|Dale Hodges and Raymond McAnally. Photo: Lanny Nagler|
By Lauren Yarger
Dale Hodges and Raymond McAnally reprise roles as etiquette expert Mrs. Mannerly and her 9-going-on-10-year-old student in Jeffrey Hatcher’s brisk and funny memoir play opening the 2013-2014 season at TheaterWorks, Hartford.
Mrs. Mannerly is Hatcher’s recollection of being a nerdy, Little-League-challenged kid who finds his calling in mastering the table settings, napkin folding, dinner conversation and social graces taught by Mrs. Mannerly, an elderly woman who has seen generations of kids pass through her manners class offered at the local YMCA. Lighting Designer John Lasiter provides a nice “switch” effect which Jeffrey uses to stop and start action between his memory, spoken to the audience as an adult, and the action taking place against a “Greetings from Steubenville, OH” postcard when he was a youngster in 1967 (set design by Brian Mehring).
Jeffrey, dressed in knickers (costume design by Rebecca Senske), arrives for his first class, along with classmates Ralph, Chuckie, Kim and Jamie (all also played by the talented McAnally), who compete for the honor of earning a silver spoon pin, given by Mrs. Mannerly for exceptional displays of etiquette knowledge. Those who mess up, by asking “What?” instead of “I beg your pardon?” for example, are fined a quarter, however.
Kim quickly masters the art of arranging silverware and glasses in the correct manner with the precision of a sniper assemble his rifle in the dark for a kill. Chuckie morphs into brown noser, Ivy League wannabe “Charles,” and awkward Ralph tries to master the art of conversation while wiping his ever-draining nose. Unengaged, gum-chewing Jamie takes it all in stride with a “whatever” attitude.
McAnally, directed here by Ed Stern, gives an amusing performance as the collection of kids. The scene where he meets up with an older, more experienced girl for the dance portion of the etiquette lessons is particularly funny. Using just the different eye glasses worn by the two characters for props, McAnally manages to have a humorous makeout session with himself that leaves both the couple and the audience rolling on the floor.
As the other kids are expelled from the class for various offenses, Jeffrey suddenly realizes he might be the only one who has what it takes to shine and earn a perfect 100 on the end-of-course exam given in front of the ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A feat that never has been accomplished before.
The teacher and student start to develop a relationship outside of class, but Jeffrey finds Mrs. Mannerly’s denial that she’s ever been to Chicago, and her panicky reaction every time the city’s name is mentioned, very mysterious. He knows she was there years ago, because he saw a program from a theater where she starred during her actress days as Helen Anderson Kirk. Just what is Mrs. Mannerly hiding and will it interfere with Jeffrey’s pursuit of a perfect score on the etiquette test?
The play is fun with a run time of less than 90 minutes. It could use a few tweaks -- some of the hyperbole is exaggerated a bit too much and the story gets off track at times – but overall, it’s entertaining.
Hodges shines in a scene where the perfectly coiffed (wig design by Kelly Yurko) woman lets her hair down while belting back Scotch at the bar housed below the apartment she rents. She tends to shout and whine a little too much for an etiquette expert, however. Hodges and McAnally, who have a good on-stage rapport, performed these roles in a previous production of Mrs. Mannerly in Cincinnati.
Mrs. Mannerly runs through Nov. 17 at TheaterWorks, Hartford. Peformances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$50 (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.