'Auntie Mame' a timeless character

Few authors have gotten so much mileage from a relative as Patrick Dennis, author of the 1955 novel “Auntie Mame.” The endearingly eccentric Mame Dennis (based on his real aunt) has enjoyed a very long life in her travels from the printed page to the theatrical stage (without music in 1958 and with in 1966) and finally to a big screen technicolor extravaganza in 1974, unfortunately the weakest of its incarnations.

The original comedy is on stage through May 22 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Theatre and the ebullient lifestyle of the title character is just as refreshing — if much less off-beat — more than a half-century later. 

Mame (Pat Berardi) is lady who lives life to the fullest, surrounded by a coterie of wild and wacky individuals, not the least of which is her best friend Vera Charles (Mary Ann Moran), a theatrical star who views life through a martini glass. At the center of her world is her young nephew Patrick (Dillon Slagle/Justin Williams), who arrives at her Beekman Place apartment with Norah Muldoon (Dawn Marie Hagerty) during one of his aunt’s “small” soirees. Patrick’s father is recently deceased and he has come to live with Mame, his only relative, under the restrictively puritanical eye of Dwight Babcock (Roy Bronkema) of the Knickerbocker Bank.

The background for Mame’s shifting lifestyle is reflected in her large and elegant apartment which goes from prohibition through the Depression to a literary period and turn at Swedish modern. The SBCT set, designed by Phil Patnaude, takes over the entire stage, with large, gilt-topped columns at each side and a proscenium-wide second floor hallway. Two large areas in the main level wall are used — although not nearly enough — as a background for Mame’s ever-changing decor but the sweeping staircase which can allow the colorful lady to make her initial appearance is, sadly, missing. Instead, the flamboyant character walks on through her guests in a less-than-spectacular introduction to what follows.

Few authors have gotten so much mileage from a relative as Patrick Dennis, author of the 1955 novel “Auntie Mame.” The endearingly eccentric Mame Dennis (based on his real aunt) has enjoyed a very long life in her travels from the printed page to the theatrical stage (without music in 1958 and with in 1966) and finally to a big screen technicolor extravaganza in 1974, unfortunately the weakest of its incarnations.

The original comedy is on stage through May 22 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Theatre and the ebullient lifestyle of the title character is just as refreshing — if much less off-beat — more than a half-century later. 

Mame (Pat Berardi) is lady who lives life to the fullest, surrounded by a coterie of wild and wacky individuals, not the least of which is her best friend Vera Charles (Mary Ann Moran), a theatrical star who views life through a martini glass. At the center of her world is her young nephew Patrick (Dillon Slagle/Justin Williams), who arrives at her Beekman Place apartment with Norah Muldoon (Dawn Marie Hagerty) during one of his aunt’s “small” soirees. Patrick’s father is recently deceased and he has come to live with Mame, his only relative, under the restrictively puritanical eye of Dwight Babcock (Roy Bronkema) of the Knickerbocker Bank.

The background for Mame’s shifting lifestyle is reflected in her large and elegant apartment which goes from prohibition through the Depression to a literary period and turn at Swedish modern. The SBCT set, designed by Phil Patnaude, takes over the entire stage, with large, gilt-topped columns at each side and a proscenium-wide second floor hallway. Two large areas in the main level wall are used — although not nearly enough — as a background for Mame’s ever-changing decor but the sweeping staircase which can allow the colorful lady to make her initial appearance is, sadly, missing. Instead, the flamboyant character walks on through her guests in a less-than-spectacular introduction to what follows.

Set pieces are at a minimum here as are props, even though the setting for Mame’s life banquet should be easily detected in the dramatic rise and fall of her circumstances. Difficult to tell whether it’s feast or famine in the Dennis domicile, so sparse are all the “trimmings.”. The same holds true of the costumes. Mame should be elegant and dashing, no matter her finances. Ms. Berardi’s outfits did nothing to reflect that never-say-die attitude. 

She and Ms. Moran are two of SBCT’s most reliable performers. Here, however, they do not seem easily suited to their respective roles. They do their best, but the results are rather awkward. Case in point: a scene in which Vera is required to dangle over the hall railing for almost the entire scene. I began to worry that her arms would go to sleep and the focus definitely shifted from the center stage action.

South Bend Civic  Auntie MameAs in many community theaters, finding actors and actresses of similar ages to portray couples can be a problem. Stephen Bailey is Mame’s southern beau, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, usually played by a man of middle years, and does such a good job that the disparity is apparent but not uncomfortable. He also is believable as the Irish poet who settles in Beekman Place to help Mame with her memoirs. It was jarring, however, to find that Japanese houseboy Ito had morphed into an extremely tall African American, also called Ito, who carried out his duties frequently garbed in ridiculous outfits.

Dillon Slagle delivers a sturdily thoughtful portrayal of Patrick, Mame’s “little love,” as a young boy, with Seyhan Kilic very effective as Agnes Gooch, the girl from Speedo who becomes Mame’s secretarial “sponge” and returns home for further advice after her fling at living has unexpected results. Ms Kilic also appears briefly as the dyspeptic Mother Burnside, although her bare feet were puzzling.

The rest of the cast does double and sometimes triple duty as various guests, allies and sometimes impediments of the redoubtable force of nature that is “Auntie Mame.”

