Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mrs. Mannerly at ETC: Plan for Extra Performances

The outcome of Dexter's attendance at a school of manners.

     Jeffrey Hatcher’s Mrs. Mannerly, directed by Ed Stern, should be a solid hit for Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati.  It’s a brisk, charming, and startling comedy that is a valentine to a vanished era.  It’s specifically the late ‘60s in Steubenville, Ohio, but it seems more like the late ‘50s in terms of what we generally see in reflections of that period.  As Twain said
about our Queen City, “I want to be in Cincinnati at the end of the world because it’s always ten years behind the times” and that could probably be said about the Midwest in general.  

     It’s an excellent script with greater nuance and theatricality than the publicity materials promised.  Hatcher’s work has been produced by the Playhouse (Scotland Road, Three Viewings, Murderers – a taut, dark comedy from a couple of years ago, A Picasso – a cat and mouse comedy thriller that featured two great performances, and Everything’s Ducky – a wonderful chamber musical that should be in the national repertory and deserves a revival in this region just about more than any show I’ve seen in the past fifteen years).  He offers great opportunities to actors to display stylistic range and in this script that goes from sentimental comedy to story theatre farce to explosive surrealism to mystery and a final triumphant yet elegiac moment.  Hatcher is akin to an Elizabethan miniaturist presenting an impeccably detailed portrait that initially looks realistic, but is actually allegorical and speaks both of a society and a specific individual.  

Dale Hodges and Raymond McAnally
at the Steubenville Bar & Grill
    Ed Stern’s direction is sure handed and elegant in fusing these various genres.  This is a two-hander starring two extraordinary actors – local legend Dale Hodges as Mrs. Mannerly, who has taught deportment to children for over thirty years, and Raymond McAnally as two versions of Jeffrey Hatcher and a host of Mrs. Mannerly’s pupils and other residents of Steubenville.  The first time I saw Hodges was in the Angels in America plays at Human Race in Dayton and she was great.  She did as well as Meryl Streep did in those parts six years later on HBO and that’s saying something.  She pretty much blew us away in Wit and everything else, including Frozen, a play I did not care for.  She offers a lovely, flinty characterization here and with impeccable professional manners plays the straight woman and supporting actor to McAnally, who’s a dynamo playing an ensemble of characters in a kaleidoscopic array of comic arias.  This is a star-making performance and I hope he’ll return to Cincinnati in the future – Neil could see him in One Man, Two Guvnors and I could see him as Sir Toby Belch or Falstaff (hint, hint).

     A couple of other grace notes are Brian c. Mehring’s witty set and Shannon Rae Lutz’s clever and ingenious props.  There’s also some very subtle sound design by Matt Callahan that evokes a number of different settings almost subconsciously.  Kudos to all of them!

Mrs. Mannerly runs through Sunday, October 28.


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