CANNON BEACH - The cozy confines of the Coaster Theater Playhouse currently house a play that sparkles with wit, charm and colorful characters.
"Auntie Mame," directed by Jerry Railton, stars Bonnie Lively as Mame, a spirited, eccentric woman who takes guardianship of her nephew Patrick Dennis on the death of his father. Her liberal take on life makes for an interesting upbringing for Patrick, especially as the play takes place in the 1930s when outrageous costume parties and alternative forms of education were not heralded by a more conservative society.
The cast is large with some parts double-cast as actors alternate performance nights. Though some parts are smaller than others, nearly all of the characters in "Auntie Mame" are vivid enough to leave a lasting impression.
The play opens as Mame is introduced to her nephew, Patrick, who she will raise. Sean Holt, who plays the younger Patrick (the role of Patrick Dennis (child) is also played by Kyle McGill), is rightly earnest and amiable when he is thrust into Mame's unconventional world. As he quickly adjusts to his new life, Holt conveys Patrick's elastic youth. In one scene Patrick deftly and expertly proceeds to make a martini before the incredulous, disapproving eyes of Mr. Babcock, a trustee from the bank played with rigid pompousness by Kay Bredleau.
Another character of note is Vera Charles played by Liz McCall (the role of Vera Charles is also played by Marilyn Reilly), Mame's actress friend, whose over-the-top dramatics and affected accent are completely amusing when juxtaposed with Mame's droll manner.
As Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, Frank Jagodnik is a fresh breath of Southern air. As Mame's beau he is charming with his exaggerated drawl. When Beauregard takes Mame and Patrick back to Georgia with him to meet the family, the audience is introduced to a gaggle of flaming Southern personalities including Sally Cato, who has her own sights set on Beauregard, and Mother Burnside, who disapproves of Mame's Yankee roots. Sally is played to conniving perfection by Dawn McIntosh as she aims to remove Mame from Beauregard's side. Doug Knight perfects his comic timing with a hilarious turn as Mother Burnside.
As the play moves into its final act, Patrick matures into a young man played with an underlying wit by Brad Bolchunos (the role of Patrick Dennis (young man) is also played by Scott Reilly). Patrick, now in his 20s, is courting a perfectly obnoxious young women named Gloria Upson, played with smothering vanity by Jennifer Gibson. Torn between wanting to please his girlfriend and wanting to embrace his unconventional upbringing he pleads with Mame to "act normal" when he brings her home. Mame agrees, but upon meeting the girl's sickeningly manipulative parents, Claude and Doris Upson, she decides to meddle. Stewart Martin and Carol Diamond Denny play Claude and Doris with an easy chemistry and a proper conservative facade that masks deep-seated discriminatory tendencies. The play concludes with an outrageous dinner party where both tempers and drinks "flare."
In the play's last act we witness a mental tug-of-war between Patrick and Mame. Patrick wrestles with the selfishness of youth and the wisdom of maturity as Mame similarly wrestles with letting Patrick make his own mistakes while simultaneously trying to prevent them.
As Mame, Lively carries the show. She's in every scene and her steadfast, forthright nature is both shocking and refreshing. Her tell-it-like-it-is delivery makes you smile, and when she makes up her mind to do something, whether it's riding a wild stallion or sweet-talking a bank trustee, the audience can't help but watch in admiration bordering on fascination.
Lively's Mame is further accentuated by her hair and dress. Thanks to costume designer Jeanine Fairchild, Mame's costumes and coifs change with each scene. The set, designed by Craig Shepherd is fun to watch, too. The wallpaper in Mame's New York apartment changes almost as often as her hair style.
If there is one drawback to this production it is the time it takes to change sets between scenes. Because the Coaster Theater Playhouse doesn't have the slick professional workings of a bigger stage, it takes time to set the scene. This lag time slows the pace of the play.
However, it is not enough to take away from this delightful story chock full of spirited characters. With a solid script, a clever set and loads of talented actors, "Auntie Mame" has all the right ingredients for a memorable evening of theater.
When you go..."Auntie Mame," a comedy by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, is now playing at the Coaster Theater Playhouse Wednesdays through Saturdays through Aug. 31.
Directed by Jerry Railton, this comedy features Bonnie Lively as Auntie Mame and a supporting cast of veterans and new-comers.
The story focuses on the adventures of Auntie Mame, a sparkling, scatterbrained, warmhearted lady and her nephew Patrick Dennis.
Performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at the box office from 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. All seats are reserved. For reservations, call (503) 436-1242.
The Coaster Theater Playhouse is located at 108 N. Hemlock in downtown Cannon Beach.