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Wednesday, June 12,2013

Mellow 'Drama'

Over the Ledge starts summer season with quirky dark comedy

by MARY CUSACK
“Drama at Inish” is a wee tale about a hotel owner in a wee seaside town who hires a wee acting troupe to perform decidedly un-wee plays for its summer season. The troupe, led by husband-and-wife actors Hector De La Mare (Brad Rutledge) and Constance Constantia (Gini Larson), sweeps into town with its repertory of Chekhov, Ibsen and Tolstoy. At first, the town embraces the actors and the shows become packed with enthralled audiences. As the bubbly townspeople absorb the weighty material, however, they stop attending the plays and, instead, play up their own personal dramas. 

Despite attempted suicides, domestic assault and possible premeditated murder, “Drama” is a comedy. Eventually the hotelier and his wife, John Annie Twohig (real-life couple Rick and LeAnn Dethlefsen), come to their senses and to the rescue before the town descends into chaos.

The script is charming, but the pacing is slow and the denouement is conservative and dated. Written in the early 1930s by Irish playwright Lennox Robinson, the play is simply a product of its era and locale. Modern audiences may feel ambivalent about the work, which makes fun of the simple town folk with affection, yet also seems to imply that life is better without deep thought.

The strength of “Drama” lies in its dedicated cast. Devin Faught plays Eddie, the Twohigs’ son. Eddie is an easy mark for the world-weary and wary themes of the plays, and Faught is funny as he moves Eddie from a small town, lovelorn naïf to a pseudo-intellectual in the course of days. Faught’s only weakness is maintaining a consistent Irish accent.

Maintaining a charming Irish brogue is never a struggle for Rich Dethlefsen, who carries it over from his tour de force in “The Seafarer” several years ago. Dethlefsen is a delight to watch, and his animated performance is a nice complement to the stoicism of LeAnn Dethlefsen’s no-nonsense Annie.

As the thespian couple, Rutledge and Larson are at their best when they lay on a thick coat of grandiosity. Erin Hoffman, too, has a great deal of fun with her role as John’s spinster sister, Lizzie, who helps run the hotel. As the plays drive Lizzie deeper into introspection, Hoffman gets to play her melodramatic melancholy for the biggest laughs. 

The nicest surprise is an a cappella performance of an Irish folk song by hotel laborer Michael (Max Donovan). For just a few moments, time stands still as Donovan’s dulcet tones fill the hall with a musical melancholia that puts Chekhov’s most angst-ridden soliloquy to shame.

“Drama at Inish”
Through June 16
8 p.m. Thursday- Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
$10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 students
The Ledges Playhouse
137 Fitzgerald Park Drive, Grand Ledge
(517) 318-0579
overtheledge.org

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