|Ted C. Schroeder, Phyllis Lang, Lauren Loomis, and Pam S. Hough|
By Tina Arth
By all rights, a play with a title like Nana’s Naughty Knickers ought to be not just bad, but appallingly, mind-numbingly bad. However, a decent script, several seasoned actors, and a comedy-loving director are defying the odds in HART’s current production. The resulting show by playwright Katherine DiSavino fits perfectly with this season’s theme, “Laugh Along With HART.”
The story is based on a unique take on the idea of grannies gone wild; with its “ba-da-boom” jokes and suggestive, but ultimately innocent set-ups it provides classic community theater fare. Law school bound Bridget is moving into her dear Nana’s rent-controlled apartment in NYC – just for the summer, until she can get a place of her own. When she learns that Nana Sylvia is running an illegal boutique, selling racy lingerie to senior citizens from the apartment (in defiance of the landlord’s rules, zoning laws, the IRS, and any semblance of good taste) she is horrified, and insists that the operation be shut down immediately. Shrugging off the threat of jail time or worse – the landlord is dying to evict Sylvia and raise the rent – the enterprising old gal is having none of it. A shipment mix-up brings the wrong (so very, very wrong) type of lingerie to the apartment, sending Sylvia and her pal Vera into a sewing frenzy as they try to recreate their lost shipment before the arrival of their biggest customer. Merriment ensues.
As the niece Bridget, Lauren Loomis is often stuck playing the “adult in the room” as she worries her way through the first act, but in Act II when she has committed to helping her Nana she’s able to relax and get some laughs – particularly the physical comedy as she tries to maintain the stuffing that makes it possible for her to fill out a “Saucy Slips, Etc.” item built for a slightly saggier physique. Karen Huckfeldt brings a delightfully gum-smacking nonchalance to her portrayal of (model? sex worker?) Heather Van Pree, and has no trouble filling out her outrageous outfit, a wonderfully tacky assemblage of lace corset and fishnet tights stretched to the max. While his Irish accent sometimes wobbles, Ted C. Schroeder makes a credible nervous cop, and his naïve courtship of Bridget is rather charming.
The real star turns come from the senior citizens (all veteran actors/comics): Phyllis Lang (“Sylvia”), Pamela S. Hough (“Vera”), Donald Cleland (landlord “Gil Schmidt”), Gary Romans (“Delivery Guy #1”), and Virginia Kincaid (“Clair Schmidt”) – with close to 200 years of combined experience, these folks definitely know how to milk each situation for maximum comic effect. Kincaid and Romans have very little stage time in their cameo roles, but each has honed a few minutes of stage time into a memorable performance. Cleland’s sarcastic, explosively angry landlord reveals his true colors, like all bullies, when confronted by a higher power (his wife Clair) – his sudden shift into a whiny pussy cat is a joy to behold. However, the meat of the show’s humor comes from the interaction between Hough and Lang, two of the toughest old broads to tread the boards locally for quite a while. Their timing is exquisite, and Hough’s fierce, raspy, occasionally hysterical delivery contrasts beautifully with Lang’s steely if soft-spoken determination.
William Crawford and director Morrow have built a set that, while not beautiful (it is, after all a rent-controlled apartment!), is extremely functional – there are several hiding places to conceal the lingerie, each controlled by a hidden switch or lever, and the smooth mechanisms really enhance the effect of the tawdry undergarments.
Nana’s Naughty Knickers contributes nothing substantive to our understanding of the human condition, but it provides a couple of hours of welcome comic relief. Despite the apparently adult theme, it’s really a pretty clean show, and not inappropriate for most children. They may not understand everything, but they’ll get a kick out of the bizarre clothing, clever set, general slapstick aura, and Huckfeldt’s gum-chewing acrobatics!
Nana’s Naughty Knickers runs through Saturday, March 31st with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays (plus an added Saturday matinee on March 31st) at HART Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.