Theatre Review: “Auntie Mame” at Buck Creek, Plus 2011-2012 BCP Season

Last Saturday night I drove to the southeast side of Indianapolis to the Buck Creek Playhouse to see the Buck Creek Players’ production of “Auntie Mame.”  It was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, based on the 1955 bestselling novel by Patrick Dennis.  It was directed for Buck Creek by Andrew Ranck and produced by Cheryl Kern.

I love the 1974 movie version starring Lucille Ball and I would like to read the novel some day.  Now, after seeing this non-musical stage version, I am fonder than ever of the irrepressible title character and her story. 

What the Show Is About

The year is 1928.  Mame Dennis is a wealthy flapper throwing outrageous parties every night because “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.”  Her much more conservative brother dies and names her as the guardian for his young son, Patrick.  Mame doesn’t know anything about taking care of a child, but she takes Patrick under her wing with love and good intentions.  She teaches him how to make a martini and what to do about words he doesn’t understand, and they happily figure out everything else as they go along until…

1)   Mame’s brother’s executor insists that Patrick go away to boarding school, and

2)   In 1929 the bottom drops out of the American economy.

Then we share Mame’s unfortunate attempts to succeed at a job long enough to get a paycheck.  We also share in Mame’s much more fortunate adventures in love, followed by her whirlwind world travels with her new husband.  She follows her own advice to “Live! Live! Live!” but continues a mutually loving correspondence with her nephew.  Ultimately, when he most needs her, she is there for him, whether he wants her to be or not.

Artistic Considerations

I love the director’s artistic vision for this piece.  In the press release that Scott Robinson, Buck Creek’s Director of Publicity and Marketing, sent me, there is this quote from the director, Andrew Ranck:

“When I first starting sharing I was directing Auntie Mame, almost every person said, ‘Oh, you will need a gigantic staircase and beautiful clothes.’  I was taken aback that people who knew the show remembered the set and costumes, but didn’t mention the heart and soul of the piece – relationships.  In a piece that spans 20 years and condenses a book to half its size, characters become more important than plot.  Their interpersonal relationships become universally devoid of time, place, and costumes.  Sure we have great clothes, and a beautiful home for Mame, but I hope that we explore the absurdist extremes of humanity through a hysterical portrayal of a woman with a huge heart, an undauntable spirit, a fluctuating bank account, and an undoubtedly forgiving liver.”

There is a huge, all-volunteer cast for this piece, and under Andrew’s direction everyone in it does a good job, but I was especially enchanted by Carrie Bennett Fedor, who brings Mame herself to life with endearing wit, warmth and sparkle.

Over the years, Mame surrounds herself with several quirky people that could have been played as mere stereotypes but again, under Andrew’s direction they are rounder than that, and therefore fun to watch.  It is easy to believe that Mame cares about them.  For example, Tommy Kruse plays her Japanese butler, Ito, as more odd than ethnic, making the portrayal funny rather than offensive, even with today’s sensibilities.     

I especially enjoyed Nan Macy’s vibrant portrayal of Mame’s best friend, the drama queen Vera Charles, and Tristan Ross’s swoon-worthy portrayal of Mame’s big-hearted husband, Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside.

I also especially admired Melissa DeVito’s consistently lyrical Irish accent in her portrayal of Mame’s no-nonsense housekeeper, Norah Muldoon; Ericka Barker’s consistent (and funnily bitchy) southern accent in her portrayal of Mame’s romantic rival, Sally Cato Macdougal; and Linda Heiden’s consistent (and excruciatingly funny) ivy league accent in her portrayal of the older Patrick’s fiancée, Gloria Upson. 

I also loved both the younger Patrick Dennis (Noah McCullough) and the older Patrick Dennis (Brandon Alstott.)  What well-spoken cuties!

But I appreciated everyone’s performances and I can’t help thinking that it must have been a lot of fun for such a large group to get to know each other during the rehearsal process.  Which is neither here nor there in terms of seeing the show, I know, but still…I bet good relationships off stage helped to inform the good relationships on stage.

Andrew said, and I agree, that the relationships between the characters should take precedent over the set and costumes.  However, I also have to say that the clever multi-level set for this production is used to very good effect and the costumes are lovely. 

Also:  The lighting design is satisfying, especially the sillouette effect at the very beginning and the sunset effect at the very end.  It is fun to see the painting on the easel change for almost every scene.  The various pieces of music for the scene changes are perfectly chosen. The scene changes themselves are fast and smooth, and the pacing of the almost-3-hours-long show (with one intermission) is good and brisk. 

(Please see below for the design team members’ names.)

Who Did What

I am very grateful to Scott Robinson for emailing me the cast and production staff as part of the press release so that I could cut-and-paste them into this review rather than type them all in.  I like to have everyone’s names here in my blog so that they will be easy to search for later if needed.

