On a hot and stuffy midsummer Friday night, the Barn in Fitzgerald Park steamed with humidity as actors performed “Norma and Wanda,” a production about sisters who, seemingly, are best friends forever. Uh-huh.
What first appears to be a hopelessly Midwestern, mid-December holiday story quickly evolves into a notyour grandmother’s version of “A Prairie Home Companion” that might have easily been subtitled: “The Implausible Christmas Story.”
Act One begins with Wanda’s breathtaking soliloquy on having barged in on her boyfriend who, at the time, was in the arms of an angel … or, um, another woman.
Daniel’s words in this opening number are crisp. Wanda (Rachel Mender) delivers them furiously, while her sister Norma (Kat Cooper) busily makes dozens of peanut butter balls for Father Harvey’s “Baby Jesus 5K Memorial Run,” and is reduced to a preoccupied listener. The only notable exception is when she periodically asks “Where’s my pussy,” while searching for her cat.
Cooper manages to convey a sense of a much older matronly woman. Dressed in a seasonal sweatshirt with obligatory reindeer imprinting and a red scotch plaid skirt to match, she is the personification of the dumpy, old-timey housewife.
When Wanda reveals that she has hired someone to “do” the boyfriend, Norma is suddenly listening with rapt attention. Wanda explains that she needs money from Norma to pay the “hit man,” a high school sweetheart of Wanda’s with the nickname “Father Time,” because it took him six years to finish high school.
A story, of sorts, develops here. Father Time (Ben Guenther) arrives in Norma’s kitchen to report that he had to whack the boyfriend twice with a tire iron and that he, the boyfriend, now resides dead as a doornail in Father Time’s car trunk. Wanda freaks out, noting that all she meant was to rough the dude up, not kill him. Act One spirals into hand-wringing hysteria. Guenther, as Father Time, manages to sound menacing and dumb at the same time.
Mary Sue Thornberry, Maria George, shows up to announce that Father Harvey would like a thousand more peanut butter balls. Her schtick throughout the rest of the play is hiding under tables when agitation devolves into threatened violence.
As Father Time demands payment for his dastardly deed, wielding a switchblade, the three women charge him. Mary Sue ends up with her face in his lap as Norma’s husband Mel, Jeff Kennedy, walks in with a shocked look on his face. The stage goes dark, end of Act One.
A handful of side stories are presented in Act Two, not the least of which is Kennedy’s contribution to Christmas in the form of “Mel’s Christmas Sausage.” And Mel is missing an arm, cut off by Wanda at Thanksgiving dinner with a razor-sharp electric knife.
“Norma and Wanda” had a speed run quality to it Friday Night that did not lend itself to the necessary comical timing of Daniel’s words. The smothering heat of the barn was an additional blanket — squelching laughs, as audience members were panting to breathe.
In the end, we discover that the boyfriend in the trunk is not only alive, but is also a remorseful for his tryst with the other woman. As is true in much of comic theater, everything resolves. Christmas commences.
"Norma and Wanda" Thursday - Saturday 8 p.m. Sunday 2 p.m. The Ledges Playhouse 137 FItzgerald Park Drive Grand Ledge, MI 48837 Ticket information: www.overtheledge.org/