Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Into The Breeches
It is 1942 and, deep into World War II, all of the able bodied men of the United States have been shipped off to fight the Axis powers and bring democracy to the world. Maggie Dalton (Nisi Sturgis) has assisted her director husband, Andrew for 18 seasons at the Oberon Playhouse in Cleveland, Ohio. With the approaching season just weeks away and Andrew off to war, Maggie decides to relight the stage lights of the darkened theater and put on a four-hour production of Shakespeare's King Henry plays (IV and V).
First, Maggie corners diva Celeste Fielding (Tina Stafford), who has acted in many of the theater's past productions and convinces Celeste to be the prince. With this important piece of the puzzle in place she goes after the theater's actual owner, Ellsworth Snow (Jeff Talbott), and with a bit of connivingincluding recruiting Ellsworth wife Winifred (Peggy Roeder) for a role in the playmanages to get the green light to continue with the production.
At the open casting call following the blanketing of Cleveland with handbills at every library, grocery store, factory and school, she and her 4F stage manager Stuart Lasker (Brian Sills) only manage to recruit two more "actors," June Bennett (Courtney Stennett) and Grace Richards (Elisabeth A Yancey), along with the theater's costume designer Ida Green (Comfort Dolo).
What the tiny troupe lacks in talent, experience and numbers they more than make up for in determination and verve. With their work cut out for them, these demure gentle women must suddenly take over the macho male roles, complete with "added body parts." Absolute hilarity ensues and egos clash, as director Maggie attempts to mold this band of misfits into a "band of brothers."
This is one of the most perfectly cast productions I've ever seen in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square. Each and every actor is well suited for their role. Nisi Sturgis as Maggie grows into the shoes of director as she wrestles the production with sheer will and determination. Tina Stafford as the diva Celeste adds small mannerisms that greatly enlarge the role. Watch her exit in a huff through a stage door only to slink away from the other side of it. Comfort Dolo nails the role of Ida Green, the black costume designer who sees the war and this production as a means to fight against racism.
Courtney Stennett is the bubbly June, playing the left behind war bride to the hilt as she is forever dedicated to knitting, scrap drives, and fat collections all for the cause. Elisabeth A. Yancey plays the demure Grace as she slowly emerges as a woman of power. Jeff Talbott as Ellsworth is totally convincing as a man willing to take risk against his better judgment, especially when it makes his wife happy. Brian Sills as Lasker, rejected by the military (which during the war put him under suspicion) and perfect as the stage manager/actress as he will do anything to get onstage. Last, but by no means least, is Peggy Roeder as Winifred who singlehandedly takes down the entire house. Pay close attention to all of her antics (especially her Groucho Marx impersonation) and you will be screaming with laughter.
Robert Mark Morgan's scenic design is spot on and totally authentic, with nice little embellishments throughout. Angela Calin does a fine job in the costume design, giving a sense of authenticity to the production. Michael Boll's lighting is superb as is Jane Shaw's sound design.
Into the Breeches touches on the poignant stories so evident during World War II, but does so with absolute hilarity. If you have not had a good belly laugh for awhile, here is your chance and that's no joke.
Into The Breeches runs through October 6, 2019, at Cleveland Play House, Allen Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland OH. For tickets and information visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com, call 216-241-6000, or stop by the Playhouse Square ticket office in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.