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Wednesday, March 24,2010

Small town, big trouble

’Cheatin’’ is lowbrow, but high in laughs

by Paul Wozniak

The Lansing Civic Players Guild want you to know it is revamping its image. Left with the basement of its costume shop, the Players have cleaned and reformed the space into a cozy black-box setting, albeit not one with tiered seating. Armed with the British subway logo and the fact it has been around for over 80 years, it is a streamlined version of its former self.


Its latest production, “Cheatin’’’ by Del Shores, comfortably fits within the stylistic niche of any of its past seasons with one major exception: the relative blatancy of sex and profanity. On a movie scale, “Cheatin’" would fit comfortably in a PG-13, but it is still a sex farce set in Texas with plenty of “aw, shit” to go around.


What separates this production from past LCP productions is the fact that it is genuinely funny. There is palpable romantic chemistry between the characters and the script includes some sizzling one-liners, which
the actors revel in saying instead of just remembering to recite. The
production values are as minimal as ever and the humor is certainly
lowbrow, but “Cheatin’” undeniably proves that there is still life in the Lansing Civic Players.


One
positive step made by director Tony Sump is the casting of several
fresh faces to the LCP stage (at least within the last half-decade).
The first is Leo Sell as Sid Cranford, the local bar owner and the
play’s narrator. Sell is a better singer than he is an actor, but he
grows into his role in the second half as the rest of the production
begins to unravel.


His waitress and town gossip Maybelline Cartwright is played by Tippy Canal in his debut
performance. Canal’s characterization of Cartwright is refreshing in
its lack of camp. It is easy to see the man beneath the mumu and
makeup, but Canal maintains the illusion by giving the character the
dignity she deserves.

As
the town’s simple-minded mailman, Bo Bob Jasper, Paul Levandowski
similarly plays straight instead of mockingly, making the eventual romance between Bo Bob and Maybelline even sweeter.

The
central love entanglement involves Clarence Hopkins (Bob Purosky), Sara
Lee Turnover (Kat Cooper), Ovella Parsons-Wilks (Sandy VanLancker), and
Teddy Joe Wilks (Tim Cody). In a sentence, each is involved with the
right people and wrong people for the right reasons before they end up
with the right people for the right reasons.


Per Shores’ script, in small-town Texas sex really is a hobby.


Purosky,
Cooper, VanLancker and Cody are excellent in their respective roles
making the love, hate and pain seem real despite the simple intentions
of the script.


Credit is also due to Sump, who cast the actors appropriately as well as steering them away from ever playing the joke.


The
only real weak moments come in the second act, which on Saturday simply
did not feel as well-rehearsed. Dialogue temporarily turned into
improvisation and some actors struggled to push through scenes.
Hopefully the second weekend will see further polishing with a reduced
running time.


“Cheatin’”
brings LCP one step closer to turning into straight bawdy dinner
theater, but even without a meal, “Cheatin’” is delightful as a simple,
sinful dessert.


’Cheatin’’


8
p.m. Friday, March 26 and Saturday, March 27; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 28
Lansing Civic Players 2300 E. Michigan Ave. $10 all seats (517)
484-9115 www.lansingcivicplayers.org


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