Friday, June 5, 2015

George Washington Slept Here—North End Players—North Portland


A Simpler Time

This comedy from the 40’s is written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman and directed by Ilana Watson.  It is playing at the Twilight Theater Company space at 7515 N. Brandon Ave. through June 14th.  For more information, go to their site at www.NorthEndPlayers.org or call 503-847-9838.

Kaufman and Hart were both well-known and successful comedy playwrights of about 70 years ago.  This play was also made into a film with Jack Benny, who was never very convincing as an actor but garnered much success as a comedian on the radio and TV.  The story is a trip down memory lane where one could wax nostalgic about the good, ole days and simpler times.

Of course, there was a little thing called WWII around this era but plays such as this were great escapist fare yearning, not only a more peaceful atmosphere, but also one removed from the hustle and bustle of the Big City, in this case a farmhouse in Pennsylvania where, purportedly George Washington had slept.  (It turns out that it was the not the General that had snoozed there but a more nefarious character from that War.)

Newton (Ken Doud) has yearned for such a peaceful place, a charming, historic spot that he could call his own.  Annabelle (Debbie Larsen), his wife, is less than enthusiastic, to say the least.  And their daughter, Madge (Tabitha Ebert) and her boyfriend, Steve (Tristan David Luciotti), are along for the ride. Mr. Kimber (Jeff Paulsen), the local handyman, has great hopes for the place.

True, there is no water (the well is dry) or plumbing, or a bathroom, and the kitchen doesn’t have an appliances or, for that matter, an outside wall, and they have bug-infested trees and they don’t even have the right-of-way to the road to their house…except for these few minor problems, it is their dream house (or, at least, his).

Of course, the last thing they need is visitors and, of course, that is exactly what they get.  A helpful neighbor, Mrs. Douglas (Jo Lavey), fills them in on all the local gossip and they are besieged by two, summer stock actors, the egotistical, Clayton (Bobby Nove) and his ditzy wife, Rena (Genavee Stokes-Avery).  And if that isn’t enough, relatives have dumped off their troubled nephew, Raymond (Anthony Braunstein), to spend the summer with them and rich, fussy, Uncle Stanley (Tony Smith) has elected to spend a few days with them, as well.

Add to that, a grumpy maid, Hester (Ravyn Jazper-Hawke); the neighbor-from-hell, Mr. Prescott (Dan Kelsey); and a flock of young friends of Madge’s, the leggy, Sue (Josie Benedetti), the bouncy, Ellen (Kaitlin Fitzgerald), and the taciturn, Miss Wilcox (Kennedy Marvin), who she has invited to a party there, and you have a perfect recipe for disaster.  How it all turns out…well, you’ll just have to see, won’t you?

If, in that day and age, people were wishing for a simpler life, can you imagine how people of today should feel, with constant, international turmoil, civil unrest, bombardment of electronic gadgets and toys, etc.  But “Eden’s” are few and far between nowadays.  What this story attempts to offer is an alternative to the bustling lifestyle.

But, what is observed, is a play (not the actors fault) that needs some editing, has a long and repetitious final scene and peppers the play with some extraneous characters that do not further the plot.  Watson, the director, has done her best to block the scenes in such a way that there is always something going on but it does not cover up the fact that this is Hart and Kaufman not at their best.  The actors, too, do as well as they can with a weak script.

Doud, as the enthusiastic husband, is certainly the most animated of the cast and does infuse it with life whenever he’s on.  Larsen, as the unhappy wife, with her defeated attitude and some good, wise-cracking observations, manages to infuse the play with some spirit, as well.  And Smith is also good as the petulant Uncle who has a dire secret.  But many of the rest of the cast are somewhat inexperienced and it shows at times in their comic timing.  Actually being onstage, of course, is a great training ground and so this experience will hopefully encourage them to continue the process through training, education and more plays.

I’m impressed with the space that they have to work with, as it is rare that a theatre has exclusive use of a place.  It is only street parking at this point and I don’t believe they have any access for disabled people yet, as the theatre is upstairs.

This production is worth seeing for a glimpse back into history and observing the world as it was.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.