Friday, January 18, 2013

Bay City Players "And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little" offers fine performances

Denyse Clayton,  left, and Cathie Stewart

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Remember that old Bette Davis line “hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”?

Well, it certainly applies to the play “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little,” which opened Friday at the Bay City Players.

We have no idea what playwright Paul Zindel was trying to say in this 1967-penned dark comedy, let alone make sense of its ending.

But what an evening spent with three dysfunctional sisters who finally get on each others last nerve and let it all hang out -- along with an intrusion by a neighbor couple with issues of their own..

Oooh the anger, the bitterness, the jealousies, the grudges, the long-simmering thoughts, the habits that annoy...they all bubble to the surface when snooty and estranged Ceil (played by Jessica Booth of Saginaw) returns to the family home in hopes of convincing Catherine (Debbie Lake of Saginaw) to commit their deranged and super vegetarian sister  Anna (Cathie Stewart of Midland).

All three are educators -- teacher, assistant principal, superintendent -- as is the wife (a guidance counselor) of the neighbor couple. So much of the humor in the script comes from their careers (in particular from Catherine, a stickler for proper usage of words).

Much fun fodder is provided by Anna’s zealous vegetarian bent and abhorrence of anything made from animal skins. Catherine serves up the most outrageous of meals, with full commentary,  all the while snacking from a box of chocolates which is not what it advertises. The shared humor of what the audience knows but not all the other characters know is very much a part of the fun.

Thee also are a couple of reallllly sick stories told within the script (and yes, we were laughing at them’s that kind of play).

And then there is this gun ....

While we wish director Susan Meade had created a show with a little more energy and movement overall, there is no denying her cast rises to its part in the process.

Stewart in particular delivers a wonderful performance as a woman on the edge, maybe even in the middle of, a nervous breakdown. Her face is an ever-changing array of twisted expressions. In a flash she goes from relatively calm to a screaming rage. She is unkempt  and always in pajamas. Wonderful performance and a stretch for Stewart in her acting career, the demands of which she reaches.

From left, Debbie Lake, Cathie Stewart and Jessica Booth
Lake is the title character. 

Driven to distraction by living with her mad sister, both of them damaged goods thanks to their mom who has recently died, and to Catherine’s own deep unhappiness due to Ceil, she hits the drink pretty hard throughout the show.  -- but oddly never really acts tipsy. 

What Lake does act, however, is the inner rage that boils like a tea pot as the day progresses and the sarcasm in her voice is delightful. She also can get pretty red hot angry.

Booth has the straight man role, in a sense. She is the uptight and upscale sister who has been gone from Catherine’s and Anna’s life and who, by her reappearance, opens the long-festering wounds and is usually the brunt of the verbal barrage. But from start to finish Booth maintains that aloofness, making her the character we love to hate.

Things kick into high gear when Fleur and Bob Stein (Denyse Clayton Midland and Tom Osborne of Auburn) arrive from the neighboring apartment -- all dressed up and with tons of skeletons rattling in their closet which are set loose.

Clayton is spot on as always, playing a woman with a large ego that barely hides her insecurity, And Osborne, gone too long from the local theater scene, is a top notch  as a jerk of a businessman, a crude and bullying human being with the sharpest tongue of all. But worry not, the sisters will prevail.

All of the cast members also deliver top-notch diction and projection -- a growing rarity. And they also sport body language and voice inflections that further sell their characters.

The set is gorgeous, and food real -- even a drink blended on stage.

So make of it what you will, its script and message. Maybe is just meant as a dark comedy. Perhaps instead it is saying we all are a little bit mad, have skeletons hiding in our closet, let the past too much influence the present, are as dysfunctional as the next person -- and that a little bit of humor can help us with all that. Or maybe a good stiff drink.

Dunno. Weird show but fun.


  1. Your comment, "weird but funny," set me to thinking, Janet. Is this play weird; is it about anything; why do I like the resolution in this comedy-drama better than those tied neatly with bows at the end. So, I looked back at shows Players performed about this same time (1973-74): "The Lion in Winter," "Summertree," "I Never Sang for My Father," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Our Town," "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds," These are all plays about nothing--but how people interact, how families or couples turn into who they are. And actually there is no resolution in any of them. To quote Scarlet: tomorrow is another day--for them. And perhaps this was particularly significant in the 1970s.

    Personally, I did find a significant point at the end of "Reardon" when older sister Ceil lets Catherine have it. She points out we are who we are because of decisions we made. Once adults, there is no one to blame for what we continute to choose except for ourselves. You made your bed; now sleep in it. You won't drag me down with you; I worked too hard to get where I am. Some where along the way, Ceil decided she was not going to be a reflection of her upbringing. And right or wrong on Ceil's part, this is also her decision.

    Well, I've enjoyed our little chat. Thank you for giving me some theatre to chew on.


    1. I love your points made. Both of them. Thanks for sharing so I too can chew.