Time was when dinner theater—a hearty meal with a frothy
comedy for dessert—made for a good night out. The intimacy of having
actors romping a few steps away from your chair often put a bright
polish on even middling jokes. In 2009 the competition seems to have
faded, and only Jack and Doris Skillman’s Onondaga Hillplayers is still
standing. Founded 50 years ago, OHP always offered the most bang
(vittles and laughs) for the buck. The Skillmans are also giving the
imprimatur. They may never take roles themselves, but they want to
sponsor productions where they are going to have a good time, too, just
once a year.
Things are different this year, with a
relocation to a new, previously untried venue: the Links at Sunset
Ridge, 2815 W. Seneca Turnpike, Marcellus. It brings fewer than 90
seats to be filled by longtime fans. And this year’s show, Any Wednesday, is about, er, um, adultery. Past OHP productions have been as G-rated as Norman Rockwell covers.
The other woman: Mary Kate Midgal and Matt Fehlman in Onondaga Hillplayers’ Any Wednesday.
But not to worry. Even though the title Any Wednesday
refers to the schedule when a wealthy businessman, John (John Seavers),
visits his mistress Ellen (Mary Kate Migdal), there’s nothing here to
scare the horses. No bedroom scenes, no nudity and no rough language.
And in the end playwright Muriel Resnik leaves you feeling that
adultery is not something you’d like to try yourself.
Although Any Wednesday is a product of the 1960s (it opened the same month The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show),
it was not of its time. No drugs, no love-ins, no
letting-it-all-hang-out. Indeed, the mistress Ellen cares a great deal
about propriety and much of the humor in the first act is about failed
attempts to keep the affair discreet. This, strange to say, keeps the
show from becoming as dated as it might have been with more topical
Additionally, director Robert “Tank”
Steingraber’s introduction of contemporary allusions—eyeglasses like
Harry Potter, fat babies looking like Rush Limbaugh—really freshen up
the piece. When you add the fact that Any Wednesday
has not been revived in a while and that the 1966 movie version with
Jane Fonda and Jason Robards Jr. has been unavailable, you get a comedy
that feels as good as new.
When Any Wednesday ran for two
years, people got to calling Muriel Resnik the female Neil Simon, a
line that really doesn’t fit. On one hand she turned out to be a
one-shot wonder. But more importantly Resnik creates rounded characters
capable of surprising us, especially John’s betrayed wife Dorothy
(Karen Alexander), a wonderfully juicy role. Rising above Simon’s
characteristic penchant for vaudeville, Resnik writes lines with real
barbs, like “They’ll love you. They love anything pretty—even poison
oak.” Or arresting poetry: “You sound like a hummingbird, but you have
the soul of a little brown hen.” Further, Any Wednesday has a social conscience. Businessman John is a hostile takeover agent who chews up small companies and spits them out.
Action begins with a ruse found in other
comedies about adultery. John and Ellen come to breakfast in the
morning. Overlooking Ellen’s revealing night clothes, they might be
married, until John begins to talk about the day’s tasks, which
includes calling home. Tension begins to rise when we learn this is her
30th birthday, requiring appropriate gifts from John. Thirty might also
be a time for big decision for Ellen.
Seavers and Migdal, both widely
experienced players, have appeared often with Onondaga Hillplayers.
Seavers is fine with his patented officiousness, both self-important if
a bit distracted. Director Steingraber, however, takes Migdal in
entirely new directions. To begin with, she looks considerably younger
than she did two years ago in Hey, Naked Lady, also opposite
Seavers. Since then her hair has acquired much more body, while her
actual body has enjoyed a major weight loss. We can see what her
efforts in the gym have yielded as the open costume reveals the thighs
of a Rockette, and her bikini bottom is snapped beneath a Jillian
Michaels washboard tummy. To get more in character she sports a tattoo
on her right ankle and a tiny, sparkling nose stud. A gleaming tongue
stud never gets in the way of her lines.
The two remaining roles, wife Dorothy
and aggrieved businessman Cass (Matt Fehlman), do not merely support
the adulterer dramatically but playfully in the action. Just how much
cannot fully be given away, except to say that Resnik makes good use of
the ancient device of mistaken identity. As Cass is a single young stud
without attachments, he could be thought of as perhaps Ellen’s
boyfriend or husband. Anyway, Fehlman makes Cass so much more agreeable
Any Wednesday is unlikely to be
assigned in any college literature course, but contemporary students
could have much fun with Resnik’s subtly feminine point of view, how
Ellen, like Billie in Born Yesterday, starts out like an
air-headed sex kitten but turns out to be smarter than we thought. And,
further, how the wronged wife gets so many of the best lines. As for
the husband, when he says of Cass, “He’s a nice guy. Amateurs have no
place in business,” we can anticipate his comeuppance.
Onondaga Hillplayers makes well-fed audiences happy in its 50th year.
This production runs through Sunday, Nov. 8. See Times Table for information.