Mame, book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. Directed by John Saunders.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Wemitt in a different role
"...Before you find youíre a dull fellow..."
Complacency: an instance of contented self-satisfaction, says my dictionary. Complacent, it continues: satisfied to a fault. Therein lies the problem with the current production of "Mame" at the Mac-Haydn Theatre. It seems as though everyone came into this project assuming that just putting it on was enough, that audiences would love it no matter what and that working out its interior problems was just not worth the effort because no one would need that; they only wanted to hear the songs and watch the dances.
Not so, Director Saunders. Not so. A Mame without energy and enthusiasm, without effort, is a Mame that merely exists by the skin of its, or her, teeth. Monica M. Wemitt is a perfectly cast Mame Dennis. She has the joie, the wit, the voice and the wisdom to make this character into one of her most memorable performances but for much of the first act she is only barely there, hardly in the show at all, and certainly not the dominant character that Mame ought to be. She is overshadowed by a mere slip of a youth, one Jack Mastrianni, charmingly playing her nephew Patrick. She is submerged in a sea of familiar (by this point in the season) faces and fannies as they parade around the stage on which she cannot upstage them. Even Karla Shook as Vera Charles, Mameís oldest and dearest friends, wipes Wemitt off the absorbent turkish towel of a production that Saunders has delivered.
This all changes in the second act but by then you almost donít care any more. For her confrontation with the Upson family, Wemitt manages to tear up the theatre with two back-to-back numbers, "Thatís How Young I Feel" and "If He Walked Into My Life" and still have room for the humor to come in the following scene. She walks with honors in her duet, "Bosom Buddies" which provides Shook with her best moments also. In the final scene Wemitt is bedecked in a sari that she should be allowed to wear home after the show closes, it so flatters her face, body, demeanor. This production has a lovely second act.
However the one hour and twenty-seven minute first act should be scrapped and sent back to the rental house. Lifeless, listless, lazy and lousy all come to mind. No one seemed to be into it. Perhaps it was just an off night, but somehow I donít believe it, not after Act Two.
In rewriting their wonderful play Lawrence and Lee removed many of their finest lines, and best laughs, leaving the setup but not using the payoffs. The songs by Jerry Herman add some color and lustre, but they donít compensate for the lack of true humor and wit. Iíve never been as aware of those cuts as I was in this production.
There are some lovely performances, though, and they need some applause right about here. Colleen Gallagherís Sally Cato was perfectly vile and wonderful. Ben Jacoby as Older Patrick was more charming than usual and absolutely adorable as was Sarah Pigion as Pegeen Ryan. Ralph Ambrosio made a dashing and pleasurable Beauregard. John Cardenas was just fine as Ito and Kevin Kelly made Claude Upson into an upwardly mobile moron to be counted.
Brittan y Weir was an Agnes Gooch strained through a strait-jacket. It was hard to believe that this woman could possibly shepherd a small boy across the country or survive even in the Mame Dennis kitchen. Weir came out a winner with Goochís Song in Act Two (that switch of energy and understanding again) but her character in the first half of the show was undefined and aimlessly helpless. Coricable Kidder was an undistinguished Gloria who was not believable at all.
Technically this was not of the more brilliant productions of the season at this theater. Kevin Gleasonís set pieces were clumsy, large and impeded audience vision. Jimm Hallidayís costumes were great, but the tightly fitted jackets that Wemitt wore never seemed a proper fit, always riding up and wrinkling in the back. Not good there, Jimm. Andrew Gmoserís lighting seemed wrong much of the time, especially in the second act transition between the two Patricks. The usual musical carp on my part, doubled as the synthesizer seemed to have missed an audial level or two in the first act. I wasnít even sure it was turned on, but it was better, more of a presence, in the second act.
The choreography by Scott Barnhardt and Ryan VanDenBoom did all it was supposed to do, but not much more. For a company that has saved a show through exceptional dances this year and last year, the Mame number and several others were a disappointment in that regard.
You might not think it, but I love Mame. I love this show. I donít love a production, however, that assumes Iíll love it because I love the show. I still need the elements to be present that make it as wonderful as it can be. Bring Wemitt back in this show again, but give her a director who knows she can deliver a performance with the right direction and letís see her make a major memory, not a minor one.
Mame plays through August 15 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203 west of Chatham, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292.