BWW Reviews: LADIES NIGHT IN A TURKISH BATH Has New Allenberry Revival
It's always dismaying to hear people harp on newness as a mark of quality or sophistication. Would you rather drive a classic Bentley or a new Kia? Would you rather wear a classic, handmade Chanel suit or a new off-the-rack outfit? Would you rather smell like Guerlain or Beyonce? If you voted for the latter in all three cases, you probably would also rather watch a cable TV made-for-TV movie than watch Cyrus Ward's LADIES NIGHT IN A TURKISH BATH, and it's likely that no one can cure your problems.
At Allenberry Playhouse currently, if it sounds familiar that's because this is its eighth production at Allenberry since the early 1960s; it's just been that popular with the crowd. It's far older, yet, than that - it was first a 1920 play by Avery Hopwood and Charlton Andrews called LADIES NIGHT, and then a 1928 silent film with Dorothy Mackaill and Sylvia Ashton. It's had some changes in characters and plot alterations, but it remains the same at heart - shy guy secretly loves fast girl; fast girl, female family, and friends go to a women's Turkish bath; shy guy is invited to a hot club that gets raided; shy guy winds up disguised as a woman, hiding from the police in the baths and hoping neither to be arrested nor to encounter his girl. It's obviously a farce, and equally obviously, the comic possibilities are endless - and the show takes advantage of every one of those possibilities.
Director Ryan Gibbs grabs those possibilities in this production and milks them shamelessly, which is the only way it can be done. Sight gags abound, the best possibly being the cast's Big Guy, Fred (played by Brian Padgett), attempting to hide as a woman in a Little Bo Peep costume. Equally comic are Marie, maid by day, exotic dancer by night (Jill Taylor Anthony) and Anna, the Swedish spa attendant and masseuse - of the "this is for your health, even if it kills you" variety, not the James Bond girl variety (Greta Kleckner). And then there's Mrs. O'Brien, another baths client, played by Jane Heinze, who rules the stage with her momentary assistant and obvious star of the show, her "baby", an absolutely precious teacup pup. (The dog is played by Isabel, owned by a cast member, who has obvious star potential.) Heinze is the show's veteran, having been in it six times now.
Dodie, played by a perky and enthusiastic Sylvia Kolb, is a student at Syracuse whose family is from the city - and whose brother-in-law, Mike (Jeff Sullivan), knows Professor Matthews (nicely played by John Kownacki), aka "Spider," the world's greatest arachnologist, Sylvia's instructor at Syracuse. Spider's not afraid of black widows, tarantulas, or gigantic, poisonous, eight-legged anythings, but women scare him witless - problematic when an attractive girl throws herself at you. (This was in the days when nobody worried about academic sexual harassment.) It's post-Prohibition, and everyone goes out to the night clubs; the ladies for drinks and the women's Turkish baths - think spa with swimming pool as well as saunas - and the men, left to their own devices, to see Marie perform at her club. Mike and Fred think it will help Spider loosen up to see some barely-dressed female pulchritude on display - though not necessarily to have the police decide that the dancers are too barely-dressed for public display.
When Mike and Spider wind up hiding in the same spa that the women in the family are visiting and have to hide from them as well as the police, the free-for-all ensues. Masseuse Anna is a delight, as is Mrs. O'Brien; Marie, helping disguise the men in various pieces of women's clothing and wigs, is wildly amusing. One of the great moments, however, is the arrival of Miss LaBouche (Victoria Weinberg), a particularly... talented... ecdysiast... who, believing that her audience in the spa is female, and not Mike and Spider, proceeds to pontificate, with suitable display, on the history of ecstatic (and ill-clad) dance. It's one of those "worth the price of admission" moments.
There are a few minor technical issues with the show, primarily some mildly-shaking sets and a few small costume "wardrobe malfunctions" on certain angles (clearly not deliberate ones, as the side views are of the under-costume coverage devices, not of shouldn't-be-seen body parts). None of them are horribly distracting - but a farce always requires a well-braced set, given the number of doors that will slam.
If you've never seen it before, LADIES NIGHT... is worth seeing. If you've seen it before, it's still uproariously funny and worth a new look. This is Ryan Gibbs' first directorial effort at Allenberry, and it's a promising sign. They ask for no audiences under 13 for the show, which is undeniably risqué. Next up is 42ND STREET, which should give an indication as to how musical theatre will fare under the new leadership at the Playhouse. Through June 15. For information and tickets, call 717-258-3211 or visit www.allenberry.com.
Photo credit: Cindy King