There can be a fine line between gentle nostalgia and blandness. The Good Company Players production of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” about a madcap family who bicker among themselves against the backdrop of the famed 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, veers into the latter territory far too often.
Part of the problem with this nonmusical production at the 2nd Space Theatre is Christopher Sergel’s script, which he adapted from the 1941 book by Sally Benson. (You’ll recognize some of the storyline if you’re familiar with the 1944 classic musical film, also based on the book, and the 1989 Broadway musical production, based on the movie, but there are major differences.) The writing suggests an old-fashioned, stuffy sitcom.
But the direction (by GCP veteran Karan Johnson) and acting in the show also are at fault. At the performance I saw in the show’s second weekend, both often fell flat.
At one point, the hot-headed Rose Smith (played by Emily Pofahl in a double-cast role that alternates with Bailey Johnson), known for her lack of impulse control, reflects on a social blunder she just made, declaring: “I guess I got a little upset.” Yet we needed to see and feel much more of that fiery nature.
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The line readings were competent and the pace brisk in this production, but the pulse of the show seems almost nonexistent at times.
For comedy to work, no matter how gentle or silly, there has to be an underlying tension and passion in the interactions among the characters. The line readings were competent and the pace brisk in this production, but the pulse of the show seems almost nonexistent at times.
Rose is one of four Smith daughters and one brother whose cozy lives are jolted when their father (played by Patrick Smith, sharing a last name with his character), announces he’s being promoted and transferred by his company to New York. Their disappointed mother (Kara Douglas) acquiesces to her husband’s prerogative as head of the household. The scene in which Dad tells Mom to start packing is a prime example of one that could be much more emotionally and comically robust.
Leave it to the kids to rebel. Especially effective is the naughty youngest daughter, Tootie (played winningly by a show-stealing Joy Smith, who alternates the role with Madeline Wristen). Her antics create all sorts of problems for her parents, including irking her dad’s boss, Mr. Dodge (Larry Mattox).
The four daughters (including Hannah Awbrey, alternating roles with Emily Estep, as Esther; and Anna Smith, alternating roles with Vera Price, as Agnes), realize they have leverage: If they can make their father look bad, he won’t get the promotion, and the family can stay in St. Louis and enjoy the World’s Fair.
Again, the writing wavers, with the Rose character particularly problematic. For a girl her age, she comes across as rather dim and unlikable, and it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the pickle she gets herself and her family into, even in the context of a lighthearted comedy.
There are some fun secondary characters, including a warm and loving grandpa (an amiable Jeff Dinmore), a menacing next-door neighbor (a memorable Mary Piona) and a very mellow cat (Spencer, so malleable in the arms of the various characters who schlep him around that I heard one audience member ask another if he’d been tranquillized).
The production is particularly handsome, thanks to David Pierce’s Victorian-era set and Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s period costumes.
But I wanted more comic oomph and spark to the show. Although they have small roles, Mattox (as the boss) and Alex Vaux (as a slimy underling) bump up the energy level every time they’re on stage. Together with the irrepressible Joy Smith, whose confidence and stage presence soars, the three are the biggest tourist attractions in “St. Louis.”
Meet Me in St. Louis
- 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 20
- 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-0660
- $18, $15 students and seniors