Treasure Island, 2010

Kelley Ogden as Savannah, Janey Pintar as Hayley, Mitch Alaire as Norleen (Mama)

(Jason Harper Photography)

Big Laughs for Main Street Theatre Works’ “Mama”

by Caitlyn Schaap, Ledger Dispatch

Jul 1, 2018

 

There’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned road trip comedy. From the classics like “Vacation” to newer entries like “Little Miss Sunshine” there is something about watching everything go wrong in a cross-country voyage that never gets old. If you’re a fan of the genre, or you are just looking for a fun and up-beat way to spend a Friday or Saturday night in Jackson, then Main Street Theatre Works’ production of “Mama Won’t Fly,” is a must-see.

Opening its 15th season at the Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre, MSTW premiered its first show of the summer last weekend. This bright and fun comedy is directed by Allen Pontes, director of last year’s hit comedy “Doublewide, Texas.” Penned by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, a playwriting team known for great comedies with strong female leads, the show centers on a group of three women on their disaster-plagued drive across the U.S.

The story follows Savannah Honeycutt (Kelley Ogden) who is trying to get Mama (Mitch Alaire) to her brother’s wedding in four days. There’s just one problem — Mama won’t fly. With airline tickets in hand, Mama, a perpetual meddler in Savannah’s life, tells her that fear of flying will prevent them from taking the flight and that they will be traveling to California in Mama’s Cadillac. Joining them on the journey is the bride to be, Haley Quinn (Janey Pintar) a bright ray of sunshine cursed with terribly bad luck.

The ensuing journey takes the three women, and the audience along for the ride, through trials and tribulations from a giant runaway ball of bras, to an Irish cowboy pub in the middle of nowhere, to grand-theft auto, Las Vegas and beyond in road trip comedy full of wacky situations and great supporting characters. 

Ogden, who we saw in “Doublewide, Texas” last summer, is a real star as Savannah, a career-focused divorcée with her own accessory business. Expressive, funny and believable in every scene, Ogden is an anchor in the wacky show. At her side is Pintar, a bright ray of sunshine in her portrayal of Haley and seeming to enjoy every minute of the performance. Pintar is also an MSTW veteran, who you may remember from last year’s “The Crucible,” and 2016’s “The Last Lifeboat.”

Rounding out the trio is Norleen Sprunt, or Mama, played by Mitch Alaire, who you may recognize from standout performances in Volcano Theatre Company’s productions of “Wait Until Dark” and “Lost in Yonkers.” Bringing a playful sass to the role, she is a pleasure to watch.

Supporting the three women is a delightful ensemble, all playing multiple roles. Supporting actors Amanda Aldrich, Lee Marie Kelly, Janet Motenko, Brandon Rapoza and Scott Taylor add color and plenty of laughs to the performance playing a variety of bizarre characters from a Vegas wedding officiant with a light-up showgirl costume, to an elderly docent at a bra museum, to a creepy cousin and more.

Janet Motenko almost steals the show with her hilarious portrayal of Essie, the elderly docent at the bra museum.

The show features an abstract set, made of multi-colored blocks  with moving pieces that are rearranged to create each new setting. It’s a fun and creative way to tackle a show that moves from place to place so much, with the bright colors embodying the spirit of show, and the actors and additional props helping paint the picture.

The costumes stand out as well, moving from more reserved colors and styles at the top of the show, to more wild and colorful outfits as the trip moves forward. With plenty of laughs, a fun story, impressive performances and colorful visuals this is a perfect show for a summer evening. 

Laugh till the drinks arrive

by Mike Taylor, Sierra Lodestar

July 05, 2016

It didn’t escape me that the “Brexit” vote happened just a day before I settled into the Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre in Jackson to watch “The Explorers Club”; listening to the stuffed shirts propping themselves up in this Main Street Theatre Works production of the Nell Benjamin comedy about the men’s clubs of yore calls to mind a long Monty Python skit in which the monarchy and the government are the comedians and the rest of us laugh at the goings on.

The amphitheater, it turns out, is the perfect backdrop for the clubroom set, as paneled walls and deep luxurious tones immerse us in time-worn tradition. And tradition is immediately called into question as Lucius Fretway (played with a nervous twinge that betrays his deepest feelings by Christopher Celestin) plays temporary president of the club at the start and nominates a woman for membership. The woman, Phyllida Spotte-Hume, has returned from a far-off locale, and she brought a representative of the “NaKong tribe of the lost city of Pahatlabong” with her. The synapses are tingling already, aren’t they?

