The first summer show at 2nd Story Theater in their new air-conditioned theater is "The Late Christopher Bean" by Sidney Howard. It is 1932 at the height of the Great Depression and a small town Massachusetts doctor is unknowingly in possession of some valuable paintings by the late Christopher Bean. As his small country home is descended upon by New York City bigwigs, the doctor's family, along with their true-to-heart maid, plunges head-long into the big city art world, laden with unsavory swindlers. It turns into a hilarious game of "Painting, Painting who owns the Painting?" until the final truth is revealed and honesty wins the day. Cleverly directed by Ed Shea, he keeps the audience guessing until the final moments as to what will happen and he creates some characters you really grow to care about as the show progresses.
Ed infuses his cast with high energy and pacing, keeping the three act comedy flowing beautifully. Trevor Eliet designed a unit set with fleur-de-lis wallpaper, consisting of a living room with easy chairs, a staircase, dining table with four chairs while Candis Dixon painted the Bean paintings. The gorgeous 1930's costumes are by Ron Cesario. Leading this cast of characters is Bill Oakes as Dr. Haggett. He starts off as a humble country doctor and becomes enmeshed in his wife and daughter's schemes to sell the valuable paintings, craving money above all. The money problems are persistent in this household because he hasn't been able to collect money owed to him by some of his patients. He keeps saying he is only a simple country doctor. The intensity of the family's greed builds to a fever pitch in the second act. The greedy wife, Hanna is excellently played by Gloria Crist who shows many layers of the character. Their daughter, Ada is well played by Elise Arsenault who at one time strived to be an artist like Chris Bean. She is a strong actress who portrays this spoiled brat who doesn't want to be an old maid, wanting to go to Miami Beach to snag a husband and selling these paintings is a sure way to get there. The three characters the audience really come to care about are Susie, Warren and Abby. Susie, the sympathetic daughter is portrayed by Erin Sheehan who has genuine feelings for Abby whose brother's wife has died and is moving to Chicago. She stands up to her family trying to protect Abby. Her boyfriend Warren is wonderfully played by John Wright who helps Susie and Abby throughout the show. John and Erin have some romantic scenes along the way. He calls Hanna a Philistine at one point in the show winning many laughs. The heroine of the story, Abby is played by Emily Lewis with a perfect Irish brogue. She has many secrets about her life that revealing would spoil the show for the audience. She is dynamite in the role reminding one of a young Katherine Hepburn in her heyday.
The villainous art dealers are played with oily charm by Jeffrey Church as Jimmy Tallant and Paula Faber as Ethel Rosen. He is a tall blond who wins the sympathy of the audience at first by pretending to be an old friend of Chris Bean. His acting is marvelous as he tells his story to the simple minded doctor. Paula does a wonderful job in this role charming the doctor at first to try to get her way. Their machinations as these two slimy individuals are wonderful to behold. Saying too much about what happens in their dealings with the family will ruin the surprise ending. The person who is a true art critic and wants to validate Bean's work is played by Tom Roberts. All the performers shine in their roles. So for a look back at a comedy from the 1930's be sure to catch "The Late Christopher Bean". Ed Shea works his magic on this show keeping it fresh and new for contemporary audiences to savor with its talk of greed, a weak economy and a fickle art market as the vultures from the city descend on the country folk.