss McFadden.
Wally Jones was absolutely hilarious in the role of aggravated and frustrated Hotel Manager, Bernard S. Dunlap. Portraying the straight man to the insane assortment of screwball characters, Jones did his best to keep the peace between divas McFadden and Athena Sinclair (played humorously by Amanda Livengood), while trying awfully hard to keep his composure as the ever-important Hotel Manager. Jones had some wonderful moments of humor with his facial expressions, and reactions and his sense of comic timing were impeccable while delivering the straight-man routine.
Rounding out the comical and amusing cast of characters were Palm Beach Royale bellhops, Francis (Jordan Herndon), and Otis (Thomas Vigil) participating in their own absurd and goofy situations. Similar to the comedic stylings of Abbott and Costello, Herndon and Vigil had some wonderful on-stage chemistry with each other and other members of the company. Mistaken identities, eavesdropping, and absolutely hilarious facial expressions helped these actors stand out in the company and bring another level of absurdity to the farce.
This production of Suite Surrender is worth seeing. From the wonderful musical sounds of the 1940s to the impeccable comic timing-Suite Surrender brings a humorous farce to the stage, and laughs are guaranteed. If you have never experienced a farce live on stage, I recommend you see Suite Surrender at Theatre Off the Square in Weatherford. Hurry… time is limited…by December 18, the production will close, like the many doors in the farce.
Theatre Off The Square
114 North Denton Street
Weatherford, Texas 76086
Plays Through Dec. 18, 2022.
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:00 pm
Tickets are between $15-$20, depending on performance.
For tickets call: 817-341-8687 or visit: http://www.theatreoffthesquare.org