BWW Review: The Hale Centre Theatre's KISS AND TELL
Director Cambrian James' fast paced, delightful Kiss and Tell gave this grumpy critic more laughs than she has experienced in a good long time - and the rest of the Hale's opening night audience was right there with her.
According to The Hale's website:
Hugh Herbert's 1940's riotous romp entangles a family feud, a secret marriage, and a madcap dose of mistaken identity! Two teenage girls, Corliss Archer and Mildred Pringle, cause their respective parents much concern when they start to become interested in boys. The parent's bickering about which girl is the worse influence causes more problems than it solves after both girls sell kisses for charity at the USO bazaar. It's a "fresh, funny, and completely beguiling comedy about a small town Junior Miss."
A silly offering from 1943 when the Second World War loomed large and entertainment was all that stood between families and abject despondency, Kiss and Tell is designed to amuse and divert.
Let's get out of the way right away a few unfortunate facts. There are in the production some bad wigs and distracting body mics. Some of the women's voices are so similar that it is confusing (because the sound is coming through speakers) when they speak one after the other. The set wants to be rotated 45 degrees so that the lion's share of the staging is on diagonals and not either parallel or perpendicular to the house. The actors are often too close together for long periods - not audience friendly on an arena stage.
The set is fun and breezy, the props, costumes and lighting are bright and cheerful. The recorded sound is entirely convincing, and the music choices are spot on.
James' masterfully rendered production conjures a time when the play's naiveté makes sense. There is simply no hint of the seven decades since the world of Kiss and Tell.
The cast is terrific.
Young, lovely and talented Meg Farnsworth makes her Hale debut as Corliss Archer. Farnsworth, at times, had a hard time not breaking into giggles when the audience did so. The opening night crowd was so enthusiastic that it was surely jarring to a stage novice who hadn't yet publicly performed the uproarious material. The nature of the work, though, allowed for such "transgressions," even made it more funny - akin to the Corman-Conway moments on the old Carol Burnett show.
As next-door neighbor and presumed betrothed to Corliss, Allan DeWitt is astonishing. His Dexter Franklin is entirely grounded in truth, making for the most dimensional character we've seen on stage in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. The level of detail is startling, with which DeWitt frames his side-splitting portrait of the smitten, cracking-voiced, awkward, tactless, 50-cent-per-week-allowance-getting teenaged boy. Bravo.
Mark Kleinman (this critic's beloved friend) is great fun as Corliss' father, Harry Archer. Kleinman's impeccable dramatic and comic timing and commanding presence elevate every moment in which he's engaged.
Laura Soldan is flawless as Janet Archer, Corliss' mother and the "lady of the house." That old-fashioned nomenclature sums up, for this critic, the nature of Soldan's interpretation. Entirely at ease on stage, Archer is understated, elegant and a joy.
There's a lot of déjà vu Hollywood film-ishness in the performance.
Kale Burr as Private (later Corporal) Jimmy Earhart comes off like a young Ronald Reagan in his many WW2-era pictures, and high school senior Lizzy Jensen is poised and beautiful as Mildred Pringle, reminiscent of Ronda Fleming in many roles.
Benjamin Harris plays Corliss' older brother, Lieutenant Lenny Archer, who appears and disappears - he's shipped out after only 72 hours, not the two weeks his loved ones expected. Harris is a wonderful actor who brings to the role contemporary actor chops and an encompassing sense of the era in which the play is set. His nostalgic depiction feels remarkably similar (though not derivative) of Todd Karns' Harry Bailey in the film, It's a Wonderful Life.
Jonah Romanoff is an eccentric, precocious Raymond Pringle - a part played predictably in the film by Darryl Hickman. Romanoff has a voice like a tenor foghorn, and looks like a miniature Crispin Glover. He's hilarious.
Mary Beth Hollmann is excellent as Louise, the family's perennial housekeeper-maid-cook and has the quality of many such roles played in Hollywood by Thelma Ritter - a begrudging, authoritative subservience.
Ami Porter is a crisp, uptight busy-body as Dorothy Pringle and Matthew Cary is lively and distinct as both her husband and a handyman.
Justin Howell and Dilcia Yvonne Yanez are just right as the Franklins, Dexter's convivial parents.
As Navy officer, Uncle George Archer, the theatrically strong and energetic Tom Endicott is a breath of salty sea air.
Kiss and Tell plays Monday and Tuesday nights through November 14th. Tickets - those left before they'll surely sell out - can be purchased here.