Huguenot Community Players’ ‘Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out’ is simple, unpretentious fun
With no professional opening nights this weekend, I thought I would check out what the Community Theatres are doing. So I travelled to North Chesterfield to see the Huguenot Community Players put on a play called Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out.
I had never heard of the play nor had I ever been to see The Huguenot Community Players. Housed in a Church off Huguenot Road, it is a simple hall with a raised stage and new bleachers of which they are very proud.
The play is not complicated. It is Mrs. Parliament’s 32nd anniversary. She is excited to celebrate with her husband and with wine and homemade paella. Her husband Chuck, however is a TV dinner-man in the sense that he wants his dinner ready when he comes home and on his TV snack tray so he can watch the 24 hour news channel. After going to all that trouble for him, he still insists on eating in front of the TV.
He won’t touch the paella and asks for a pork chop. Worse, he forgets the anniversary. Mrs. Parliament, whose first name is Teresa, decides she needs a change of life.
Mrs. P starts going out, joining clubs, meeting people. She meets a handsome man named Steve at an NA meeting she wanders into. She “broadens her horizons.” Except her morality keeps her from making the leap.
Along the way we meet her neighbors, the Lewicki’s; a very opinionated woman and her sensible husband. The wife dies early on and Mr. Lewicki is left bereft and alone. He becomes more of a sage at that point, intercepting the Parliaments as each comes home and perhaps nudging them to move closer in each other’s emotional direction.
By the end of the play, without spoiling too much, Mrs. P becomes a new woman ala Mary Tyler Moore and life lessons are learned all over the place.
Honestly, the play is geared for the senior crowd. It is a genre that wouldn’t play well almost anywhere else, but it plays well here. It is formulaic and not very dramatic, but it affords some good performances and touching moments.
Ann Davis is onstage the entire play as Mrs. Parliament and she is very good. She holds the play together with her honest portrayal and affable personality. Ms. Davis keeps her performance simple and uncluttered. Even when the production went clunky, I believed her. Like the main character in almost anything, she is the calm center around which odd and unsettling whirlwinds blow.
Ken Walter played Mr. Lewicki with a calm, homespun assurance, and common sense point of view that is sometimes devilishly funny. Whenever he came out from the sidelines carrying his folding chair, you would grin at what you knew was about to amuse you.
Vanessa Fletcher played Ms. Lewicki as a nosy Gladys Kravitz type but really scored as Sylvia Sommers, a long in the tooth singing coach. Her larger than life pretentious artist was recognizable and very funny.
A very fine comic performance was also turned in by Will Vehrs. As the local grocer, he knows everyone and everyone’s business which he takes interest in and inserts himself as the town sounding board, much like Floyd the barber used to do in Mayberry R.F.D.
Steve Przybytek, a hulk of a man, played Mrs. P’s interim love interest, (coincidentally also named “Steve”). His was another very good natural, uncluttered performance. Good with his lines, not making too much out of the discomfort of the situation, coming off like a tough Marine with a heart of mush.
I’ll tell you what, I see a lot of plays and it is refreshing to watch actors not try so hard, to just be. To let their personalities fit the character. Natural acting. Unfussy and winningly honest as a result.
C.J. Bergin was the crazy whirlwind blasting through the N.A. scenes and others. A very engaging young man who needed a bit shorter leash to play with but was fun to watch nevertheless. Maurice McCoy was another young man with talent that could have been more focused. Both actors had a tendency to play to the audience and look out – breaking the fourth wall. I understand one fourth wall break was intentional but it’s not really appropriate unless the author has you do it.
If you’re going to check the audience out, you need to be craftier and not do it during your lines. I always try to look but the lights blind me so it’s hopeless. Also I’m better off not knowing who’s out there.
Not all was lovely. The technical values varied. The set pieces were simple and effective but the lighting was problematic. There seemed to be sufficient equipment to light the playing areas, yet characters walked across the stage in the dark until they got to the lighted areas. There was a problem with shadow cast off. Some were caused by awkward placement of scenes but it seems that it could have been worked out.
One lighting issue was the placement of the Parliament kitchen all the way up stage right in front of a recessed opening leading to the bedroom I assume. The sharp angles of that space threw shadows everywhere. I also wondered if that was the best place for so much of the action.
The staging within the scenes themselves was fine but the exits looked awkward. There would be lines of people leaving the scene all out the same exit. Even two people scenes were directed the same way, both going the same way. There were times when entire parts of the stage went unused for some time. I understand the structure of the play is episodic but it seems to me a cleaner roadmap could have been developed. Perhaps by using blackouts more often and having actors scatter to all sides to get off quickly.
Even with these technical issues, it was an enjoyable evening. I laughed a lot and was touched at other times. Simple story, simple good acting. Very much worth the visit. I’ll be back.
This play is a feminist’s nightmare.September 27, 2016
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