The River Theater in Astoria is an establishment that audiences know will never let them down, no matter what production is taking place. This summer, the theater provides another stellar show with the performance of "Ruthless," a musical comedy by Joal Paley.

This dark comedy, directed by Merril Lynn Taylor, spoofs what desire for stardom can do to people - how it can turn them into cold-blooded killers who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

The show begins in sickeningly sweet form with a pleasant song by actress Chrisse Roccaro, who plays Judy Denmark, or, as she likes to call herself, "Tina's mother." Judy is a stay-at-home mom who devotes her life to catering to her talented, sweet and considerate daughter, Tina, and making sure that Tina knows love and support in all she does. (The role of Tina is a shared one, played by Bryana Beaulieu in some performances, Jasmine Golden-Sea in others.)

Life takes a turn for mother and daughter when talent agent Sylvia St. Croix, played by Pia Shepherd, enters their lives and tries to get little Tina interested in acting. What kid hasn't dreamed of making the big time? Conflict emerges when Judy says no. Eventually, Judy relents and lets Tina try out for her grammar school production. But alas, Tina is not good enough to get the lead role as Pippi Longstocking, and a blackness begins to take hold of her.

Bryana Beaulieu is one of two local cuties cast as Tina, who longs for stardom in "Ruthless." File photo by Lori Assa.Throughout the first act of the play, every character and their mother raves about how talented young Tina is. St. Croix offers herself up as an agent and everyone starts seeing lights. It doesn't make sense that Tina doesn't get the part, and even though this is a comedy - and a spoof, at that - it's annoying.

When push comes to shove, Tina kills her competition. She eventually gets found out and sent to the Daisy Clover School for Psychopathic Ingenues. Through a plot twist in the play that is somewhat of a letdown because of its predictability, Judy becomes a Broadway star in her own right and suffers her daughter's wrath when Tina is finally released.

Though this play is extremely funny and lighthearted, the real talent lies in such minor characters as Myrna Thorn, played by Skye McKey, and Lita Encore, played by Janie Sexton. McKey is a great singer and so enjoyable that you wish she could stay out on stage all the time. Sexton delivers a wonderful song number and plays the role of the snobbish review writer with a great amount of zeal and enthusiasm. Judy, played by Roccaro, is knockout as she gives off just enough gooey goodness in the beginning and evil selfishness in the end.

But, sadly, the role of talented Tina leaves the audience hanging on for more - more flair, more amplitude, more anything. Jasmine Golden-Sea is absolutely one of the cutest little girls in Astoria, almost like a brown-haired Shirely Temple, but throughout the play she seems to be somewhere else, lost in her mind. She has a lot to sing, but her voice lacks the key component of volume. During any given song, Golden-Sea opens her darling lipsticked mouth wide, but practically nothing squeaks out.

Though the play does have its weaker points, overall it is hilariously funny and makes for an enjoyable evening out. Merril Lynn Taylor does a great job directing and the music, composed by Marvin Laird and directed by Lisa Nelson, adds the final, brilliant touch to an already sound performance.

"Ruthless"

Starring: Pia Shepherd, Chrisse Roccaro, Jasmine Golden-Sea, Bryana Beaulieu, Skye McKey and Janie Sexton

Directed by: Merril Lynn Taylor

Music directed by: Lisa Nelson

Length: About two hours and 20 minutes

Now playing at: The River Theater, 230 W. Marine Drive, Astoria

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Aug. 19 to 21 and 26 to 28; 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 22.

Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 seniors and students, available at the door or by calling (503) 325-7487. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and one hour before performances.

Short take: A great mix of dark humor and light-hearted spoofing, Chrisse Roccaro and Pia Shepherd bring the cult of stage mothers to life. However, the incredibly cute Jasmine Golden-Sea is not very audible, so sit near the front or risk missing her all togther.

Rating: Three stars (out of four)

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