Brandon Rapoza and Paj Crank add a push-me-pull-you tug-of-war to the proceedings as Professors Cope and Walling, respectively. That the men study rodents and snakes adds to the comedic spectacle that is their relationship, complete with Cope wearing his latest reptilian discovery around his neck for the entire show.

Michael Sicilia plays the incredibly impressive (in his own mind, natch) Professor Sloane just as you’d expect an actor to portray an “archaeo-theologist” who thinks the Irish are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel; think chest puffed out to there and a nose stuck in the cumulous clouds on high.

But once the intrepid (in his own mind) President Harry Percy returns, tumult overtakes the club as the men consider whether Phyllida’s discoveries warrant her membership. It’s painful watching Scott Taylor maneuvering Percy into closer quarters with the woman as Fretway frets in silence, but Taylor brings such bombast to his performance it’s hard to consider anything but what the explorer spouts (never mind he has trouble returning from adventures with any staffers).

Amber Lucito plays Phyllida as tough as Press-on nails; that is, she’s been there and explored that, but she craves more attention than the club members might be able to bestow. Lucito’s also very good as Countess Glamorgan, Phyllida’s pouty proper twin sister who shows up later.

Also good are Earl Victorine as a governmental figurehead who needs Phyllida to divulge the location of the lost city and Joshua H. Behn in a pair of bit parts that turn on comedic points in the story.

But it’s Scott Divine who brings the house down as Luigi, the tribesman named as such because that’s what Phyllida names all of her pets. The blue body paint is a cute reminder of his otherworldly origins, but Divine’s choices in language are riotous. The play hinges on Luigi’s slapped-face greeting of her majesty and war is declared. But once Luigi steps behind the Explorers Club’s bar to avoid detection, the cocktails – whatever the heck they’re made from – literally fly across the room.

This is all to say that “The Explorers Club” is every bit as insane as it sounds. Director Allen Pontes seems to have embraced the craziness and let it work its magic. With lines like “Brandy and cigars are what separates us from the animals,” numerous references to those ingrates over at the National Geographic Society and Percy’s search for the East Pole in the mix, there’s really nothing to take too seriously here and that’s fantastic. Once you allow Benjamin’s dopey script to overtake all sense of reason, the show’s a hit because it’s so silly.

This is the perfect summer show; take a load off and wait for a fresh drink from the bar.

'The Last Lifeboat' Examines Drama Behind The Sinking Of The Titanic

by Jeff Hudson, Capital Public Radio

The Jackson-based Main Street Theatre Works is staging this drama about the Titanic, which famously sank, killing over 15 hundred passengers. The production poses a fascinating question: if you were on a crippled ocean liner about to go down, what would you do?

When the Titanic was launched in 1912, it was billed as “the largest floating object in the world,” the ultimate in luxury and the safest ship ever built. But in reality, the Titanic was built in a hurry, with many corners cut. The American tycoon J.P. Morgan, a primary investor, insisted that a set of planned lifeboats be replaced by highly-profitable deluxe first class cabins. Saying “Practically unsinkable is good enough for me”

The Titanic hit an iceberg and sank quickly during its maiden voyage. This show presents the sinking largely through sound. We watch the horrified faces of a few survivors in a lifeboat as they hear the distant screams of hundreds of doomed passengers back on the Titanic, as the big ship slides beneath the waves.

But the lynchpin is the moral dilemma that faced the builder of the Titanic – businessman J. Bruce Ismay. We see him save several passengers as the ship starts sinking. Then, as the last lifeboat is readied, Ismay is offered the final seat. The ship is in chaos; no other men, women or children are nearby. He won’t trigger another person’s death by taking that seat. So Ismay, who has a wife and kids, steps into the lifeboat, and lives. But following the wreck, Ismay is widely vilified.

 

A lot of people feel he should have gone down with the ship. Ismay spends decades trying to atone, raising money to compensate the survivors. His efforts are never enough. And the audience is left to decide: What would you do, in the midst of disaster, facing a choice between certain death, or survival as a person almost universally despised?

This outdoor show isn’t consistently polished from first to last, but it’s nonetheless a sturdy edifice that supports this play’s over-arching moral dilemma quite effectively. And it’s good to see a summer drama that thoughtfully examines this infamous disaster of a century ago.

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Scott Divine as Luigi & Amber Lucito as Phillida
Eric Craig as J. Bruce Ismay & Scott Taylor as Thomas Ismay

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