By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Mask & Mirror Community Theatre kicks off its 2013-14 season with a generous dose of good old-fashioned musical melodrama, No, No, A Millions Times No! (Only a Farmer’s Daughter). Although it is by no means a holiday-themed show, the production delivers a hearty dose of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia that is well suited to the festive mood of the season.
Melodrama can be challenging. The script is often simple, and an effective production requires that cast and audience throw themselves unreservedly into the show, suspending pretty much every thing they ever learned about appropriate theatrical technique and decorum. Director Sandy Libonati has done an admirable job with her cast, all of whom wholeheartedly throw themselves into their over-the-top roles. The opening night audience, while appreciative, did not quite live up to their end of the bargain. Perhaps in 2013 a melodrama audience needs a bit of tutoring in the conventions of the genre; the director might consider doing a few brief warm-up exercises (“hiss.” “boo,” “ahhhh,” etc.) to loosen up the crowd.
As with any standard melodrama, the story can is pretty black and white. The farmer’s daughter, Nellie, thought to be a paragon of virtue, has been microscopically soiled by the villain, Stafford Blackman, who lured her to the big city with the intent of “doing her wrong.” Having detected Blackman’s villainy, she flees back to her trusting Pappy Quackenbush and love-struck suitor, Noble Hart. Blackman and his corrupt paramour, Gwendolyn Finefeathers, sneak back to the farm to abduct Nellie and hold her for ransom. Nellie is rescued and confesses what little there is to confess to her forgiving family and friends; Blackman and Finefeathers get their just desserts, and a rich mineral deposit on the farm solves all potential financial problems for the good guys, who live happily ever after.
We first saw John “Bart” Bartholomew playing the villain in last season’s M&M melodrama, but this year he has cleaned up his act to play the crusty but loveable Pappy Quackenbush; this gives him the opportunity to better display his fine singing voice. His vocal prowess is matched by that of Nick Hamilton (Noble Hart), who brings a hilarious naivety to his sincere, bumbling, but ultimately heroic character.
In addition to the named characters, there is an outstanding vocal ensemble well integrated into the production, and they do a lot to keep the show humming along. A high point is their support of Sierra Kruse (Emmeline) and David Slotemaker (Iffy Cann), who give surprisingly winning performances as the two ingénues. Their big number, “Walkin’ With Emmeline,” is one of the show’s strongest songs.
Of course, no melodrama is complete without a villainous villain, and Michael Allen (Stafford) does a great job of living down to our expectations. Vicki Brigham, who gives us a chilling and haughty Gwendolyn, nicely augments his aura of evil.
The real standout performance is delivered by Sarah Thornton (Nellie Quackenbush). Sarah completely immerses herself in her role, and she captures the audience’s hearts every time she walks on the stage. Her magical performance is only enhanced by her singing voice – she has wonderful vocal control, and her sweet voice truly expresses the sweetness of her character.
There are two more weekends to catch this fun show – please come prepared to boo, hiss, and cheer!
Mask and Mirror’s No, No, A Millions Times No! is playing at Calvin Presbyterian Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard through November 24th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.