Play: Late Afternoon
Group: First Run Theatre
Venue: Hunter Theater, DeSmet High School
Dates: Run concluded January 18
Story: In the heart of the Great Depression, Hannah struggles to keep her forlorn hotel in St. Louis open for business. While guests are few and far between, she has managed to pay the bills with the help of poor local women who entertain lonely men for desperately needed money.
The pregnant Hannah is aided by distant cousin Jake and his younger brother Seth as well as her grown son Daniel, while her unseen husband spends his days drowning in a bottle in an upstairs room. When Daniel invites a virginal high school lad to a “late afternoon” session with one of the regular ladies, Della, he sets in motion a series of unexpected events.
Highlights: First Run Theatre regularly debuts new works by local playwrights, and this two-act drama by John F. Williams shows definite talent and ingenuity. Unfortunately, the production itself didn’t do justice to the material, resulting in a wasted opportunity.
Other Info: Some problems, such as Ben Ritchie sporting a ponytail as a 1930s vagabond, were simply puzzling, while others, such as the consistently halting and uncertain delivery of lines by many in the cast, perhaps can be attributed to director Patty Ulrich. For the most part, the players seemed far too tentative too often. Additionally, Williams’ occasional use of characters speaking directly to the audience seemed more curious than effective.
Ritchie is a smooth veteran, and his work as the itinerant handyman Jake provided some much needed ballast. There also were some good moments contributed by Allison Hoppe as the desperate prostitute. Ted Drury was OK as the simple-minded Seth and Scott McMaster was earnest as the opportunistic Daniel. Andy Walsh and Vanessa Revard Roman, however, seemed uncertain about their roles and the tempo at which to project those characterizations, and could have benefited from more guidance by director Ulrich.
George Wagner’s set design was a nice representation of a seedy hotel, and Russell Bettlach’s costumes suitably conveyed the tough times of the characters, with Erich Suellentrop providing the lighting. The potential for a good work is evident in Late Afternoon, but the sun has yet to shine on it.
Rating: A 2 on a scale of 1-to-5.