BWW Reviews: A RED HERRING Infiltrates Villanova Theatre
There's nothing like a police procedural to keep an audience on The Edge of its seats. Except when there's a romantic story with a major lovers' misunderstanding to keep an audience on The Edge of its seats. Unless there's a political drama with nefarious twists to keep an audience on The Edge of its seats. Oh, wait. Audiences like comedy!
Why choose? Whether you want a dead body, a joint police/FBI investigation, multiple romantic problems among three couples, or Joe McCarthy and the Senate hearings - or perhaps you'd prefer a play dealing with the menace of atomic warfare, or you want straightforward, in-your-face hysteria, you'll find it in RED HERRING by Michael Hollinger, currently on stage at the Villanova Theatre. Directed by multiple-Barrymore winner Harriet Power, like Hollinger a member of Villanova's theatre faculty, this in-house production of Hollinger's delightful collection of debacles, first produced at the Arden in 2000, provides enough hilarity to keep theatergoers laughing all the way home.
This is not a play with a plot, but with plots - everything from spy plots to cemetery plots, as 1950's Boston during the McCarthy hearings deals with spies and murders. Homicide detective Maggie (an absolutely delightful Victoria Rose Bonito) has a corpse. Her boyfriend, FBI agent Frank (Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall, whose flair for comedy is readily apparent) has Communist spies. Maggie's life, when not investigating fresh corpses, is taken up with a cold case that obsesses her. Is that why she won't marry Frank? Lynn (Sophia Barrett, playing adorably ditzy), daughter of Senator McCarthy, is engaged to physicist James (Brendan Farrell), but to keep her mother from objecting to the marriage, she's told mom that James isn't Jewish, but Quaker - which must be okay, because Dick Nixon's a Quaker, after all. Boarding house owner Mrs. Kravitz (Julie George-Carlson, who turns in a splendid performance in all of her parts in the show) is in love with her tenant Andrei the herring fisherman (Raymond Saraceni) - alas, she's married, and so is he, back in the old country, where his wife Olga still lives... or does she?
What do any of these issues have to do with the others? Everything, it turns out, as Maggie and Frank Chase criminals, together and separately, while Lynn goes shopping for wedding dresses in Boston and carrying Velveeta in her purse, and while Andrei brings in more herrings than a fishing boat should allow... many of them indeed red. Frank fails to listen to Maggie; Lynn is ashamed of James' secret - and it's not that he's Jewish, and Mrs. Kravitz is trying to find an easy solution to her marital dilemmas while Andrei is torn between the woman back home and the one who supports his secret habit... of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
Cheese is carried - oh, wait, Lynn's from Wisconsin and knows that Velveeta isn't really cheese, vodka's drunk... and so is Frank, who'd been keeping his drinking problem under control until this investigation. Harry the coroner (Brendan Farrell in a secondary role) is both insane and a dedicated Eisenhower supporter - are those the same thing? - and is never quite sure if he should be helping Maggie, who's going way outside her authority with her cases.
And Maggie's still refusing to marry Frank, except that now Frank's discovered Maggie's darkest personal secret, too, and isn't too sure about her now.
Romantic crises culminate in an incredibly funny, and all but indescribable, scene in a bridal shop (George-Carlson shines as the crazed wedding shop owner, and Saraceni as her devoted husband and factotum) resulting in shots fired and shots drunk, and a criminal assault on a mannequin. Can any marriages, current or potential, be saved?
Amazingly, Harrington has a solution to all of these problems. Secret documents are not turned over to the Soviets, Maggie's cold case is solved, Andrei makes some important discoveries, and James' pretense of being a Quaker even turns out to have practical advantages for other people.
You could call some of the humor cheesy, but as Lynn reminds us, Velveeta isn't cheese. Like the Rodgers and Hammerstein fan in the show, the audience may find itself with some enchanted evening during the performance.