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Little Mary Sunshine at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 22 November 2007

Little Mary Sunshine looks like a tribute to musical entertainment from the past, starting with a pretty damsel lighting the gas footlights which illuminate the stage. This was a time before television, perhaps even before radio, when men were men, ladies were girls, good and bad were easily distinguished, and virtue always triumphed—a time when the hero went off to save the world (or at least Colorado) leaving the heroine behind. Problems arose, trouble ensued, but it all came right in the end.

I’m not absolutely certain of author Rick Besoyan’s intent, but I can tell you the outcome when the wise old hands of Director Robert Love and his crew were done with it.

It’s a joke. Little Mary Sunshine is a romantic farce. A hootingly funny, tongue-in-cheek story.

How that effect is achieved seems very subtle: an infinitesimal pause before the magnificent hero and heroine speak. Captain “Big” Jim Warrington (Tom Accettola) is the handsome baritone hero and “Little” Mary Sunshine (Sue Claire Jones) is the gorgeous soprano heroine and is, naturally, fully bedecked in frills and lace (Photo by Jerry Telfer). Those extra pauses keep their speech from being sappy and movements from being trite. We are immersed in a play within a play, waiting on tender hooks for something ludicrous to happen. It promptly occurs, but that it is full of double entendre amplifies our enjoyment.

Act One opens on an old Indian (D.C. Scarpelli) who steals the show. There hasn’t been any show yet, but he’s stolen it anyway: Chief Brown Bear is both regal and ferocious. The Chief’s magnificent hair and his musical maraca are appreciated trifles tacked onto yet another of D.C.’s superlative characterizations.

The young ladies from the Easchester Finishing School are so well turned out, they’re convinced their immensely rich fathers would be quite proud of them. Cora (Anne Collins) is the girls’ nominal chaperone and brightly admonishes them to keep up appearances and keep out of trouble, though she doesn’t quite keep out of it herself. Henrietta (Heather Morrison) is the agitator and the school’s naughtiest girl, a role which Heather evidently fully enjoys. Gwendolyn (Katie Swango) and Maud (Linda Woody-Wood) are two other young ladies who do a fine job swooning, squawking and looking adorable.

The young gentlemen of the United States Forest Rangers (for some reason dressed vaguely like Canadian Mounties) are a cheerful lot and break into song at the drop of a.... The Forest Ranger chorus consists of Pete (Douglas Braak), Slim (Chris Schwartz), Buster (Frederick Lein), and Tex (Larry Schrupp).

They’re manly men, perennially prepared (like Boy Scouts) to brave fearful tasks, including failure to return alive. The men face the future with chirpy fortitude. It’s really quite ridiculous.

Forest Rangers, though clean in soul and mind, fall for the ladies. How Larry manages to look like a lovesick teenage boy ogling the ladies is a delight!

The central love affair occurs between Nancy Twinkle (Michelle Pond) as Miss Mary’s maid and Corporal Billy Jester (Coley Grundman). Nancy makes sin sound like such fun. To Nancy, devilishness is so much more interesting than behaving properly. Nancy is a role fit for a ham artist and Michelle handles the histrionics adeptly. As lovely as the young ladies are in their pyjamas, Nancy is even more delectable in hers.

Corporal Billy disapproves of Nancy’s behaviour, particularly with regard to other men, though she pleads and promises to reform. Billy wavers—we can see he is torn—will he yield?

Corporal Billy goes off to meet Chief Brown Bear to the delight of the audience. Corporal Billy’s spectacular dance is so fluid one wondered how he remembers all those steps. Choreographer Kris Bell was brilliant (even without hats in the scene).

Fleet Foot (John Wilson) is a hoot!

General Oscar Fairfax (John Hull) gave me shivers—his voice quivers with his thrill at having so many delicate young ladies to whom he can play “Uncle.” Really, I would not let the General near any niece of mine. He is saved by circumstance and metamorphoses into a stodgy aristocrat. Moments later, he is full of anguish and falls in love. Why anyone ever let a man with this range of talent retire from the stage is beyond me. Let’s see him again!

The general falls into the arms of Madame Ernestine Von Liebedich (Ann Homrighausen) who makes being royalty look easy. Ann is another rarity who puts a lie to my claim that people should not fake accents they don’t own; my Swiss audience companion was impressed. As a grande dame Ann is magnificent. Her voice is strong and rich and I could listen forever. Ann told me she had planned on retiring before now. Let’s convince her of “just one more” show again!

In the time I’ve been reviewing Masquers plays, I have learned a few things. Audience participation (i.e. laughter) is usually welcome, the cheering keeps the mood festive. The only drawback occurs when one misses dialogue because the laughter has not yet died down. I’ve been impressed how Masquers performers manage their delivery so that the audience can howl and still hear the next line of dialogue.

Along with laughter, another theatre axiom is to have so many events onstage that the poor audience can’t possibly keep up. We beleaguered audience members are so busy trying to follow the action, the actors and the songs to bother with remembering any pesky issues in one’s own life.

This play delivers delightfully.