By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
There are a lot of different models for what a community theater can be, and fortunately
provides homes to
a tremendously diverse array of local stages. Based on How Sweet Was My Swamp, a good old-fashioned melodrama we saw
Sunday night, it is safe to say that Tigard’s Mask & Mirror Community
Theater fills a critical niche in the local theater scene. With the exception
of one experience in the mid-1960’s, neither of us has ever seen a “community”
theater group that so completely embraces the widest possible community. Washington
How Sweet Was My Swamp adheres to the conventions of classic melodrama – complete with signs instructing us to boo, hiss, sigh, applaud, and throw (fake) tomatoes at the villains (or anyone whose bad pun earns our contempt). The only thing they do not instruct us to do is laugh, and the cast ensures that no sign is necessary. The plot is irrelevant – suffice it to say that there are scheming villains, a staunch and upright hero, a damsel in distress, two Brits and a passel of swamp-billies.
Clyde List and Jan Rosenthal (Sir Malcolm Beauchamp and Lady Bountiful Beauchamp), as two wildly misplaced British tourists, are hard-pressed to maintain a semblance of decorum amongst the primitives. Their stiff-upper-lip characters provide a distinct counterpoint to the rest of the cast, as they inexplicably accept the obviously unacceptable. The swamp-dwellers (ably portrayed by A. J. Taylor, Marilyn Peterson, Carolina Rios, and Adam Farnsworth) bring a back-woods fidelity to their stereotypical roles. Double kudos to
for the aplomb with which he deflects tomatoes without missing a beat. Taylor
Ranger Harry Dangerfield (Casey Faupion) is a comic standout who manages to outdo Dudley Doright as he bounds heroically around the set. His counterpart, Mistress Dulcet (Amanda Mehl) plays “an orphan and delicate heroine” with appropriately heart-rending melodramatic pathos. John Bartholomew (Mansewer Jacques LeMort, Villain) and Amanda Jones (Miss Betty Noir, Sinistress and Receptionist) bring an abundance of serpentine menace to their roles – nasty and evil without going over-the-top, and just the sort of villains we all love to hate.
The evening’s tension might have been unbearable without the services of the traditional Olio performances, “designed to offer a respite from the action with some top-notch musical entertainment.” The three Olios (Nick Hamilton as Hamish Hamilton, Mimi Wilaki as Tap Dance Tillie, and Karen van Dyck as Whistling Wanda), while distinctly novelty acts, are surprisingly entertaining. Finally, there is “sign girl” Sarah Ominski, about whom Darrell could only say “there should have been more signs!”
From the moment we entered the auditorium, we felt welcomed into a warm community of theater-lovers – house staff, actors, Mask and Mirror Theater Singers, even our fellow audience members all seemed genuinely happy that we were there. Beginning the show with a sing-along is inspired, as it breaks the ice and allows the audience to uninhibitedly participate in the fun. Thanks to Director Gary Romans for overseeing the chaos; we are eagerly looking forward to Mask and Mirror’s May production of The Importance of Being Earnest.