Laughs keep on coming in series of short plays

Bowie: Community theater cast handles four one-act dramas with flair.

February 27, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bowie Community Theatre's production of Robert Anderson's 1967 hit, You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running, provides lots of laughs in its quartet of one-act plays. If there's a common thread, it is that each depicts aspects of ordinary life in the self-absorbed 1960s, a decade of profound social change.

The first playlet, The Shock of Recognition, is set in a New York theatrical producer's office. Young, avant-garde playwright Jack Barnstable confronts conservative middle-aged producer Herb Miller to argue for his controversial opening scene, one that Miller fears might disrupt his string of successes.

Barnstable's play opens with a wife eating breakfast in bed, calling to her off-stage husband in the bathroom brushing his teeth. The script dictates a memorable entrance for the husband, who is to arrive on stage nude with toothbrush in hand, saying, "You know I can't hear you when the water's running," before returning to the bathroom.

The playwright views this scene as crucial and considers the nude male "touching," representing a character that the audience will identify with and see themselves in. Herb envisions him as "pathetic" and the scene "ridiculous" in concept.

Bowie's production is well-cast, with veteran actor Mike Dunlop a convincing Herb Miller and Peter Moses making a strong Bowie debut as Jack Barnstable. Playing well off each other, both men make the most of every comic possibility.

Dunlop and Moses keep the audience laughing, despite dated material like the sexist treatment of Miller's secretary, Dorothy. Referred to as "the girl," Dorothy (Christen Able-Gorospe) is subjected to her boss' many embarrassing questions. This playlet begins to falter when out-of-work actor Richard Pawling, played well by Todd Cunningham, arrives on the scene to provide high comedy that includes a hilarious partial strip.

The second playlet, The Footsteps of Doves, shows middle-aged couple George and Harriet in a mattress store. Harriet is determined to trade in their double bed for twins, but George wants to buy a replacement double.

As George, Craig Miller strikes the right combination of sympathy and humor. Cathy Barth is equally skilled in portraying the self-absorbed Harriet. Shawn Perry is a convincing mattress salesman, and Mandy Wilson seems perfectly cast as Jill, a young and uninhibited shopper sampling the comforts of the double mattress with assistance from George.

Footsteps is followed by the meatier I'll Be Home for Christmas, a segment dealing with a World War II veteran and his wife who are coping with raising their teen-age children. Much of what transpires here reminded me of a 1964 song that defines the era -- Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

As a confused father who is uneasy with his wife's acceptance of their children's values, including their daughter's sexual liberation, Dave O'Brien gives a touching performance. Heidi Toll is excellent as his wife, Edith -- conveying a touch of humor in her pathetic eagerness to embrace the values of her children in this genuine slice of life. As their daughter Clarice, 19-year-old Jennifer Stahl makes a striking debut.

The funniest playlet is the last one, I'm Herbert, which deals with memory problems confronting a retired couple living in Florida. Having been married once or twice before, Herbert and Muriel try to recall where they were and who they were with at various peaks in their lives. They call each other by the names of previous spouses, with Muriel sometimes resorting to generic endearments such as "senile old fool" and Herbert addressing Muriel simply as "Woman."

Barry Knower, as Herbert, and Jerri Shelton, as Muriel, are superb, each handling the rapid dialogue that has them recalling trysts at the beach, under a willow tree and in Venice.

The production continues at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park through Saturday. Seats may be reserved by calling 301-805-0219.

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