If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Mrs. Mannerly” Opens New Season in Hartford
Jeffrey Hatcher’s slight and comic “Mrs. Mannerly” opens the TheaterWorks new season on a gentle and polite note…much like its title character. As it was for Hatcher’s “Murderers” a few seasons ago, the Hartford venue is an ideal stage for this little two-character, one-set, one-act playlet.
Hatcher is clearly in A.R. Gurney territory with “Mrs. Mannerly”, a memory piece about the playwright’s experiences as a 10-year-old attending special etiquette classes under the tutelage of the WASPY Mrs. Mannerly. Situated in a room of the Steubenville, Ohio YMCA, it is 1967 and young Jeffrey Hatcher (played by a very grown-up and often very funny Raymond McAnally) gives us a guided tour through the year he learned how to be polite and his fascination with the personal life (and past) of his new teacher.
Hatcher gets plenty of mileage out of the time period with reminders of long-gone television shows (Jeffrey is quick to point out that ”F Troop was just McHale’s Navy with Indians”). And there’s gentle satire about the mores of the time and how quaint and simple everything seemed before the Internet entered our lives. Like Gurney’s love/hate relationship about the proprieties and priorities of the WASP culture, Hatcher isn’t afraid to criticize Mrs. Mannerly when his mood suits. As played by the wonderful Dale Hodges, the teacher is a throw-back to a world long since gone and she’s smart enough to realize that her days may, indeed, be numbered. A sequence that finds Mrs. Mannerly getting increasingly drunk at a bar -- perfectly realized by the actress -- finds some truths amidst the satire.
Hodges and McAnally have a comfortable rapport and play off each other well. “Mrs. Mannerly” was originally produced at the Ensemble Theatre in Cincinnati last October and the actors have obviously become quite comfortable in their roles. Perhaps too comfortable. McAnally is a hoot imitating four of his fellow students (male and female), but also seemed to expect reactions where there were none at the performance I caught. You could almost see the actor thinking, “Wait, this line always gets a laugh!” As a result, the performance, at times, seems to be on automatic pilot and could benefit from more spontaneity. Still, he remains an entertaining performer never more so than when he plays Jeffrey’s aggressive dancing partner whose ulterior motive reeks of sex.
In the end, the play itself is more sketch than fully developed work. It’s a one-joke affair and, while the joke is a funny one, even at 75 minutes it has lulls and the attention wanders. I enjoyed Rebecca Senske’s clever costuming (short pants for Jeffrey, a smart red outfit for Mannerly) and the simple setting by Brian C. Mehring is highlighted with a postcard backdrop of Steubenville. It’s a witty little dig to the town but thankfully not rude enough to ruffle the feathers of Mrs. Mannerly.
“Mrs. Mannerly” continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through November 17. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.