Catching A Fine, Funny Kettle of Fish

If you think a red herring is some kind of a colorful fish, think again. As played out by the cast of South Bend Civic Theatre’s “Red Herring,” under the direction of Craig McNab, it is about two hours worth of solid laughs.

Actually, a “red herring” — dramatically speaking — is a plot turn or character designed specifically to lead an audience towards a false conclusion. In this “Red Herring,” there are too many to be counted.

Just focus on following Boston Detective Maggie Pelletier (Nora Ryan Taylor) and her boyfriend FBI agent Frank Keller (Casey St. Aubin) as each one looks for the killer of an enemy spy.

Red Herring  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe era is 1952. The Cold War is at its peak and a certain Wisconsin senator is stirring up the Communist plot. Enter the senator’s daughter, Lynn McCarthy (Tori Abram-Copenhaver), and her soldier fiancé, James Appel (Daniel Grey). He gives her a ring, reveals he is spying for the Russians (but for the good of this country to equal the balance of power!) and asks her to make the final delivery of secret plans for the bomb, as his latest Army orders make it impossible for him to carry out his assignment.

What is a girl to do??

 The microfilm plans are hidden inside a box of Velveeta cheese (which Lynn keeps insisting really isn’t cheese) and are to be delivered to Russian spy Andrei Borchevsky (Mark Moriarty). He is renting a room from Mrs. Kravitz (Lucinda Moriarty), who loves him but who is thwarted by his vows to his wife. Also, he has (mistakenly) been reported dead (the murder Maggie and Frank are investigating) on the Ogilvy Kippers pier.

Red Herring  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn unraveling the hilariously convoluted plot, the talented performers create many additional characters including a medical examiner, a bridal shop owner, her henpecked hubby, a police photographer, a tough cop, a sympathetic priest and a stoic matron. Each is sharply delineated and never drops out of whatever character he/she is inhabiting at the moment.

The settings designed by designer David Chudzynski make good use of every area in the intimate Warner Theatre. The lighting design by Matt Davidson underscores each scene and mood and the excellent music choices cover every dramatic segue, keeping the action on track, even in the dark.

Beneath the many absurdities, however, lurks a romantic tale — make that three romantic tales — which make this a story of romance as well as mystery and bumblingly hilarious mis-adventures.

There are many high points as the action careens from one couple to the next. My favorite comes in the second act when Maggie (who now for some reason has the Velveeta) comes upon Borchevsky drinking in a seedy waterfront bar. Asked why he takes his vodka one spoonful at a time, he replies — wait for it — he spills too much with a fork!

At the final fade out the couples are, of course, paired correctly and ready to plunge into the stormy sea of matrimony — charted with or without red herrings.

RED HERRING plays through May 11 in the Warner Theatre, 403 N. Main St. For performance dates, times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit


Laughs Added To Classic Hitchcock Thriller

Richard Hannay is bored.

Listing the reasons he regrets his return to Britain, he decides to find something “mindless and pointless” to do, like visiting a West End show. It is a decision that brings him much more than he bargained for.

This is the opening gambit of “The 39 Steps,” a broad comic adaptation by Patrick Barlow of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller. The Elkhart Civic Theatre production opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. Even though dialogue, situations and characters followed the classic film closely, it is obvious that Hitchcock was never like this.

For openers, Kevin Egelsky as Hannay is the only cast member to play just one part. Multi-talented Annette Kaczanowski creates three distinctly different females (German, Scottish and English) while Dave Kempher and Michael Honderich handle all the rest — an estimated 100 characters, but I really didn’t count — known as the Clowns.

The 39 Steps  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INAlthough it is not necessary to be familiar with the Hitchcock mystery (or the 1915 novel on which it is based), it certainly  helps, especially in making sense (?) of the plot — which twists and turns, sometimes frantically, especially in the hands of the  Clown I (Honderich) and Clown II (Kempher).

As the action increases, these two change characters at the drop (or switch) of a hat, often several times within one scene. While sustaining one character is difficult enough, sustaining several in the course of a few minutes is a monumental challenge. The Clowns work hard to meet the challenges set by the script, by director Dave Dufour and, as allowed by the script, by their own imaginations and physical abilities.

With minimal — make that little or no — set (a few chairs, a table, four boxes and a “revolving” door), much of the action is mimed, adding another layer to the requirements for each performer. Except for Hannay, the many characters, no matter how briefly they appear, require diverse dialects. Kazanowski especially handles her accent changes as clearly as she does her characters, slipping from foreign femme fatale to lonely Scot to disbelieving Brit with equal believability.

