Mrs. Mannerly

Website Review

Richard Green –, May 29, 2013

If your parents were easily shocked, like mine, or if you remember a sibling being sent off to a manners class back in the 1960s (like mine), a visit to Mrs. Mannerly may be a good way to help put everything into its proper perspective, psychologically. It may even qualify as therapy on some health plans.

The nice thing is that the invisible culture of, well, culture itself, is laid bare, and turned on its head in this comedy, as an eager young student proceeds to have his way with all that Emily Post stuff, even as he masters it inside and out.

It’s rare to see actress Donna Weinsting matched head-to-head with an equally funny performer, but Charlie Ingram manages the feat with amazing fluidity—jumping back and forth between his ten-year-old self and his adult self: remembering a summer spent with Mrs. Mannerly (Ms. Weinsting), learning comportment and protocol and table settings from the one woman sworn to stave off chaos from Steubenville, Ohio, in 1967.

Ms. Weinsting herself is amazingly fluid, too, especially for someone who underwent knee surgery five months ago. Of course, a lot of her work is purely mental, playing out the guttering astonishment of the well-bred, under the weight of a class of crazy kids, and (much later) getting drunker and drunker, explaining the real meaning of manners, and the darker side of the social pecking order. But give her (and her surgeon) her due—getting up and sitting down that many times in each performance is a lot more than her physical therapy probably ever called for. But, I suppose, that’s why God gave actors adrenalin.

The story is by Jeffrey Hatcher, who also wrote Stage Beauty and adapted the book Tuesdays With Morrie for the stage. And this comedy often reads like a very sharply written, elongated, oddly funny sketch by Garrison Keillor. In fact, Mrs. Mannerly reminds us that all women should be treated as though they really are smart, and all men as though they’re actually handsome, and all children as though they really are above average. Instead of life, as we know it. In spite of the fact that people will think you’re just odd for being so nice.

Have I said too much? It’s really only a fraction of what Mr. Ingram comes up with as Jeffrey: mining the many levels of propriety at a time when the Old World and the New are colliding, and older kids are flying off to Vietnam, where very little good will be learned by them. In all of that, the arcane world of good manners becomes a kind of alternate reality one can flee to when the world seems overrun.

David Hemsley Caldwell directs, getting great performances out of Mr. Ingram in a wide variety of roles. And great sound and lights, in a surprisingly complex little show.