Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Betty's Summer Vacation"

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entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"Betty's Summer Vacation"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

2nd Story Theatre's current show is "Betty's Summer Vacation" written by Christopher Durang in 1999. (He is best known for his 1980 show, "Sister Mary Igantius Expalins It All for You") Betty and her friend Trudy are young women who rent rooms at Mrs Seizmagragg's cottage on the New Jersey shoreline for the summer. The vacation quickly turns into an adventure into the darker sides of all the summer renters at the house. Individuals clash when their private desires and fears erupt into violence. They are egged on by the cottage itself, which is alive and feeds on the entertainment provided by the renters. This show questions the role of reality- based entertainment, post-modernism and the pursuit of pleasure without concern for others in a spiritually lacking current day society. Director Ed Shea takes this absurdist show and molds it into a funny but frightening look at the world we live in. He accomplishes this feat with his 9 talented actors who keep you laughing and thinking from start to finish in this riveting presentation.

The theatre's set contains six doorways, a typical set for a door slamming farce but the intensity of this play although funny at times is not a typical farce at all. The author who's nickname should be Christopher "Deranged", thinks up these far out situations to get his point across that spirituality and God are lacking these days with all these external pressures applied to people. It is only when you are alone and contemplate on life, that you escape from man's inhumanity to man. His deep message is hidden within the structure of this show and it is revealed by Ed's insightful and excellent direction as well as by his superb cast.

Maureen Bennett plays the leading role of Betty with an inner strength. The madness is around her and she tries to stay normal throughout the show. Maureen has dark hair and beautiful blue eyes which shimmer as she confronts the problems with the insanity of the house and the other occupants. It is a loud and vibrant show but her best scene comes at the end when things are quiet and she can hear the ocean, helping her sort all her problems out. Maureen shines in this moment of seriousness in a world gone mad around her. Wonderful job.

Her insane housemate, Trudy is played by Melissa Penick who is a nonstop chatterbox. Betty can't get a word in until you find out she is the landlady's daughter and she is just like her kooky mother. Trudy is a pretty, tanned actress who shows the innner workings of this girl who has been molested by her father and during the show by a pervert in a raincoat. The character gets her revenge by castrating him, thereby gaining strength from this action. Melissa is a whirlwind of emotion and gets to deliver many funny lines. Her fellow compatriot in the killing spree is Keith who is a timid serial killer played by Marc McClure. The audience knows he is weird when he enters the house carrying a hatbox and a shovel. Keith likes to behead people because he was molested as a boy by his family who came from the Ozarks. Marc does a great job as this tortured creature who runs around with blood on his hands,clad in a jockey short and shirt. This pathetic misfit fits into this house of wackos with ease. He and Melissa make a great killing team.

One of the most hilarious performances is by Barbara McElroy as the over the top landlady, Mrs. Seizmagraff. She wears this big wig, these loud outfits, babbles constantly and loves to flip other people off. This woman doesn't have brain in her head especially when she picks up a pervert in a dressing room who likes to take photos of the women there and flashes everyone while wearing nothing but an old raincoat. Barbara is a hoot in the charades scene and as the defense attorney in the court tv scenes. She also shows a tender side when she admits she knew about Trudy being raped and then turns back to the callous mother in a split second. (I haven't seen Barbara in many years since she returned to RI. I directed her in 1984 and was in "Shenandoah" with her in 1987.) She is just as talented now as she was back then. Another comic performance is given by URI student, Sean McConaghy who plays Buck, an insatiable macho fornicater. He always has a hard on and is ready to get laid. His scene with Melissa while they both wear revealing swimsuits is humorous especially as he keeps climbing all over her while showing photos of his penis. Buck gets laid by women on the beach and Mrs. Seizmagraff. Sean does a great job as this pig who struts around while constantly wearing jeans and an open shirt, making the audience know he is a dumbell who's brain is in his crotch.

Rounding out the cast are the pervert, Mr. Vanislaw played by Vince Petronio who has a lot of fun showing himself off under that raincoat and the three voices hidden in the ceiling played by Jim Sullivan, Gayle Hanrahan and Wayne Kneeland. They represent the evil in the world and their dramatic entrance in the second act happens as the wall tumbles down revealing the three of them. They are a Greek chorus who say their lines in unison and imitate a laugh track at first. They then descend into the chaos of the world Durang creates for all of us. The apocalypse at the near the end of the show cleanses Betty off to start a new calmer life than the madness which has just occurred.

So for a thought provoking evening of wonderful acting by talented performers in a very adult comedy, be sure to see "Betty's Summer Vacation" at 2nd Story Theatre. You won't be disappointed.

An added treat is found at the concession stand run by John Michael Richardson. He serves up homemade cookies, cheesecake and popcorn as well as alcoholic beverages including many different kinds of beers and wines. He also serves bottled water and my favorite drink of the evening, Dells Frozen Lemonade.

"Betty's Summer Vacation" (4 April - 17 May)
28 Market Street, WARREN, RHODE ISLAND
1 (401) 247-4200

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