Gee, 100 years already? The Duquesne University Red Masquers continue their centennial celebration with a new play by a Pittsburgh playwright channeling another famous local lad. Fifth Avenue High School alum George S. Kaufmann shared the 1937 Pulitzer Prize with Moss Hart for You Can't Take It With You, the classic that captured hearts in the Great Depression. Now, in the new millennium (and new depression), F.J. Hartland pursues that spirit in Be Our Guest.
It's about another wacky, if not quite carefree family, the Guests. My alma mater's faculty-student theater is a good fit for the age range in the large cast, but the production, directed by Lora Oxenreiter, is a mixed bag.
Still very much a work in progress, Guest lurches when it should leap. Too slow and too padded for a comedy, Guest is peopled with characters determinedly clueless and charmless, far from YCTIWY's happy-go-lucky (if cloyingly cheerful) Vanderhof-Sycamore ménage. Maybe that's the point, but it's hard to care about such unsympathetic types, let alone laugh at their antics.
The first act is more of a horror story: Young man brings his new bride home to meet the folks. Most are hostile, if not downright menacing, to the girl. Even her husband turns fickle. The only family member in a welcoming mood seems to be a pervert who physically assaults the poor young woman. Filled with double entendres and some clever wordplay, the dialogue mainly comes off as noisy and shrill.
Act II perks up when the heroine (played by a dogged Elizabeth Glyptis) develops a backbone, and the playwright's best creation joins the show: the exotically named Ione, a nerd goddess and fount of knowledge, always spouting off, but always on target. Kudos to Elizabeth Pegg for cramming so many words and minutiae into a dazzling performance. Applause also for the multi-tasking theater-arts-department director, John E. Lane Jr. He designed the well-chewed scenery, and even adds a few bites as a comic but cohesive character: a lovable bear of a man who can find his voice only by re-enacting First Ladies.
Introducing new voices and new people (as well as polished veterans like Mark Yochum, Jay Keenan and Nancy Bach) is a good way to celebrate a century.