Waiting in the Wings

Play:        Waiting in the Wings

Group:        Act Inc.

Venue:        Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, Big Bend at Wydown

Dates:        July 3, 4, 5

Tickets:    $18-$20; contact 314-725-9108 or HYPERLINK "http://www.actinc.biz"www.actinc.biz

Story:    Life circa 1958 is simple at The Wings, a charity home for retired actresses.  There, a collection of grande dames engage in polite conversation, reminisce about past accomplishments and apply themselves to the fund-raising required to build a solarium they would like added.  Complications ensue, however, when veteran resident May Davenport is informed that her long-time rival, Lotta Bainbridge, will be the newest resident.  May vows not to break her feud with Lotta, despite Lotta’s efforts to bury the hatchet.

    When Perry, the home’s secretary, invites a journalist friend to interview the ladies for an article he hopes will gain recognition for them and help raise funds for the solarium, he instead is met with a storm of protest that threatens to terminate his employment.  Despite their pleas and demands, led by Lotta, that reporter Zelda Fenwick leave them alone, Zelda is intrigued with the possibility of updating her readers about the lives of these dedicated performers.

Highlights:    Written by Sir Noel Coward late in his career, Waiting in the Wings is more a paean to the graceful aging of veteran performers than a story per se.  While nothing much ever happens in the course of its three acts and two hours and 40 minutes of playing time, it’s still a treat to see a seldom performed work by the great British playwright.  This particular piece is kind of a ‘Golden Girls Times Two or Three’ sitcom, albeit much more elegant and languidly paced.

    The real enjoyment of this Act Inc. production is the rare opportunity to see so many veteran, dedicated local actresses performing on the same stage, and director Steve Callahan surely has inspired them to give rousing interpretations of their characters.  While many of the roles are little more than one-dimensional caricatures, nonetheless there is considerable warmth and humor in these personifications.

Other Info:    The cumbersome cast somehow is managed quite capably by Callahan and his assistant director Christine McGregor so that the action is busy without ever being confusing.  Liz Hopefl and Eleanor Mullin quite nicely capture the beauty and grace as well as the anguish and heartache of Lotta and May, respectively, and anchor the work’s serious moments.  At the comic end, Teresa Doggett bustles about amusingly as the home manager while Lynn Rathbone has a glorious time chewing up scenery in the plum part of fiery Irish actress Deidre O’Malley.

    Dorothy Davis is delightful as Sarita, a sad figure whose senility and fondness for pyromania threaten the safety of all the residents, and Sally Eaton is engaging as a minor performer who lives in the memory of her biggest role.  Suzanne Greenwald’s impeccable comic style adds to the enjoyment as Almina, Jan Meyer is the sure and steady and piano-playing Bonita, Diane Peterson is the always apologetic Estelle, Cindy Duggan is the acerbic, pessimistic Cora and Marjorie Williamson is the affable Topsy, newest resident at the genteel establishment.

    There’s very nice work by Bruce Collins as a regular gentleman caller for an unseen and aged resident, Tim Grumich as the well-meaning secretary Perry, Tamara Kenny as the inquisitive reporter Zelda, Jane Abling as Lotta’s faithful maid Dora, Susanna Wirthlin as the agreeable housekeeper Doreen, Charlie Heuvelman as the home’s visiting physician and John Reidy as Lotta’s estranged son, who makes an impromptu and awkward visit after a 17-year absence.

    Tim Poertner’s set design comfortably fits the home’s parlor into one end of the performance space, with a background wall adorned with photos of famous actresses and period furniture from Emily Robinson placed about the stage.  Chuck Lavazzi adds the soft background music and the occasional vehicular noise, Michele Siler’s costumes convey the status of the various characters and Michael Sullivan’s lights complement the action.

    Waiting in the Wings, while not great theater, is a loving tribute by Coward to old-time actresses and graceful aging, and Act Inc.’s presentation is a charming valentine to a dozen or so of our town’s long-time and dedicated troupers.

Rating:    A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.