BWW Reviews: Chaffin's Barn's SPREADING IT AROUND is Less Filling, Tastes Great

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BWW Reviews: Chaffin's Barn's  SPREADING IT AROUND is Less Filling, Tastes Great

Lisa Marie Wright's impeccable timing and on-target comic performance-not to mention her cantilevered breastworks-are reason enough to book your favorite table at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre for Spreading It Around, a formulaic comedy about seniors spending their kids' inheritances that actually packs in a lot of laughs while pulling a minimum of punches in its two hours onstage.

Certainly, Spreading It Around isn't high art and it shouldn't be construed as such, but it is nonetheless a pleasant diversion to follow a bountiful buffet of seasonal goodness provided by Janie and John Chaffin in the dinner half of the dinner theater equation.

Designed to delight and entertain gently, so as not to disturb older audiences more apt to complain about their roast beef if it doesn't go down well with a farcical comedy, Spreading It Around serves its purpose, but playwright Londos D'Arrigo and director Lydia Bushfield very craftily ensure that the comedy has some bite. It remains palatable and pleasing even while it tells a story that probably resonates more with audiences than another comedy that has more teeth.

Debbie Kraski, who's far too young to ever be considered a senior citizen, plays Angie (the irascible leading lady of the piece), a Florida-dwelling widow who misses her absent children and grandchildren and is put off by the realities of living in a gated community for rather affluent people of a certain age. With her well-heeled friends and neighbors in tow-particularly Martin (played with earnest ease by Charlie Winton), a recent widower who has all the eligible ladies in the development vying for his attention-Angie launches the SIN (Spend It Now) foundation to provide financial help to people who really need it. The seniors involved in SIN are spending the money heretofore budgeted to go to their heirs after their final turn on the fairway.

When Angie's son Larry (the always likable Will Sevier) finds out his mother is selling off her financial portfolio and spending money willy-nilly, he and his vacuous, vapid and howlingly funny wife Traci ("with an I"), played by the aforementioned Ms. Wright, show up to ferret out the facts and to determine what Angie's up to. Proving her incompetent and gaining control of her fortune is just the payoff for their trip southward.

Kraski and Winton are a fine pair of cohorts, making the most of the somewhat stilted dialogue and delivering performances that make the play's premise believable at best, bearable at worst. Kraski's talents have been on display in numerous past outings at Chaffin's Barn, not the least of which was her heartbreakingly genuine performance as Golde in last summer's Fiddler on the Roof, and there is something about her that remains so heartfelt and real that you cannot help but be on Angie's side from the very moment she sets foot onstage.

Like Kraski, Winton is far too youthful to be completely believable as a retiree (although that's exactly what he is: he's a retired teacher, in fact), but he is convincing as Martin, who is at first skeptical of Angie's plan to help the needy and, ultimately, is won over by her largesse and the total generosity of her heart.

Sevier is nicely smarmy and snarky as Larry, although there is very little to like about his character, and he plays well against the over-the-top and tacky Wright. Looking for all the world as if she's stepped fully formed off the set of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, the titian-tressed Wright is a tart-tongued, iPhone-wielding, spoiled stay-at-home mom who spends far more time at the mall than she does at homE. Wright wrings the very last possible chuckle, titter and belly laugh from even the most groanable of lines that she has foisted upon her trim figure. And, clad in Colleen Garatoni's eye-popping wardrobe-and the prototype  of all push-up bras ever made in the US of A, China or France combined-she very nearly steals the show right out from under her estimable costars.

Of course, there's very little of the Lydia Bushfield-designed set left to steal, thanks to the scenery-chewing theatrics of Layne Sasser, whose late-in-the-second-act turn as a friend of Angie masquerading as a psychiatrist, is mined for all the sitcom-inspired hijinks you've ever seen on the magical, levitating stage at ye olde dinner Barn.

Hell, that and the mixed berry cobbler may just about be enough to get you a good review.

  • Spreading it Around. By Londos D'Arrigo. Directed by Lydia Bushfield. Presented by Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, Nashville. Through November 11. For details, go to www.dinnertheatre.com; for reservations, call (615) 646-9977.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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