BWW Review: AUNTIE MAME SENDS AN ODE TO CLASSICS, PROVES TO BE A BUMPY BUT NONETHELESS ENTERTAINING ROMP at CARROLLWOOD PLAYERS THEATRE
Auntie Mame not to be confused with Mame the popular musical version tells the story of the life of Mame Dennis and her orphaned nephew Patrick over the course of 18 years of time. Mame Dennis a swinging and very progressive woman with a zest/zeal for the finer things in life is left to be the guardian of her late brother's young boy. Teaching the boy about the finer things in life and a laundry list of new vocabulary Mame leaves nothing to the imagination for this young boy to be brought up in a world unlike that of which he's known. The script by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is based on the novel by Patrick Dennis; which lends itself to some funny, touching, and endearing moments.
Now let me preface when reviewing a show; I'm known to be very forthcoming and honest, but also constructive as I will explain here, because in no way should a review be sugar-coated candies and rainbows but an honest explanation of a theatrical endeavor. I mentioned above that the show itself lends to a story spanning about 18 years of time. Over the course of just over three hours, I was left feeling completely wiped out, entertained but nonetheless exhausted and for that I only can feel for the actors onstage.
If I or any patron for that matter is left to be sitting watching a show for three hours or more, one would expect a show such as this to have professional quality attributes. Shows that tour all over the country make forth like a well-oiled machine and sitting for three hours or even two and a half hours seems like nothing but a blip on the radar because as an audience member you are thoroughly engaged in every facet of the show, this was not such a case here. Left to a bare stage except for two periaktos center with a projected image of a last will and testament the show gets underway. Now don't get me wrong I highly respect the idea of using the periaktos to make scene changes and different locations seem apparent, however, I respect them if they work and lend well to the show. Using periaktos is supposed to make scene changes work in seamlessness and make locations change before the eye, in this case the periaktos were a hinderance to the show. So much a hinderance that the scene changes were FAR too long. On a stage that's only 20 ft deep by 40 ft in length using full size periaktos would have been a good idea, if using the right amount. 4 full size periaktos YES, but 6 full sized ones in a space this small with no wings is a big NO.
Also in a show this size with as many locations, would it not have been wise to spend some time working through scene changes and mapping them out accordingly? In what FELT like 15-20+ minutes of each scene change I could have left the theatre gone to my local Starbucks, put some gas in my car and then still have time to proceed back to my seat for the duration of the show. I absolutely loathe scene changes in which you can drive a freight train through, and the lack of coordination and the almost abrupt stop to the momentum of the show when the scene changes happened was and is unacceptable. To state the obvious I was left wondering how could the scene changes be more organized and run more smoothly? I even over the course of the show found myself checking the time on my phone, almost like you do in the cinema wondering when the previews will be over. Like the time I saw Star Wars Revenge of the Sith in theatres and I timed the previews, a full 25 minutes! This was such a case here as well, but I digress. I even questioned a couple of times why I was able from my vantage point in the theatre to fully see the backstage monitor many times during the show! Would you not find time to say ok push the periaktos upstage, move said furniture and dressings/props in to place and then pull the periaktos in around the furniture and dressings? Also when you have a cast of 20+ people making up the company it would be in best interest to delegate whom does what in each scene change. So often myself and others around me found people in the cast just aimlessly walking about or standing off to the side and almost waiting their turn to put a small item in its place. This is unacceptable, everyone should have a job in each scene change and walk with purpose to make the changes run accordingly. This was in part an issue the Stage Manager and Creative Team should have addressed far in advance. Making use of time wisely would have cut these scene changes in half! Map out time in your rehearsal schedule to run all the scene changes, make it a priority and not an afterthought. I can say that lack of preparation and practice led to the abysmal scene changes which each time took me out of the moment of the show. It all comes down to practice, practice makes perfect and I always say the way we practice is the way we perform and in this case the 110% needed was severely lacking.
