Mrs. Mannerly -- Theatreworks Hartford

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

Mrs. Mannerly is familiar to anyone who had a strict, old-fashioned teacher about to retire. She was usually a sour spinster who taught a difficult subject -- like math. That’s why I still count on my fingers! I also recall my daughter’s piano teacher who lived in a stone mansion.  She not only taught the instrument, she held formal, recital teas and trained her students to carefully walk on the border of her antique carpet -- so it wouldn’t wear out. Old Mrs. Mannerly looked just like her, blonde wig and all. In this play the subject is about manners -- an unnatural code of ethics that society imposes on innocent and sometimes savage children. At Theatreworks, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher brings us his own experiences at a well-respected school that taught several generations of children proper manners.

Raymond Mcanally as chubby, good-humored “Jeffrey,” is an adult wearing short pants. We therefore see him as a child when he recalls his youth and as an adult when he addresses the audience. The actor vividly portrays several, colorful students in the school run by very believable Dale Hodges (Mrs. Mannerly). Hodges’ voice, facial expressions and body language are perfect. Thanks to designer, Rebecca Senske, her blonde bangs, red dress and shoes are typical of the character and the period.

Under Ed Stern’s direction, the two actors play off each other quite nicely, however, the dialog is mildly amusing and the plot is confusing.For whatever reason, in dangerous times like these, the re-enactment of a gun pointing and shooting at a teacher was inappropriate here and offensive.

Apparently Mrs. Mannerly was not as straight-laced as she seemed to be, however, at this point in the plot, our minds drifted off and we became lost in the tangle. The writing needs more clarification. At the end of 90 minutes, we were wondering what spurred all the commotion at the DAR, and why Jeffrey wasn’t able to achieve the first 100% score in the history of Mrs. Mannerly’s school. And, we have no hint of what was contained the large envelope Mrs. Mannerly gave him at the end. Was it a confession? Official documents? Newspaper articles? Class photos? Will there be never ending sequels to this tale?

This review appears in “On CT&NY Theatre” November/2013

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