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BWW Reviews: Wacky, Wickedly Funny MRS. MANNERLY Delights at Good

Portland's Good Theater has mounted the Maine premiere of Jeffrey Thatcher's wacky, wickedly funny comedy, Mrs. Mannerly, a two-character spoof of the obsession with politeness, manners, and surface polish which often disguises truths.

Set in the 1960s in Steubenville, OH, Hatcher tells the tale of a character (bearing his own name) who takes on the challenge of trying to achieve a perfect score in the etiquette class of the fearsome Mrs. Mannerly, long a town institution. Jeffrey's quest leads him to crack the façade of Mrs. Mannerly's presentation and past, and in so doing to discover that inner and outer reality frequently have little in common.

The premise of Hatcher's comedy is a trifle arch and slim, but the playwright skillfully embellishes it, layering it with an amusing spectrum of characters and witty anecdotes, which resonate with enough nostalgia for Baby Boomers to make the piece work. His clever use of the student Jeffrey as the embodiment of all Mrs. Mannerly's other students allows for a virtuoso turn, and he has crafted quite a few acerbic one-liners.

The success of this production, however, likes primarily with the stylish and beautifully timed pacing of director Stephen Underwood and with the energetic and endearing performances of Michael Wood and Kim Gordon. Underwood, whose own acting experience includes a flair for multi-character work, draws from the young Wood an infinite wealth of detailed and entertaining personae, which Wood sculpts with a variety of accents and an elastic physical presence. His boyish (and girlish) exuberance is given a perfect foil in the imperious, overbearing Mrs. Mannerly of Kim Gordon, part grande dame, part shrew - an actress with a past that she has retooled into mythical armor.

Underwood frames the character shifts skillfully with a few sight and sound tags, and to his credit, he allows the comedy to build gradually, not reaching its boisterous climax until almost the very end. Moreover, he avoids the pitfall of too much slapstick and keeps the sometimes outrageous from going completely over the top.

Underwood's set design (with Cheryl Dolan and Craig Robinson) makes effective use of the Good's stage and the rear projections help move the action and immerse the audience in the era. Iain Odlin's lighting subtly creates a slight sepia feeling, and Underwood's sound design adds the appropriate dimension. Justin Cote's simple costumes complete the stage picture elegantly with Mrs. Mannerly's rapid change array of jackets and jewelry indicating the passage of time.

Coming on the heels of the company's season opener, the bitter-sweet Rainmaker, Mrs. Mannerly offers not only an evening of delicious light amusement, but also a testimony to the artistic versatility of the Good Theater.

Photos Courtesy of the Good Theater, Stephen Underwood, photographer

Mrs. Mannerly runs October 30 - November 23, 2014, at the Good Theater, St. Lawrence Center for the Arts, 76 Congress St., Portland, ME. 207-885-58

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