Other technical aspects that were flawed and could have used some polishing was the use of music at the top of the show. Finding the music to be far too loud in the opening scene made it hard to understand the dialogue. Transitions, transitions, transitions! Now starting to feel like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, but I digress; like the scene changes, the transitions were sometime abrupt, or often times too long. Whether its a quick to black or a slow fade transitions are key and often times I was left scratching my head. Find the time where transitions work for the exiting scene and finesse those moments to where the audience doesn't have to question what happened. Costumes were a slight issue in points such as times when characters would sit on furniture and the seam of their pants were ripped and as an audience we could make out what kind/color of underwear the cast member was wearing. One knockout Costume that deserves a standing ovation was the beautiful dress Mame wore in the top of Act 2. Aside from that some costumes were ill-fitting and some didn't quite fit the time period. There was also the issue of the pregnant belly, I will not give anything away here, but where was the costumer who thought this was ok? Lets talk about props for a minute, as there were a lot in this show. One of my biggest pet peeves in the theatre is liquid on stage. When there is liquid on stage that can clearly be seen by the audience make sure its used appropriately. This is no way reflection on the props but rather a directorial issue, in no way is it excusable for a cast who is supposed to be drinking at a party to be drinking out of empty glasses if there is liquid in their reach. Also to pop a top on a bottle that clearly has liquid especially dark liquid, and to allow an actor to "fake" pour into glasses should be out of the question. If your going to go for it, go all in or Do Not put liquid in the bottles at all. Set pieces were all over the place and at one point a couch was disguised as a bed. The low lying furniture in Act 2 was a funny bit, but almost too problematic when making actors sit on furniture that is one foot off the ground; it was almost like doing a gag effect and playing to get the laugh and it did not work in this instance.
Aside from the technical mess that was all over the place Auntie Mame had many moments that were endearing, and entertaining. Award for stand out performance goes to Alicia Spiegel in the titular role. Imagine being on a sinking ship and you are the Captain trying to steer the vessel to dry land. You act your way through anything, and pretend like nothing is happening, and I commend her for the great job. Alicia was the finest actor on stage, and to date this is one of the finest performances to come from this beautiful actress. Other standouts were Kenneth Grace as his Beauregard was the comic relief for the evening. Jude Templeman was adorable as Young Patrick and made for an "Aww" moment everytime he was on stage, and should be commended for a job well done. Marc Sanders was enjoyable as well, and always a pleasure to watch. Suzy Duic was entertaining as Vera, she reminded me of a cross between Blanche Deveraux and Suzanne Sugarbaker; and let me tell you Rue McClanahan and Delta Burke would be proud. Acting choices that had me scratching my head was the role of Mr. Babcock, Patricks trustee, the character choice made was far too over the top, and had me wishing he would dial it back. You know when you have that one person in the office that everyone groans when they enter the workspace, Mr. Babcock in this production was that person. Almost as if he was trying to say something witty and all that's heard is crickets. It was like watching a Gilbert Gottfried impression gone awry. Another acting choice that was questionable was the grumbling old mother character. I wondered why she groaned and was almost hard to understand at parts. Model an older character after a witty matron like Sophia Patrillo or the like, this made me feel like I was watching a character in a bad Tyler Perry comedy. I also wondered was her wig on backwards the entire time?
Like I said before a show that spans time over the course of about 18 years should not be exhausting to watch, after what felt like a lifetime of sitting and the stiff feeling in my legs I was left with just that. A 3.5 hour production of Hamilton absolutely, but a 3 hour production of Auntie Mame is almost unbearable, however, if you're in search for a break from the contemporary this could be your ticket. It was an enjoyable romp and for anyone whom loves classics could potentially find moments in which this show could be endearing, but I was left underwhelmed and exhausted. Sometimes you watch a show or a film that has the potential to be amazing due to the cast and or director whom helmed the endeavor, and I do mean sometimes. Then there are times where you walk away knowing that it was a "fine" performance; bumpy and all over the place, but fine nonetheless. Auntie Mame is being performed at Carrollwood Players and can be experienced until February 1. Anyone wanting to catch this show can purchase tickets by visiting carrollwoodplayers.org.
Photo Credit: Beth Behner