Written by Jeffery Hatcher
The Reuben Cordova Theater
This week in Theatre By Rose Desena
The time is 1967. The location is small town Ohio. The subject is manners or is it?
This is a good opportunity to see one of the most prolific writers of our time. Jeffery Hatcher has a long list of successful plays under his belt. In this comedy he uses himself (not literally) to narrate this story. There is a lot more to this play then one might observe at first.
Jeffery (Richard Horvitz) is a socially insecure boy who finally finds a home in Mrs. Mannerly’s manners class. He is a bit of a mess. His voice is mousey and whiney. He is shy around women. Has very few friends and is deficient in sports.
If Jeffery lived in New York City, he would probably have been beaten up a lot. In desperation to find something that interests him, he attends Mrs. Mannerly’s class. Apparently, the class is quite the thing in this town; it’s been going on for 30 years. That’s a lot of kids with good manners!
The story centers around a graduation contest which no one has ever won. The class is full of useful lessons like how to set a table with more forks per place setting than I own. One learns how to eat gracefully and what glass to use at a banquet. There is dressing protocol, as well as dancing and posture instruction.
Jeffery masters all the skills and is in his glory as he becomes her star pupil. Eventually, after some manipulating, he becomes her only pupil. He talks her into organizing the competition even though he is the only competitor. It’s simple really all he has to do is answer 100 questions, perform the table settings and walk with a book on his head in front of a panel of some very old and very proper ladies.
This competition brings the play to a head as our dear little student must go through some hard decisions that could be destructive to his new friend Mrs. Mannerly to get the win he so deeply needs in his life. The teacher might be the Queen of Etiquette but she sure shocks her young protégé when they stop in a local bar for quick refreshment.
Is she a woman with a secret past? Or is she just a lush with a good gig? Nan Tepper was the right person to cast as Mrs. Mannerly; she really looks the part and has good chemistry with Horvitz.
Horvitz is magnificent and made the show a joy to watch. He was truly believable as he does the table settings with ease. He switches seamlessly between several characters. Although the stage set was minimal it was very creative with just a serving cart and desk chair as the primary focus. I loved the way the cart appears and disappears behind a hole in the wall with the help of white gloved hands. It’s a simple but entertaining play with some good humor.
However, I thought it was a little unfinished in the production cycle. I didn’t care for the blocking or the staging. It drove me nuts that the director did not take into consideration that the house is on three sides of the stage. It was like stage left didn’t exist. Most of the time all I saw were the actors’ backs. It was really frustrating and at one point I wanted to jump up and yell, “Turn around, damn it!”
Of course, that would not be very mannerly now would it? Some of the director’s choices were intentional like in the table setting scene which is done with the actors back to the audience. I assume it was done to save time. It happened several other times as well and that just didn’t work for me.
I have heard good things about this theater company so I wanted to check it out. The venue is a little hard to find. It’s in the Beverly Hills High School but it’s a large campus and I didn’t think it was easy to spot the signs in the dark. The theater is comfortable with nice new seats, and I was very impressed with the amount of stage lights they had.
I am always reluctant to go to a high school thinking that it might be a student production. Theater 40 is very much a professional theater group. I have to admit being in a high school brings back bad memories. Gray shiny walls, dirty bathrooms full of smoke and brawls in the locker room, but I got over it. Check out their web site and keep Theater 40 on your list. They have some interesting shows coming up.
Written by Jeffery Hatcher
Director – Robert Mackenzie
Cast- Richard Horvitz, Nan Tepper, Susan Mermet
The Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 S. Moreno Dr. Beverly Hills Ca. 90212
Runs through December 15th ,Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm / Sundays @ 2pm
Please check site for tickets and more information