Off the radar

By Mary C. Cusack

Riverwalk's “M*A*S*H” is mostly swampy

War is not hell in Riverwalk Theatre´s production of “M*A*S*H.” It’s not even heck. It’s a minimalized setting for playwright Tim Kelly’s shallow versions of some of America’s most iconic pop culture characters.

The stage play is an adaptation of Richard Hooker’s novel, which was adapted into an acclaimed feature film and iconic television series. Set in a mobile Army hospital during the Korean War in the mid-1950s, the story focuses on the often conflicting, survival mechanisms employed by the enlisted and drafted staff. While the tone of the novel, film and series skewed toward humor, no punches were pulled when it came to showing the tragedy of war.

Unfortunately, Kelly’s script lacks any character development and tension. Kelly is considered one of the nation’s most prolific playwrights, but quantity trumps quality in this adaptation, reflected in the bloated cast and running time. For his directorial debut, Justin Brewer should have selected a better script with a manageable cast.

Upon arrival, the audience is treated to a fantastic set that effectively recreates the gritty location of the 4077th, courtesy of Mark Mandenburg and Melody Stratton. But once the cast takes the stage, the production heads not to South Korea but just south.

Mark Polzin (Trapper John) and Cassie Little (Captain Bridget McCarthy) give understated, naturalistic performances, but the regular army officers, including General Hamilton (Ed Baker), Lt. Col. Blake (Chris Goeckel) and “Hotlips” Houlihan (Sandy Vanlancker) are devoid of nuance. It would seem that the only direction they received was “more bluster.”

The best acting comes from the Bonwit Sisters (Bridget Farhat, Rikki Perez and Sophia Vitello), a trio of bubble-headed showgirls who get stranded at the hospital. The squeaky and spoiled sisters are perfect comedic foils in one of the few rewarding scenes, a showdown between the war-weary nurses and the pampered pretties. The cast and crew are earnest in their desire to celebrate our military personnel, and the closing slideshow celebrating their loved ones in the military is truly touching. Still, this “M*A*S*H” is just mush.


Riverwalk Theatre Through Sunday 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday $14/$12 students/seniors/ military 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700