‘Auntie Mame’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse by Amanda Gunther

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Laurel Mill Playhouse welcomes winter and the upcoming holidays with their production of Auntie Mame. Directed by Larry Simmons this non-musical telling of the infamous eccentric rich aunt from Beekman Place up in New York City offers a family treasure trove of light-hearted loving warm stories for the winter season.

(l to r): Doris Upson (Becky Batt), Auntie Mame (Anne Hull), and Mr. Upson (David McCrary). Photo by John Cholod.

A team of set designers too numerous to list come together to create Mame’s lavish apartment in uptown New York City. They make extravagant scene changes to show you the difference between the main entrances and the upstairs bedroom, but the hard work of these intricate and grandiose designs ends up becoming a major problem for the production. The scene changes themselves are clunky; set in total darkness without any music to hurry them along at a swift pace. Whole wall panels are being moved about and the audience is, unfortunately, left in darkness for several long minutes listening to furniture, wall hangings, and other large set props being banged about as they deconstruct one scene and mount the next. This unfortunately caused the show to drag.

But the scenic switches in the second act were made much easier with the addition of a projection screen. Rather than taking down walls and dragging out furniture a simple image of The Burnside Manor at Peckerwood (and all of its fancy rooms and accoutrements) were projected onto the screen making for a much more simplistic and far less time-consuming series of scene changes.

Director Larry Simmons wrangles a good deal of people on the stage, double-casting when necessary and creating some interesting cross-characters. This alleviates stage crowding during Mame’s infamous house parties early in the production and again during Act II with all the cousins at Peckerwood. Simmons’s casting approach is a mixed bag as come characters really fit the roles they’ve landed while others struggle to pull off the more complex characters.

Two very talented performers that steal the show right out from under your nose are Mr. Babcock (Douglas Silverman) and Agnes Gooch (Kendra Maurer). While both of these characters appear far less frequently than the title characters they’ve both grounded themselves into the finer nuances of their stage presence. Silverman speaks with a slow-rolling tongue, indicative of his upbringing and his elderly ways. His retelling of the nonsense that happens at Mr. Ralph’s school is beyond hilarious and his general huffing, puffing, and blustering is enough to blow the house down.

Maurer as the meek and timid little secretary is a wonderful addition to the second act. Her uncertain nerves carry her well through her character’s big surprise and when she’s on stage she holds the scenes together like solid glue. And there is a third person who really shakes things up with her deep characterization. Sally Cato (Sophie Rosenthal) the uppity snooty hoity-toity cousin of Beau is an honest to god thorn in the side of Mame when she comes to Peckerwood. With her perfect accent soaked in Alabama charm she lives up this mischievous villain with a flare of the dramatic making her performance thoroughly enjoyable.

And then there’s Beau (Mark T. Allen). While Allen may not shine as his party guest alter ego Ralph, he does fall into his own as the southern gentleman. With a prim and proper accent that gushes affections at Mame his performance as the silver stud redeems his earlier stage confusions of stumbling through lines and seemingly awkwardly out of place with misguided direction as Ralph. Allen lays on the suave sensitivities for Mame when she takes old Lightning Bolt out for a ride and represents his character with a proper polish.

The real shining stars in this production are Patrick (Martin Colbert) and Young Patrick (Michael Glen). Glen, as the young boy sent away to his crazy auntie’s house, is as smart-as-a-whip on the stage. He delivers his lines flawlessly with all the right childlike emotions expected of a boy his age. Colbert, as the youth grown up mimics many of the gestures of the younger performer, making the transition between them easy for the audience to follow. Colbert’s facial expressions say it all in situations of stress and chaos; especially when reacting to his loopy auntie and her best friend.

As for the title character it was just a rough day. While a certain amount of stumbling over one’s words is to be expected with a woman who spends the better half of the first act portraying a drunk, Anne Hull’s performance as the lead left a little to be desired. Hull performed with compassion even if she frequently lost track of whom she is addressing and what she was saying. Some of this was nicely disguised in her eccentricities, but at other times it was, unfortunately, glaringly obvious. I’m confident her performance will improve during the run.

Anne Hull as Auntie Mame. Photo by John Cholod.

And in regards to her loony best friend Vera (Maureen Rogers) the woman has her shining moments while trying to carry the scenes with Mame along to completion. During the bickering scene as the pair are shouting at each other over who is having the bigger crisis, Rogers takes the cake for whiner of the year. It felt as if she were more eccentrically suited for the title role than Hull but setting her up as the support for Hull’s character was a brilliant move by Simmons so that the show could go on with as few hitches as possible.

Come sample the banquet and see Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Auntie Mame. It’s a lot of fun and the supporting cast is fabulous!

Running Time: Three hours with a 20-minute intermission.

Auntie Mame plays through November 18, 2012 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For ticket reservations, call the box office at (301) 617-9906.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.