Here is the cast:

Mame Dennis……………………………………………..CARRIE BENNETT FEDOR

Vera Charles………………………………………………………………..NAN MACY

Norah Muldoon……………………………………………………..MELISSA DEVITO

Agnes Gooch…………………………………………………………ANNIE GORAJEC

Young Patrick Dennis………………………………………….NOAH McCULLOUGH

Patrick Dennis…………………………………………………..BRANDON ALSTOTT  

Ito……………………………………………………………………….TOMMY KRUSE

Sally Cato MacDougall……………………………………………..ERICKA BARKER

M. Lindsay Woolsey…………………………………………………….DON BECKER

Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside……………………………..TRISTAN ROSS

Mr. Babcock………………………………………………………….TOM KRUGHOFF

Pegeen Ryan……………………………………………………..LINDSEY PADDOCK                                                  

Rounding out the large cast with multiple roles are:

EVELYN BROWN

PAIGE CASSIDY

MATT CONWELL

MICHAEL HAMPTON

LINDA HEIDEN

DENNIS KARR

BRIAN KENNEDY

KEN KERN

BRENDA LOGSDON

MARISSA LOGSDON

LINDSEY PADDOCK

RALPH PASSMAN

MIMI PRUETT

ANDREW RANCK

GEORGANNA TEIPEN

DARA TURNER

CASEY VOTAW

Director Andrew Ranck makes his Buck Creek Players directorial debut with this production.  Joining Ranck on the production team are Cheryl Kern (Producer), Lea Viney (Set Designer/Technical Director), Linda Rowand (Costume Designer), Donna Jacobi (Costume Coordinator), Jeff Rowand (Lighting & Sound Designer), Lynne B. Robinson (Assistant Producer), Ruthie Weller-Passman (Assistant Director), and Melissa DeVito (Properties).

Audience and Appeal Factors

This is a family-friendly show but I think its length and the fact that it is more character-driven than plot-driven probably make it a more appropriate choice for teens, adults, and families with older children rather than families with young children.

It fits Buck Creek’s 2010-2011 season theme of “From Page to Stage” and because of its book and movie tie-in would make an enjoyable, out-of-the-ordinary outing for a book group.  (I bet BCP’s next show, “Frankenstein: A New Musical,” would, too.  It opens on June 3, 2011.)

It is a good choice for anyone looking for heartwarming stories with strong female characters.

Box Office

Buck Creek Players’ production of “Auntie Mame” runs for only one more weekend, through Sunday, April 10 at the Buck Creek Playhouse at 11150 Southeastern Avenue.  Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens (ages 62 & older) and can be reserved by calling (317) 862-2270.  Group discounts are also available for prepaid parties of ten or more.

For more information or directions to the playhouse, please visit www.buckcreekplayers.com.

Buck Creek’s 2011-2012 Season

About a week ago, I was delighted to receive an announcement of Buck Creek’s 2011-2012 season.  Here is most of that email (bolding is from me):

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Buck Creek Players, the all-volunteer community theater on Indianapolis’ southeast side, is proud to announce their 38th season of quality theater, It Takes Two, in 2011-12.  Three comedies and three upbeat musical comedies will take the playhouse stage to expose audiences to the importance of relationships experienced on a daily basis…and how our lives are changed because of them.

Opening the season with a two-weekend run in Fall 2011, is William Inge’s American classic, Bus Stop.  Set in the 1950’s, this warm, affectionate comedy brings together a variety of down-home characters passing one another in a street corner restaurant.  Their lives intertwined, these seemingly ordinary people reveal extraordinary qualities.  The poignant play serves up lots of laughs, a touch of romance, and maybe even a tear or two as the story unfolds over one hilariously turbulent night.  Mr. Inge’s Bus Stop shows that our lives weave together affecting each other in subtle yet profound ways each and every day.  John Carver makes his directorial debut at the playhouse with this production.

Ring in the holidays at the playhouse in December 2011 with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.  Based on the beloved, timeless film, this heartwarming musical adaptation features seventeen Irving Berlin songs and a book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have a successful song-and-dance act after World War II. With romance in mind, the two follow a duo of beautiful singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which just happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s former army commander. The dazzling score features well known standards including “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and the perennial favorite, “White Christmas.”  Matthew Konrad Tippel returns to direct this holiday classic which will have the entire family leaving the theater humming.

For more than half a century the name Florence Foster Jenkins has been guaranteed to produce explosions of derisive laughter. Not unreasonably so, as this wealthy society eccentric suffered under the delusion that she was a great coloratura soprano when she was in fact incapable of producing two consecutive notes in tune. Nevertheless, her annual recitals in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton hotel, where she resided, brought her extraordinary fame. As news of her terrible singing spread, so did her celebrity. Her growing mob of fans packed her recitals, stuffing handkerchiefs in their mouths to stifle their laughter — which Mrs. Jenkins blissfully mistook for cheers. The climax of her career was a single concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944. Famously, it sold out in two hours. Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Temperley, tells her story through the eyes of her accompanist, Cosme McMoon. A talented musician, he regards her at first as little more than an easy way to pay the rent, but, as he gets to know her, his initial contempt gives way to reluctant admiration, then friendship and affection. Eyewitness accounts of their concerts vary so wildly it is almost impossible now to separate fact from gossip. Hence this fictional “biography,” in which we follow the story of their partnership from its earliest days to their concert in Carnegie Hall and its aftermath. With each new imagined triumph Florence’s confidence soars. Faced with her boundless certainty, Cosme comes to revise his attitude, not only towards her singing but to the very meaning of music itself.  This musical odd couple for the ages will take the Buck Creek Players stage for six performances in Winter 2012, under the direction of D. Scott Robinson.

