Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ruddigore at Mock's Crest tickles the ancestral funny bone

The Mock's Crest production of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore" wittily pokes fun at etiquette, ancestor worship (in a loose sense), mariners, and our innermost compunctions (distress over finding the right partner, what the neighbors might think, etc.). The performance I attended on Saturday night featured a strong cast who knew how to have fun with a silly story, yet it was the inventive direction of Kristine McIntyre that made this production come to life. The confines of the small stage at the Hunt Theater Center seemed to release her creative juices as bridesmaids, soldiers, noblemen, their ancestors, and a host of others strutted around. And amidst the commotion, no one fell into the front row of the audience.

The action takes place at the Ruddigore Castle in the year 1820. A bevy of bridesmaid ooze charm and beauty as they impatiently wait to honor the someone who is about to get married. Anne McKee Reed, as the fetching village maiden, Rose Maybud, is spot on. She refers to her book of etiquette whenever she needs advice (for example, a lady can't speak until she has first been spoken to and it is most unladylike to hint). This hinders her from communicating with the bashful Robin Oakapple, played by Thomas Prislac Jr., who is in love with her.

Prislac gives an outstanding performance as the country bumpkin who is actually an aristocrat with an unbearable curse. Prislac has an resonant baritone that is easy to hear, his diction is solid, and it didn't matter how fast the patter songs few by, he remarkably kept apace of the wickedly fast tempi.

David Simmons in the role of Richard Dauntless (Robin's foster brother who has spent 10 years at sea) also did an exceptional job. Simmons did a whirl of sailor jigs and poses all over the stage and sang with aplomb. In one or two numbers, he constantly switched from being on his knees or supporting someone resting on his knees. Needless to say, his athleticism is tour de force.

Alexis Hamilton made an ultra-dramatic entry as Mad Margaret and effectively used over-the-top gestures to generate waves of laughter. Hamilton skillfully used her beautiful and powerful mezzo to convince us that she was out of her mind after having been refused in marriage by one of the evil Ruddigore barons.

As Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, John Vergin, looked sort of like Hector Berlioz with his pile of wild hair, Vergin has an incredible sense of comic timing, and he brought down the house when he was pair in a two-step dance with Hamilton. He was less success with his patter delivery, but that should only improve through the run.

Jeffrey Beruan sang and acted superbly as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. He easily altered between an almost overpowering voice of the ancestor who can revel in placing an ancestral curse to a very smooth and tender voice of the ancestor who is still in love with Dame Hannah, played wonderfully by Beth Madsen-Bradford.

Jasmine Presson as Zorah (a professional bridesmaid) and Brian Bartley as Old Adam Goodheart (Robin's servant) were top notch. I liked how the group of ancestors gave Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (formerly Robin Oakapple) the finger (index finger) when they were putting the family hex on him.

The Empire era costumes designed by Sue Bonde matched the black and white, Edward Gorey-inspired scenery - created by Lawrence Larsen - perfectly. The choreography of John Szenszen was remarkably entertaining.

Conductor Roger O. Doyle relied on con brio tempi to keep everything moving along. It's uncanny how the cast can follow him, because he conducts from a loft at the rear of the stage, and they have their backs to him. But that is just part of the magic of this production.

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