'Opal is a Diamond': entertainingly silly

March 08, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Not many playwrights devote five plays to the same character, but that's how many comedies John Patrick has penned about eccentric junk collector Opal Kronkie -- so far. Seven more and he'll have enough to launch a television sitcom.

That would be appropriate, judging from "Opal is a Diamond," the current example at Arena Players. As directed by Ben Prestbury and starring Arena veteran Verna Day, "Opal is a Diamond" is as entertainingly silly as the silliest sitcom.

Opal's junk-collecting is reminiscent of "Sanford and Son;" her good-hearted bumbling brings to mind Carol Burnett, and, in the wackier moments, her hijinks suggest "I Love Lucy."

But Opal is also a philosopher. In frequent asides, she shares such homespun wisdom as: "One good thing about being born homely -- you never have to worry about losing your looks."

Ms. Day, who has portrayed this character in three previous Opal plays, handles the shifts in tone with aplomb. Padding around in several layers of old clothing topped by a rumpled hat and an infectious grin, she conveys such genuine glee that her performance is the best reason to see the show.

The slapstick plot concerns Opal's half-baked attempt to run for mayor against the corrupt, hypocritical incumbent. (The candidacy of a totally unqualified junk collector doesn't seem so preposterous in Baltimore, where conspiracy theorist Monroe Cornish was once a perennial mayoral candidate and even became known for this rejoinder: "That's just a bunch of junk.")

Backing Opal are two of the incumbent's former aides, eager to expose him. The rest of her campaign staff consists of four beer-drinking cronies and a neighbor who's more eccentric than she is.

As the neighbor, Brenda McGriff proves as adept a comedienne as Ms. Day. But several secondary performers are overly broad, particularly John Carrington as the mayor.

"Opal is a Diamond" doesn't tell us anything we don't already know about dishonest politicians. But then, you shouldn't expect too much from a comedy in which one of the key players is a rubber chicken.

And, despite the title, no mention is made of diamonds. The playwright probably meant Opal is a diamond in the rough. This script may not be a gem, but Ms. Day sparkles.

'Opal is a Diamond'

When: Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., matinees Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Through March 24.

Where: Arena Players, 801 McCulloh St.

Tickets: $10.

Call: 728-6500.

**

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