By TOM HELMA
During the rabidly anti-Communist movement of the 1950s, Allen Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Advise and Consent” was, for teen readers, an introduction to the intricate workings of the U.S. Senate and an exposé of the dark underbelly of American politics. Loring Mandel’s stage adaptation of Drury’s book brings it all back. At the heart of this play is a young Utah senator, the incorruptible idealist Brigham Anderson (Adam Bright). Anderson is inflexible and unyielding in the face of bribes and coercion, yet ultimately vulnerable with a secret Achilles heel buried in his past. Bright plays Brig with a sincere stand-up authenticity, and his performance is enhanced by the stalwart presence of Kat Cooper as his wife, Mabel, who seems, at first, to be no more than a perfectly coiffed robot, but when a marital crises surfaces, she reveals great emotional depth and love toward her husband.
Jack Dowd as Senator Orrin Knox and Chris Goeckel as Senator Seabright Cooley, meanwhile, have a sense of presence that is magisterial. They are convincing — enough so that one might actually consider voting for them. Knox is crisp and collected, Cooley all slippery Southern charm, subtle and smooth. In the end, both actors present characters with a surprising integrity.
James Houska adds a strong part as the conniving and clever Senator Van Ackerman, who gives a speechifying monologue worthy of a real politician. Jeff Boerger delivers the goods as a laconic, deceptively laid-back president — the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove.
This adaptation suffers, however, from a long and meandering first act. A Senate subcommittee meeting setting up the central political drama of the play holds as much interest as something we might see on C-SPAN. Act II, in contrast, crackles. A shadowy scene in a cricket-filled garden between Anderson and Knox shows the former’s desperation, as well as the intimate and genuinely caring bond between these two.
“Advise and Consent”
7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 general/$12 students, seniors, military ($4 off Thursdays)
228 Museum Drive
By MARY CUSACK
Starlight Dinner Theatre founder Linda Granger must have had nerves of steel to not only stage a community theater production of “Steel Magnolias,” but direct and star in it as well. And, thanks to some quality acting, it’s a challenge that paid off.
The exposition-heavy story takes place entirely in a small-town Louisiana beauty shop. It begins with preparations for wedding and, 31 months later, ends with preparations for a funeral. In between, the ladies of Truvy’s (Granger) beauty shop deal with all manner of life issues.
The acting styles of the cast members don’t always mesh perfectly, yet each performer had her strengths. Granger, who played Truvy eight years ago, is completely comfortable in her role. She is every bit the sweet and funny stylist with whom one can while away an afternoon.
Marci Balogh is outstanding as Shelby Eatonton Latcherie, beginning the story as a self-absorbed, pampered bride and transforming into a completely selfless mother. Her chemistry with the rest of the cast is so solid that one would never guess that she wasn’t there from day one of rehearsals.
The real surprise is Tina Brenner as Shelby’s mother M’Lynn. Brenner’s performance is low-key throughout most of the play, but when she finally has her breakthrough breakdown, it is so unexpected and emotionally raw that it leaves the audience stunned.
While the piece is undeniably the stage version of a chick flick, the “other half” will be engaged nonetheless. After all, the setting of a beauty shop as a haven where women can speak freely is no different than the barbershop where men do the same. To believe that men don’t talk about family, life and loss is naïve and sells them short.
Oct. 19- 27
Waverly East Intermediate School
3131 W. Michigan Ave.
Fridays and Saturdays: dinner 6:30 p.m., show 7:30 p.m.
Dinner & show: $33 general/$28 seniors,students/$20 children
Show only: $15 general/ $10 children