Saturday, June 4, 2011

Their Just Deserts

Their Just Deserts
By Tom Wachunas

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s most inmost parts.
- Proverbs 18:8 –

While many of you may take the title of this commentary to be a misspelling of an archaic phrase meaning ‘getting what they deserve’, I assure you it’s not. The apparent plural of an arid, sandy wasteland is in fact the original correct spelling, here pronounced ‘desserts’, as in after-dinner sweets.

I can also assure you that “Let Them Eat Cake”, the new play by Sherry Yanow and Deborah Fezelle (their fourth collaboration produced in Canton) that plays for one night only (Saturday, June 4) at Fieldcrest of North Canton, is anything but dry or archaic. Fezelle directed this engaging and facile comedy, and has assembled an equally facile cast to deliver the story that unfolds, in two Florida households, about two mothers on Mother’s Day, their sons, their sons’ girlfriends, and one nosy gossip.

And it’s there – the gossip – where the story begins. After repeatedly overhearing what she (mistakenly) takes to be late-night sexual shenanigans in her neighbor Kelly Fox’s apartment, Carmen Montoya phones her best friend, Hope Chancellor , and informs her that Alvin Chandler has been messing around with Kelly. That would be THE Alvin Chandler, the wildly rich, successful software mogul, and son to Brenda Chandler, who happens to be Carmen’s cousin. The two-fold problem is that Kelly is supposedly the sweet, devoted girlfriend of Hope’s veterinarian son, Brad. And Carmen knows that Alvin is ostensibly head-over-heels for Crystal Butterfield, a local weather girl. More phone calls from Carmen to both Hope and Brenda ensue, and the concerned mothers, thoroughly ensnared by rumor and innuendo, begin to pry more seriously into their sons’ respective romances.

On one level, the story brings to mind the famous moment in “Cool Hand Luke” when Strother Martin announces, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” The narrative web of this play becomes further tangled when we learn that Brenda is vehemently opposed to her son’s plan to marry Crystal, whom she knows to be a manipulative gold digger and ostentatious fraud. But Alvin is hopelessly blinded (not to mention an inexperienced nerd when it comes to relationships with women), and intent on surprising Crystal with an engagement ring hidden in a Mother’s Day cake. Meanwhile, Hope does all she can to encourage her reluctant son, Brad, terribly hurt by a past failed romance, to finally pop the question to Kelly, else lose her forever. To make matters worse (but in the end actually better), the bakery botches the two households’ cake orders, and in the confusion of similar last names, it’s Kelly who gets Crystal’s ring.

This marvelously crafted study in irony and romance has a practically Shakespearean flavor to its comedic narrative twists. All seven cast members are superbly suited to their roles, delivering them with palpable verve. As the busy-body Carmen, Janet Fashbaugh Mohler is deliciously funny and even naughty as she drops her “news” bombshells, seeming to relish the fallout as it lingers in the other characters’ reactions. Denise Robb, playing Brenda, is startlingly credible and urgent in her portrayal of the exasperated, pleading mother, and in her tense stand-offs - masterful moments of understated venom - with Crystal. An effective and equally urgent counterpoint is the character of Hope, played with authentic, fervent warmth by Marilyn Wells as she passionately encourages Brad to marry Kelly. In that role, Ariel Roberts is intriguing to watch as she emerges from dutiful and fawning girlfriend into honestly revealing her desires for married life with Brad, played by Drew Schaar. His is an intriguing transformation, too – from self-satisfied career man keeping marriage at arm’s length, to lowering his unreasonable defenses.

Joseph M. Haladey III is electrifyingly spot-on as the zany, immature, love-struck Alvin. For all of his character’s business acumen and hefty bank assets, he’s woefully poor (and just plain stupid) at recognizing how his desperation for a woman to love him for himself has lured him into Crystal’s conniving. In that role, Meagan Sonner is brilliant and sensual in an utterly decadent way – fully capturing all her character’s wanton greed, ill-founded self-assurance, and shallow deceit. It’s gratifying to report that the story provides for her well-earned comeuppance.

If there’s any bad news here it’s that this dinner-theater show runs for only one evening before moving on to performance in Springfield, Illinois. The good news is that as both director and playwright, Deborah Fezelle, and her extremely talented Top of the Town Productions company, continues to forge a viable and exciting presence here in the Canton area. Look for her next show - a political thriller to be mounted at the Kathleen Howland Theatre in August.

For tonight, there just might be tickets left at Fieldcrest of North Canton, 1346 Easthill St. SE, North Canton. Dinner at 6:30, followed by the show. Tickets are $30 and can be ordered by calling (330) 966 – 2222.

Photo, courtesy Deborah Fezelle: Cast of “Let Them Eat Cake” clockwise from bottom left: Joseph M. Haladey III, Meagan Sonner, Denise Robb, Janet Fashbaugh Mohler, Marilyn Wells, Drew Schaar, and Ariel Roberts.

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