Ann Pollack – St. Louis Eats and Drinks, May 25, 2013
Ettiquette classes seem to have returned from the near dead. These days they’re seen as yet another weapon in the battle to get ahead in the kill-or-be-killed job market. But manners have never flagged as a subject in theater; they’ve been a standard for centuries, probably millenia. “Mrs. Mannerly“, from Max & Louie Productions and on the boards at the COCA black box theater falls right in that tradition.
Manners in Steubenville, O, in 1967? And yet this avoids the tv sitcom possibilities that evokes. Much of this is due to Donna Weinsting, playing the Woman With a Past who’s taught ettiquette classes to generations of youngsters in town. Neither a termagant nor a woman who has always depended on the kindness of strangers, her version of Mrs. Mannerly always keeps us wondering who is she, anyway? While she begins rather like Margaret Thatcher, the character evolves from there.
And how does a playwright, or an actor, balance out a character like her? The playwright is Jeffrey Hatcher, and here the actor is Charlie Ingram, who plays the other seven characters. But primarily he’s Jeffrey – that name’s no accident – a precocious 10-year-old who’s been sentenced to the class after an episode at the Presbyterian Church. Ingram, who’s a senior at Webster University, is amazingly believable as the boy, perhaps because the character breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience as the adult Jeffrey, so his becoming the kid who dreams of becoming a suave guy like James Bond or Bruce Wayne (“Not Batman, just Bruce Wayne.”) or Bert Parks is not such a far stretch for us.
David Hemsley Caldwell keeps things moving with his direction and Christopher M. Waller’s set is simple and feels right.
Good fun and a very witty play.