The 39 Steps  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe Clowns are adept at readable body language, although when sound is required, the volume often increases beyond the realm of being easily understood. Their sharp music hall bit starts the never-subtle humor train rolling and it careens along with only a few slow-downs until everything comes full circle.

Some of the less-crisp bits falter but should pick up as the run progresses.

Pipe clenched firmly in hand or mouth, Egelsky maintains a properly unflappable British stance, whether wriggling out of a deadly situation, hanging from a speeding train, dodging assassination attempts or surviving a chase while handcuffed to Kazanowski’s British persona.

The spirit of Hitchcock is never too far, in spoken references or varied visuals to at least six of his films, plus two of the famed director’s well-known profiles, as the action progresses. I recognized at least six famous films. It was obvious the audience did, too.

As conceived originally by Simon Corbie and Nobby Dimon, the farcical approach to the Hitchcock spy thriller probably would not work on all of his movies, but here laughter is a welcome passenger on the trip to the 39 steps.

“THE 39 STEPS” plays Friday through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula St. For show times and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit

Familiar Road Not Easily Traveled In 'The Wiz'

In 1975, Broadway welcomed a new version of one of the most popular movie musicals of all time, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Titled “The Wiz” it offered music and lyric by Charlie Smalls and a book by William F. Brown. Like the 1939 movie, it was taken from L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

Unlike the M-G-M film, however, it featured an all African-American cast and a score that definitely reflected its designation as a “super soul musical.”

After a shaky start, the 1975 production garnered eight Tony Award nominations and won seven, all in major categories, and played for more than 1,500 performances.

In 1984, a revival played for only 13.

On Friday evening South Bend Civic Theatre opened its production of “The Wiz.” Unfortunately, it is more ’84 than ’75.

In spite of a cast that boasted some excellent vocal talent, the voices were overpowered almost consistently by the high decibel level set for the recorded score, an electronic hazard with which the hard-working company should not have to deal.

The Wiz  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatrePacing, until the arrival of the Wicked Witch, aka Evillene, at the beginning of Act 2, was slow. Even the arrival of Dorothy’s friends-in-need — Scarecrow (Brandon Harper), Tinman (Pierre Cooks) and Lion (Jason Johnson) — did little to energize the proceedings.

All three work hard but are undone by the unforgiving acoustics of the cavernous Wilson Mainstage Theatre. Their solo efforts are appreciated but mostly unintelligible. Ditto the ensemble work, the exception being “Ease On Down the Road.” “The Wiz” answer to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” is an up-tempo traveling song with a contagious beat which the quartet delivers with increasing gusto, and which features Cooks’ tap break.

The Wiz  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreFortunately, their costumes — and the sometimes-wild outfits sported by the various witches and Ozians — add spice (and lots of glitter)  to the proceedings.

A highlight of Act 1 is the Tornado, danced with whirling abandon by Jordian Cooper. Toto, brown and white and stuffed solidly, is tossed away early on and never seen again.

SBCT veteran Laurisa LeSure works hard as Addaperle, Good Witch of the South, who has trouble landing her spells, and the aforementioned Evillene (Jasmine Dennie) is a real show-stopper demanding of her quavering underlings “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.”

As Dorothy, Makeda Grier has a strong, clear voice and handled her extensive vocal assignments with power. She would be able to do much more if she were not fighting the instrumentation level.

Quinton McMutuary begins as Uncle Henry and then plays the Wizard. He has a strong voice but there is very little magic in his stoic portrayal. Banitha Vinscon as Glinda arrives on a familiar balcony (see “The Clean House”) amidst a shower of stars (some of David Chudzynski’s lighting effects are fairly spectacular) and her “Believe in Yourself” solidly reinforces the show’s unchanging message.

The Wiz South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDorothy’s final “Home” is the best known “single,” and Grier sends it out with strength and clarity. No small feat after a trip to the Emerald City. Finally, clicking together her silver slippers (no Red Shoes here), she returns to Kansas.

The way to Oz is strewn with the bodies of crew members moving a double stair open and shut, up and down, and all around the stage. There is no doubt it is a necessary set piece but it rumbles disconcertingly and breaks whatever mood the actors have been able to establish. The same goes for the giant hanging flat which squeeks and sways annoyingly.

Guest director Chris Carter has, according to his program bio, a wealth of experience as an actor/director/choreographer in plays and musicals. Sadly, it is not evidenced in this production.

“THE WIZ’ plays through April 13 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium in the theater at 403 N. Main St. South Bend. For performance times and reservations call 234-1112 or online at