Harold is a depressed, death-obsessed nineteen-year-old proverbial “rich kid” who spends his free time attending funerals and pretending to commit suicide in front of his mother. At a funeral, Harold befriends Maude, a delightfully wacky octogenarian, who has a real zest for life. She and Harold spend much time together during which she exposes him to the wonders and possibilities of life. What she teaches saves him and will captivate audiences.  Adapted from his 1971 cult film starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, Colin Higgins’ comedy, Harold and Maude, will command the stage for two weekends, Spring 2012, under the direction of Ed Mobley.

If you’ve ever sat in a dark theatre and thought, “Dear Lord in Heaven, please let it be good,” then this is the musical comedy for you!  It all begins when a die-hard musical-theater fan plays his favorite cast album on his record player, and the musical literally bursts to life around him in his living room, telling the rambunctious and comedic tale of a brazen Broadway starlet trying to find, and keep, her true love.  The Drowsy Chaperone, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, pays tribute to the Jazz-age shows of the 1920’s and the power those shows held to transport us into a dazzling fantasy…lifting our spirits in times of need.  D. Scott Robinson will direct this “musical within a comedy” for a three-weekend run Summer 2012.

Hold your breath because here comes thoroughly modern Millie in a magical mythical musical set in the roaring twenties when bobbing your hair and rolling your stockings was considered daring.  Millie even colors her lips!  Thoroughly Modern Millie Junior is a high-spirited musical romp that will have audiences dancing the Charleston.  Taking place in New York City in 1922, this Playhouse Players Youth Production tells the story of young Millie Dillmount, who has just moved to the city in search of a new life for herself.  It’s a New York full of intrigue and jazz – a time when women were entering the workforce and the rules of love and social behavior were changing forever.  Local talent ages eighteen and under will have your toes tappin’ as this production hits our stage for two weekends Summer 2012, under the direction of Ruthie Weller-Passman.

 ABOUT THE BUCK CREEK PLAYERS

Buck Creek Players (BCP) began in 1973 when the Franklin Township Civic League formed a committee to present performing arts under the name of “Four C’s Theatre.”  On November 13, 1974, the name was changed to Buck Creek Players, Inc., and was formalized under the Indiana Not for Profit Corporation Act of 1971 (501(c)3).

Initially, Buck Creek Players performed in elementary and high schools, and in October of 1978, moved to its first home, a historic church located at 7820 Acton Road.  The church was built in 1872 with an addition in 1952.  The main space of the building was the sanctuary which was 31 feet wide by 48 feet deep, with the stage using one-half of the space and the seating using the other half.  The space enabled BCP to offer performing arts in an intimate setting for a maximum of 90 people.  In 2002, the church was sold to United Faith Baptist Church.

In 2001, Buck Creek Players moved into its current home, the Buck Creek Playhouse, at 11150 Southeastern Avenue.  The current space was originally built as an indoor tennis facility that was later converted into a church.  Much of the space was rebuilt to accommodate the productions it would now house.  While increasing capacity, the space is still intimate, seating a maximum of 130 people.

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“Harold and Maude” is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I am especially curious about Buck Creek’s production of the play, but really, the whole season sounds good to me.  I hope I can get to all of these shows!

‘See you the theatres…

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

P.S. – Follow me (@IndyTheatre) and/or the topic #indystage on Twitter.com.  I never tweet during a show (and I beg you not to take your phone out during a show either, for any reason! light is as distracting as noise!) but I often tweet first impressions during intermission or immediately after a show.

P.P.S. – The photos above were taken by Aaron B. Bailey.  In the top photo, of course, is Carrie Bennett Fedor as Mame.  In the lower photo she is joined by Nan Macy as Vera Charles and Noah McCullough as Young Patrick Dennis.

4 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Auntie Mame” at Buck Creek, Plus 2011-2012 BCP Season”

  1. Very good – and accurate – review of “Auntie Mame.” Thank you! I was very surprised to read that the show runs almost 3 hours! It was/is so well done, I had no idea it was that long!

    Thanx again, my friend, for a great review!

  2. BCP invests itself in presenting high-quality shows, and this one is a stellar example thereof. Director Ranck’s painstaking attention to detail and incredible ability to get a cast to jell shine thru to bring this fantastic production to life.

    As you mention, the staging and costuming are creative and fabulous.

    Accolades to Andrew and the cast!

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