Colonial Playhouse in Aldan, PA, has a hit on its hands with local playwright Michael Hollinger’s comical espionage farce RED HERRING. Set in 1952 in the days leading up to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s election, the play focuses on three couples: FBI agent Frank Keller (Mark Ayres) and detective Maggie Pelletier (Margo Weishar O’Moore); nuclear-weapons expert James Appel (Carl Dillard) and Lynn McCarthy (Loretta Vasile), daughter of Sen. Joe McCarthy; and Russian spy Andrei Borchevsky (Michael Tamin Yurcaba) and kooky landlady Mrs. Kravitz (Annette Traci). All three couples struggle to get through a series of tumultuous relationship issues amidst a murder mystery and an espionage drama. RED HERRING plays well as a send-up of the film-noir style of mysteries popular in the 1940s. As an added bonus, it has all the elements of a classic farce: mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and of course, physical comedy.
Director Ron Hill has assembled a talented cast of six to tell the story, and there’s not a weak link in the bunch. As sharp detective Maggie, Margo Weishar O’Moore looks and sounds like she just stepped out of the 1940s mystery films RED HERRING so lovingly spoofs. She has great chemistry with her partner Mark Ayres, who handles his character’s serious side as well as his humorous scenes with skill. (He also plays a great drunk). Loretta Vasile is lovely as the somewhat naïve daughter of Joe McCarthy, and her scenes with Carl Dillard are sweet and funny. (In particular, a scene featuring each of them on one end of an international telephone conversation with a 10-second delay is hilariously played out.) Annette Traci is wonderfully off-the-wall as Mrs. Kravitz. Her Boston accent is spot-on and her comedic timing is impeccable. Rounding out the cast is Michael Tamin Yurcaba, who, with a voice and physique reminiscent of Zero Mostel, delivers some of the play’s funniest and most poignant lines with perfection and also manages to pull off some very funny physical comedy.
Most of the cast members also do double (or in some cases, triple) duty, popping up as minor characters throughout the show. They all do this admirably, but it was most fun to look for Carl Dillard, who adopted a variety of impressive accents to distinguish his characters from each other.
RED HERRING runs a bit long for a comedy—roughly two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission—but it never feels long or tedious. The scenes move along quickly and the timing of the dialogue is snappy. The set design is simple but effective—a few set pieces moved here and there to suggest a bedroom, a kitchen, or a bridal shop—and scene changes happen quickly. The sound is well-done and enjoyable, with snippets of songs from popular 1950s musicals playing during the scene breaks. And the lighting is good, save for a few hiccups in the performance I saw that left actors delivering their lines in the dark for several seconds.
One word of warning: The Colonial Playhouse is a small theater and nestled in a residential neighborhood. If you’ve never been there, it can be tricky to find, especially at night. There is a small sign at the entrance to the theater’s parking lot, but it’s very easy to miss. Their production quality of RED HERRING is excellent so it’s worth the trouble, but the Playhouse may wish to consider improving their signage or at least installing a light in front of the sign to make it more visible at night. In the meantime, if you’re visiting for the first time, make sure you give yourself some extra time to find the venue.
by Michael Hollinger
Directed by Ron Hill
March 9-24, 2012
522 West Magnolia Avenue