Hurly-burly in black and white8/5/2015
Anyone stuck in traffic on Oralabor Road can tell you: Ankeny is booming. Last year the population jumped again, and the town lured up city hotspots like Jethro’s. Yet one institution goes back to the days of the cornfields. Ankeny Community Theatre (even the spelling is old-school) is finishing its 33rd season. The company has its own space, decorated with photos of former shows.
These include occasional challenging productions, like last month’s “Twelve Angry Jurors” (also a Henry Fonda movie). “Drinking Habits” is something else again, a light-hearted trifle with folks popping in and out of four onstage doors or ducking into a trunk hauled in as the show begins. The title is a pun on the setting, a convent with a secret sideline in winemaking. Of course, both acts open with a Gregorian chant. One set of gags takes its cue from a church bell.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that (hello, Jerry Seinfeld). Community theater feasts on bite-sized entertainments, and this one offers the same sort of enjoyment as “Spamalot,” now at Des Moines Playhouse. But behind “Spamalot,” you have Monty Python. Their craziness far outstrips anything the “Habits” playwright, Tom Smith, can offer. Smith has worked in all genres, from horror to kiddie shows. If you like this one, he’s got “Drinking Habits: 2.”
Strange as it seems, the script comes most to life in two sequences without dialogue. In one, the church bell signals a period of silence for the nuns’ order, The Sisters of Perpetual Sewing. With that, we tumble into a Chaplin flick. The hurly-burly takes place in black and white, actually, since everyone wears church vestments and the set is by and large bare (a convent, after all). The bit requires careful timing, and director Greg Moon has his players hitting every beat. They prove equally adept during a later stretch in which the only words spoken are either “Sister” or “Father,” in tones that range from yearning to sneering.
Such moments showcased the mobile face of Dawn Hockemeyer. She can stare in different registers, and along with Kim Antisdel, the other sister in on the winemaking, she brought off the night’s liveliest exchanges. Two of the men onstage also made you sit up. Thomas Foster was winningly broad as the hillbilly caretaker, leading with his chin, and Sean Pavlik honestly conflicted, pouting and frowny, as a lovelorn reporter.
On the other hand, often the ensemble didn’t jell, its deliveries and reactions out of sync. Granted, it’s hard to find the right reaction to an outlandish development — and harder still when the outlandishness was something we all saw coming. Of course, the wine goes into the punch. Of course, the reporter gets the girl.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” you say? Yes, but as Ankeny grows, it’s got more and more talent and money draw on. Isn’t it time to try for something better?
Overheard in the Lobby: Finalists for the city’s new Cloris Awards are announced this week. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.