Olney Theatre's production of 'Tavern' is oh-so-quaint

June 08, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

In George M. Cohan's "The Tavern," a young woman repeatedly refers to the main character as "quaint." The description doesn't really fit the flamboyant character, but it definitely fits this 1920 script, which is so hopelessly quaint, it's practically creaky.

In fact, Cohan's chestnut has become such a staple of summer stock that seeing it at Olney Theatre is almost a cliche. This is not to say that Olney doesn't do a good job with it. To the contrary, from designer Thomas F. Donahue's rough-hewn tavern set -- complete with a bevy of mounted animal heads -- to the slightly satirical tone of Bill Graham Jr.'s direction, this "Tavern" in Olney is a most pleasant place to visit.

The melodramatic plot was adapted by Cohan as a spoof of an unproduced script by a writer with the undeniably quaint name of Cora Dick Gannt. On a dark and stormy night -- is there any other kind in melodrama? -- a remote tavern is visited by an eclectic assortment of guests. There's a mysterious woman who has the disturbing habit of releasing blood-curling screams and then immediately fainting; a vagabond who refuses to identify himself, although he exhibits strong theatrical tendencies; and the governor, his wife, daughter and future son-in-law.

Of the lot, David Sabin's portrayal of the gruff tavern keeper is the most effective in establishing the slightly tongue-in-cheek approach director Graham seems to intend. Playing the old man as a kind of curmudgeonly Father Christmas, Sabin hits just the right balance between sternness and camp when he delivers a hoary line such as: "Better my old life than your youth."

Similarly, Pamela Lewis is amusingly hysterical as the mysterious woman. And Connie Ogden, John Morogiello and April Harr capably limn the deliberately stereotyped roles of the governor's silly romantic daughter, her wimpy fiance and an orphaned serving girl, respectively. However, Armand Schultz, who has played a number of lead roles at Center Stage, could milk even more theatricality out of the shamelessly hammy role of the vagabond.

There are a few moments, such as those when the entire cast recoils simultaneously at the sound of a gunshot, when Olney's "Tavern" offers the suggestion of a wry comment on period corn. But for the most part, you can't help but wonder why the theater chose to pull this overcooked chestnut out of the fire one more time. (Not only has just about every summer stock house produced "The Tavern," but Olney has now done it twice.)

One last quibble. Speaking of fires, would anyone dare keep a loaded shotgun above the mantle, over a burning fire? It seems to reflect on the lack of suspense in this timeworn melodrama that, at the risk of a bad pun, this reviewer found shotgun safety a more burning issue than the play's central mystery of the identity of the vagabond.

"The Tavern"

Where: Olney Theatre, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108), Olney

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 2:30 p.m.; June 12 at 2:30 p.m. and June 17 at 2 p.m. Through June 27

Tickets: $20-$25

Call: (301) 924-3400

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