|bottom row, l - r: Sarah Fuller, Kathleen Silloway, Eric Lonergan middle row: Robbie Estabrook, Patti Speight, Brian Kennedy|
back row: Ben Hare (standing), William Ferguson, Lacy Lonergan Photo by Patti Speight
By Tina Arth
The final course on the local holiday theater menu is something of a Christmas Miracle: only three weeks from casting to opening night – yet it’s definitely not a disaster (except, of course, where it’s supposed to be!). HART Theatre faced a last-minute challenge when key cast members for their planned production, Plaid Tidings, were unavailable. They brought in an ensemble of known commodities, HART veterans who could be relied on to do a credible job whether on stage or behind the scenes – spiced up with a few newcomers. In a leap of faith that paid off, they selected Mark Putnam to direct (for the first time since his college days), and quickly assembled a production of Happy Hollandaise, a tried-and-true holiday farce.
Despite the title, Hollandaise is definitely not gourmet fare. Tim Koenig’s slapstick comedy tells the absurd story of British brother and sister Claire and George Finley, attempting to welcome the new vicar, Father William Abbot, and his very pregnant wife Mary to town. All Claire wants is the perfect Christmas! She has planned a quiet, elegant dinner, highlighted by the cooking of renowned German chef Vilma Hasenpfeffer, whose special Hollandaise sauce will be the crowning touch. George arrives home to find chaos – their father, retired actor Philip Finley, has received a nasty blow to the head (from Claire, who beaned him with the crèche) and is reenacting a series of his favorite roles (in full costume, with weapons). Attempts to lock Philip in the basement are futile, the chef is late, the guests arrive early, the neighborhood is plagued by the notorious “Lone Wolf” burglar, and Mary turns out to be a bit more pregnant than expected. Of course, it all works out in the end – although the Sino-Teutonic fusion of Sweet and Sauerkraut may never catch on in the local food carts.
As with most stage farces, there is at all times a lot going on and it can be confusing to keep track of the frequent plot/character shifts. This production’s salvation is in the timing – while the pace is brisk, Putnam has slowed down both the action and the actors’ dialogue just enough that the audience can catch, follow and react to some really funny lines and great physical comedy. The detailed, attractive single set has four doors, a hallway, and a window so cast members are able to make frequent entrances and exits without colliding, and the show’s action is not slowed by scene changes.
The nine-person cast is solid – at a time when many actors might still be fighting to get off-book, this group was ready for opening night. Particular standouts include Brian Kennedy (“Philip”) who clearly gets to have the most fun – not too many lines, and his swashbuckling “El Caballo” is a real scene-stealer. This high-school senior is definitely someone to watch. Sarah Fuller’s “Claire” does a fine job of displaying quiet desperation with occasional bursts of hysteria, and Ben Hare (“George”) switches from hapless bumbler to Vilma impersonator with aplomb (although the enormous and wobbling breasts are a bit over-the-top even for farce). The most consistently funny character is Kathleen Silloway as the indomitable “Vilma” – her accent and distinctive lumbering gait are maintained throughout the show and are perfect for the part.
Happy Hollandaise has only a two-week run, so audiences have four more chances to catch this lighthearted show that will raise your spirits and prepare you for the festivities of the coming weeks.
Happy Hollandaise is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 20th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.