Nov. 11 2015 12:32 AM

Small-town charm falls flat in ‘The View From Here’

Sometimes theater companies pick plays based on logistics. Ixion Theatre’s production of “The View From Here,” by playwright Margaret Dulaney, feels like such a show. The content is broad and unchallenging, the cast is small and the set is simple. Add in a cast and crew of mixed skill levels, and the resulting production isn’t bad, but it’s not memorable.

Set somewhere in the mid-‘80s in smalltown Kentucky, Fern (Rachel Mender), a 30-year-old with self-diagnosed agoraphobia, runs a daycare for babies. When Fern wins a microwave oven from the local Super Krogers, with a condition that she must claim the prize in person, she must decide whether to confront her fears or stay home. Eccentric neighbors Carla (Miranda Hartmann) and Arnold (Jeff Croff) and her younger sister Maple (Cassie Little) complete the cast, providing comic relief and guidance to Fern.

As an actor, Mender never appears to be completely in the play. She delivers her opening monologue, and virtually every line, to the audience like a meta-confessional. It’s not until the second act that you realize she’s supposedly talking to the baby in the crib behind her. Her energy, timing and loose Southern accent are serviceable, but mugging to the audience means that she rarely connects with her fellow actors. The rest of the cast resists the urge to deliver every line to the audience, but they rarely gel as an ensemble.

As far as laughs, Hartmann and Croff get the best lines. Hartmann’s Carla is like a savant for macabre news anecdotes, delivering lines like, “Did he call three times? Sign of a rapist,” or “This reminds me about the story with this serial killer.”

Hartmann’s deadpan delivery of each morbid fantasy adds a welcome layer of dark levity. Croff’s Arnold is just mopey and clueless, but Croff imbues his delivery with warmth and heart. Little gets a few moments to shine, particularly when Maple breaks out of her catatonic spell and screams.

The show’s technical elements (not credited in the script) are distractingly low budget at times. The stage lights never completely black out, and they flip on and off like a wall switch, rather than fading in and out. A Cyndi Lauper mix plays on the speaker between sets, presumably to remind the audience of the ‘80s setting. But some of the props — like tabloid magazines with contemporary covers — spoil the illusion of the period setting.

To her credit, director Sadonna Croff picked a script with broad humor and Midwest appeal. It’s just simple and silly — and unremarkable.

“The View from Here”

Ixion Theatre 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14; 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15 $15 Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing (517) 775-4246, ixiontheatre.com

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