“AUNTIE MAME” plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through May 22 in the theater at 403 N MainSt., South Bend. Prices vary. For reservations, call 234-1112 between noon and 6 p.m. weekdays or visit www.sbct.org.

'Dearly Beloved' Aims at Funnybone

The focus is on happily-ever-after in “Dearly Beloved,” the wild and wooly comedy on stage at the Bristol Opera House through Sunday.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, the first in a trilogy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Woolen, looks at a very special day in the life of the Futrelle sisters deep in the heart of Fayro, Texas.

In and around the anticipated nuptials of Tina Jo Dubberly (Karen Hoover) and her never-seen fiancé Parker Price, swirl a parade of slightly off-center characters. The bride’s mother, Frankie Futrelle Dubberly (Amy Pawlosky), is determined that the “Gone With the Wind” wedding theme will be strictly enforced. Her husband, Dub (Tom Doughty), does his best to keep out of the way. Her sisters Twink (Susan Curtis) and Honey Raye (Valerie Ong) are attempting to help but their efforts only result in increasing the chaos in and around The Tabernacle of the Lamb Church, site of the wedding and reception.

The bride’s twin sister, Gina Jo (also Hoover), has found her calling as Fayro’s chief cow inseminator but is struggling with a hidden crush on Justin Waverly (Ricky Fields), a UPS man working his way through the seminary.

Completing this definitely unusual set of individuals are Miss Geneva Musgrove (Karen Johnston) who runs the local flower shop/bus depot in addition to her duties as wedding planner; Sheriff John Curtis Buntner (Anthony Venable), who practices his quick draw at any opportunity “just in case”; Nelda Lightfoot (Lorri Krull), the town medium; Patsy Price (Pati Banik), the groom’s mother whose main object is to derail the wedding; and Wiley Hicks (Kevin Ong), the town drunk and Twink’s boyfriend of 15-plus years.

The focus is on happily-ever-after in “Dearly Beloved,” the wild and wooly comedy on stage at the Bristol Opera House through Sunday.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, the first in a trilogy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Woolen, looks at a very special day in the life of the Futrelle sisters deep in the heart of Fayro, Texas.

In and around the anticipated nuptials of Tina Jo Dubberly (Karen Hoover) and her never-seen fiancé Parker Price, swirl a parade of slightly off-center characters. The bride’s mother, Frankie Futrelle Dubberly (Amy Pawlosky), is determined that the “Gone With the Wind” wedding theme will be strictly enforced. Her husband, Dub (Tom Doughty), does his best to keep out of the way. Her sisters Twink (Susan Curtis) and Honey Raye (Valerie Ong) are attempting to help but their efforts only result in increasing the chaos in and around The Tabernacle of the Lamb Church, site of the wedding and reception.

The bride’s twin sister, Gina Jo (also Hoover), has found her calling as Fayro’s chief cow inseminator but is struggling with a hidden crush on Justin Waverly (Ricky Fields), a UPS man working his way through the seminary.

Completing this definitely unusual set of individuals are Miss Geneva Musgrove (Karen Johnston) who runs the local flower shop/bus depot in addition to her duties as wedding planner; Sheriff John Curtis Buntner (Anthony Venable), who practices his quick draw at any opportunity “just in case”; Nelda Lightfoot (Lorri Krull), the town medium; Patsy Price (Pati Banik), the groom’s mother whose main object is to derail the wedding; and Wiley Hicks (Kevin Ong), the town drunk and Twink’s boyfriend of 15-plus years.

Listening to Nelda’s prediction that Wiley must be at the ceremony if Twink is to proceed to one of her own, the never-say-die sister is determined to get/keep him there, no matter his condition. It doesn’t help that her cost-cutting efforts for the reception have resulted in underwriting by Clovis Sanford’s House of Meats and changed the catered dinner to a carry-in with guests bringing their own specialties.

The icing on the cake is the return of Honey Raye, who left town three years ago breaking up the sisters’ trio, The Sermonettes, which was on the brink of fame. The much-married Honey Raye has problems of her own, which do not add to the festivities. The last straw is the disappearance of the engaged couple. Frankie is sure their planned “occasion” has gone down the drain.

Under the direction of Randy Zonker and assistant director Sue King, the festivities actually do come off without a hitch, theatrically speaking. Each of the players puts his/her own stamp on the eccentric characters and the result is a lot of fun and two hours of laughter.

Dearly Beloved  Elkhart Civic Theatre
No matter how far out the people and situations seem, there is a grain of recognition in each. Ong, beset by withering hot flashes, refuses to acknowledge her condition, while Pawlosky is too shocked to admit her own. Curtis is a mass of grinding determination and a strong constitution as she samples the potluck offerings. Together they create a skewed model of a dysfunctional family, described by one as “a clan of throwbacks.”

Doughty gives Percy Kilbride a run for the money and Hoover is marvelously and consistently flaky. Diminutive Johnston cracks the wedding whip with precision and Fields wavers appropriately when assessing his vocation.

Ong is appropriately unintelligible as the staggering object of Twink’s affections and Banik does a great impression of evil women a la film noir. Venable perfectly captures the redneck lawman and Krull’s mystic delivers any “message” her client wants to hear.

The action — and there is lots of it — clips along briskly and the laughs come often. “Dearly Beloved” does not pretend to be great drama, but it is good comedy and the well-accented band of ECT players, certainly does it justice.

“DEARLY BELOVED” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R.120 in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.