March 24 2010 12:00 AM

’Cheatin’’ is lowbrow, but high in laughs


    The Lansing Civic Players Guild want you to know it is revamping its image. Left with the basement of its costume shop, the Players have cleaned and reformed the space into a cozy black-box setting, albeit not one with tiered seating. Armed with the British subway logo and the fact it has been around for over 80 years, it is a streamlined version of its former self.


    Its latest production, “Cheatin’’’ by Del Shores, comfortably fits within the stylistic niche of any of its past seasons with one major exception: the relative blatancy of sex and profanity. On a movie scale, “Cheatin’" would fit comfortably in a PG-13, but it is still a sex farce set in Texas with plenty of “aw, shit” to go around.


    What separates this production from past LCP productions is the fact that it is genuinely funny. There is palpable romantic chemistry between the characters and the script includes some sizzling one-liners, which
    the actors revel in saying instead of just remembering to recite. The
    production values are as minimal as ever and the humor is certainly
    lowbrow, but “Cheatin’” undeniably proves that there is still life in the Lansing Civic Players.


    One
    positive step made by director Tony Sump is the casting of several
    fresh faces to the LCP stage (at least within the last half-decade).
    The first is Leo Sell as Sid Cranford, the local bar owner and the
    play’s narrator. Sell is a better singer than he is an actor, but he
    grows into his role in the second half as the rest of the production
    begins to unravel.


    His waitress and town gossip Maybelline Cartwright is played by Tippy Canal in his debut
    performance. Canal’s characterization of Cartwright is refreshing in
    its lack of camp. It is easy to see the man beneath the mumu and
    makeup, but Canal maintains the illusion by giving the character the
    dignity she deserves.

    As
    the town’s simple-minded mailman, Bo Bob Jasper, Paul Levandowski
    similarly plays straight instead of mockingly, making the eventual romance between Bo Bob and Maybelline even sweeter.

    The
    central love entanglement involves Clarence Hopkins (Bob Purosky), Sara
    Lee Turnover (Kat Cooper), Ovella Parsons-Wilks (Sandy VanLancker), and
    Teddy Joe Wilks (Tim Cody). In a sentence, each is involved with the
    right people and wrong people for the right reasons before they end up
    with the right people for the right reasons.


    Per Shores’ script, in small-town Texas sex really is a hobby.


    Purosky,
    Cooper, VanLancker and Cody are excellent in their respective roles
    making the love, hate and pain seem real despite the simple intentions
    of the script.


    Credit is also due to Sump, who cast the actors appropriately as well as steering them away from ever playing the joke.


    The
    only real weak moments come in the second act, which on Saturday simply
    did not feel as well-rehearsed. Dialogue temporarily turned into
    improvisation and some actors struggled to push through scenes.
    Hopefully the second weekend will see further polishing with a reduced
    running time.


    “Cheatin’”
    brings LCP one step closer to turning into straight bawdy dinner
    theater, but even without a meal, “Cheatin’” is delightful as a simple,
    sinful dessert.


    ’Cheatin’’


    8
    p.m. Friday, March 26 and Saturday, March 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 28
    Lansing Civic Players 2300 E. Michigan Ave. $10 all seats (517)
    484-9115 www.lansingcivicplayers.org


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