Oct. 7 2015 11:18 AM

Standout performances salvage lackluster script

Left to right: Michael Stewart as Bradley, SaDonna Croff as Nina, Eve Davidson as Ann and Joe Dickson as John
Photo by LukeAnthony Photography

Here’s a challenge: Stage a play that focuses on a dull, snobby, stuffy, Review entitled upper class American family whose sense of the meaning of life revolves around endless games of golf and rounds of cribbage and bridge.

How do you do that, given the material, without making the production itself dull and stuffy?

Riverwalk Theatre’s “The Cocktail Hour,” under the skillful direction of Michael Hays, comes close to pulling this off. While the script itself does not sing, the actors manage to pull a decent performance out of it.

Joe Dickson plays the estranged son, John, whose play threatens to expose his parents as the empty vessels that they are. Dickson is low-key in this production. Even when his character drinks a bit too much, he does not reveal much of the underlying sadness of his life experience. Clearly John still loves these people, despite their having paid little attention to him while growing up. Dickson’s understated, slouchy performance conveys John’s gently tortured soul.

This contrasts well with the self-centered bombast of his father, Bradley. Mike Stewart brings bluster and an sense of self-importance to the role, all barrel-chesty and literally marching himself across the stage like a drum major holding court. John’s mother, Ann, portrayed by the inimitable Eve Davidson, and his older sister, Nina, played by SaDonna Croff, round out this family foursome. Davidson is on target as the woman who has given up much of her life economically supporting the supercilious Bradley, while Croff does a nice job portraying the dull Nina.

There were more than a few yawns in Act One as the critic valiantly tried to stay awake, waiting for some story arc to develop. In Act Two, enough conflict finally arose to make the storyline vaguely interesting.

There may be times when some folks find themselves wanting to be rich, the heirs of old money. “The Cocktail Hour,” however, illustrates well the daily boredom of lives lived without significant meaning and purpose beyond living on the interest from investments.

“The Cocktail Hour”

Riverwalk Theatre 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 and Saturday, Oct. 10, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11 $12/$10 students and seniors Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre. com