There’s an old adage that states “time wasted having fun isn’t wasted.” The Aldersgate Community Church Theatre effectively explored this theme with its production of Cheaper by the Dozen, adapted by Christopher Sergel and directed by Becky Patton.
Taking place in 1925, the play focuses on the patriarch of the Gilbreth family who is a time and motion expert. This means he specializes in finding the most efficient way to do anything. Throughout the play, the father, played by James McDaniel is always trying to get his 12 children to be as efficient as possible and to not waste time.
McDaniel attacked the role with the quirk and stuffiness required of a man with such an unusual obsession. When he addressed his kids during the markedly undemocratic Democratic Family Meetings, McDaniel was commanding and authoritative – perfect for the somewhat tyrannical father that Gilbreth starts out as.
The child with whom he fights the most is Anne, played by Alyssa Denton. Denton was brilliantly able to capture the frustration of a teenage girl who wants to have fun with friends and potential suitors but is stopped by an oppressive father. The first taste of this comes when she first comes home with – gasp! – Silk stockings.
As the play progresses, one of the indicators that Mr. Gilbreath is starting to lighten up are the costumes. The play begins with all the girls wearing matching navy-blue jumpers with markedly ugly cotton stockings. Wardrobe Designers Maggie Paterson, Rebbeca Balough, and Annabella Hoagland excellently captured the budding flapper style of the roaring twenties with the dresses of the daughters as the play progresses. Though they are quite scandalous – be warned, ankle is visible – the vibrant colors and the style of the dresses seem perfectly befitting the children of a wealth 1920s family.
The boys also benefit from the liberalization of Mr. Gilbreth. They start off by wearing matching sweaters and slacks but as their father starts to allow the girls to wear more flattering clothes, they too are allowed and the Gatsby-esque vests and plaid suits appear. The fantastic costumes were definitely a highlight of the show.
It was the actors wearing these costumes that made the show what it is – particularly the young ones. Javan Morales-Shackelford, who played the youngest Gilbreth child, a boy named Jackie, and Johnie Hays, who played his slightly older brother, were amazing. They regularly got big laughs from the audience like when Morales Shackelford snarkily and sassily answered math questions that the mean and suspicious Miss Brill, skillfully played by Daria Hoobchaak, could not. In fact, everything that the two actors said had an air of that funny, naïve confidence so prized and admired in young children.
The performances of the older daughters were also exceptional. Olivia Hays, and Jenna Martin, who played Martha and Ernestine respectively meshed marvelously with Alyssa Denton (Anne). The three girls highlighted the insecurities faced by girls of the period who received no attention from boys very well but were also able to exemplify the gossipy, over-involved nature of stereotypical girls who become popular.
Zack Collison, who played Bill, the son who accompanies Anne on her dates, was hilarious and charismatic. He displayed a knack for walking in on moments of questionable actions between Anne and her suitors (at one point they even held hands!) and hilariously delivering his reproachful lines. His timing was wonderful.
Lyndsey Lawrence, and Kiera Martin played Lillian and Winifred respectively. The two girls performed admirably and effectively brought to life two characters who struggle between looking up to their somewhat rebellious sisters and wanting to please their authoritative father.
The entire play was performed in a flashback-type way. At the beginning of each of the three acts, Quinten Hoagland, who played the child Frank, and Jenna Martin (Ernestine) would walk around reminiscing about their childhood. Their conversations would introduce a scene which was then enacted by the cast. Though it was admirable that director Becky Patton tried something new and interesting with having them walk around the audience – through the aisle and behind the seats – during these initial conversations, I do wish they had avoided being directly behind the audience as it created some noticeable confusion as to where we in the audience should direct our attention.
That being said, the two reminiscing actors were very good using tone to indicate the fondness of their memories with their family.
John Hays and Joyce Tischer played Dr. Burton and Mrs. Fitgerald respectively. In his short appearance, Hays capably portrayed a doctor worried about his patient’s health and slightly amused at his good spirits. Tischer, who played the maid of the house, also had a relatively small role characterized by great one-liners as she complained about her work.
Evan Stella and Brevan Collins played Joe Scales and Larry, two of Anne’s dates. Stella was stellar. He took on the douchey persona of a high school boy with too much self-confidence perfectly. Collins, the nice guy date, was also great. His portrayal of the good-boy, respectful date was such that I’d like him to date my daughter one day. Perhaps his finest moment came with his hilarious wipe-out as he displayed his motorcycle crashing.
Suzanne Martin played the matriarch of the Gilbreth family. Mrs. Gilbreth is the rock that holds the family together. Often she is the much needed middle ground between her husband’s time-saving mania and her childrens’ desire to enjoy life. Martin was stellar. As all mothers must be multi-talented, Martin showed exceptional range in her acting. She was an understanding parent, reasonably talking to her daughters, getting excited for them. She was a stern mother, nicely suggesting better behavior out of her children. She was a loving wife, remembering the early days of her marriage with her husband. She was mournful wife, sadly watching her husband leave for what she knew would be the best time. Martin brought an amazing authenticity to each of the roles that a mother must take in a family. She was lighthearted at sometimes and poignant at others. Hers was an excellent performance.
The stage was designed as the main living room of the Gilbreth house. With peach walls adorned in landscape art, beautiful couches and chairs, an exquisite table and a fancy telephone, the house seemed to be a first-rate depiction of a wealthy family home in the 1920s. Set Designer Becky Patton, who also directed the play, was even able to include in the room two doors from which actors could enter and exit as if they were coming from other rooms.
Cheaper by the Dozen is a heartwarming family play. In their quest to convince their father that they think life is more than about being efficient, the Gilbreth children also remind us of the same thing. So if you can spare a moment, go see Aldersgate Church Community Theatre’s wonderful Cheaper by the Dozen. And yes Mr. Gilbreth: it’s not a waste of time.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.