Chris Gibson – stlouis.broadwayworld.com, May 29, 2013
There’s something about playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s writing style that I can connect with. Maybe it’s the fact that he peppers his dialogue with so many references to 1960’s era television fare that I can’t help but be drawn back to my own childhood. Sure, I spent a lot of time outdoors, but there were certain prime hours of the day when the re-runs on the local independent channels were not to be missed (not by me,anyway). Now, I never wanted to or had the desire to ever attend a manners class, but as we can see by the way most humans behave these days, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if everyone did. Max & Louie Productions has put together a wonderful staging of Hatcher’s Mrs. Mannerly, which takes a humorous look at a that point in our past when etiquette somehow became antiquated, and it’s a superbly performed and directed presentation that shouldn’t be missed.
Hatcher reflects on his own childhood with this tale from 1967. Unlike most kids his age, this ten year old was more interested in perfecting some fictional persona like James Bond than playing little league baseball. After an amusing, but embarrassing, incident at his church he’s pressed into attending Mrs. Mannerly’s etiquette class, something his mother had done when she was a little girl. But, instead of recoiling from the idea, he attacks the course with a surprising amount of passion, seizing on this opportunity to find the one thing he can truly excel at.
Donna Weinsting is a blast as Mrs. Mannerly, reveling in her own fictional persona as the last great teacher of society’s proprieties, while also trying to hide some sort of secret from her past, apparently from the days when she was a stage actress. Times are tough for her kind of lady in 1967, and she drowns her sorrows in “bar scotch” to numb the pain. Charles Ingram is simply marvelous as Jeffrey, deftly switching between characters from the class, his family, and a younger and older version of himself. Ingram seems to really understand Hatcher’s sensibilities, and because of that, the jokes really resonate, when they could very easily fall flat, or miss the mark, if they weren’t delivered properly. Together, they make a wonderful pair of verbal sparring partners.
Director David Hemsley Caldwell does a splendid job guiding these fine actors. Caldwell keeps the pace brisk and the actors in motion so that there’s never any chance of a static moment during the play’s brief 75-minute running time. Christopher Waller’s elegant, but slightly distressed, scenic design includes a very cool YMCA sign, as well as some art deco styled wall sconces. Maureen Berry’s lighting neatly captures the quick switches between scenes and inner monologues, and Sara Weigard’s costumes are good fits for each character.
Don’t miss Max & Louie’s Production’s terrific presentation of Miss Mannerly, playing through June 2, 2013 in the black box theatre at COCA.