George Washington Slept Here
"George Washington Slept Here," at Hale Center Theater Orem
by Eric D. Snider
Published on July 16, 1999
After two acts of ho-hum, "isn't-that-cute?" comedy, the Hale Center Theater's production of "George Washington Slept Here" redeems itself with a third act that is hysterically funny and well worth the wait.
I've never seen a show make such a fast turn-around, but this one does.
Set in the '50s, the Kaufman/Hart play is about Newton Fuller (Jim Gastelum), a businessman who gets tired of living in the city and buys a dilapidated old shack in the country that was supposedly once slept in by George Washington. His wife, the always-sarcastic -- and boy does THAT grate after a while -- Annabelle (Nancy Stewart Douglas) hates the idea but goes along with it, presumably so she can make withering remarks at her husband every time she opens her mouth.
The tension between the two is supposed to be funny, but the laughs are few and far between up until intermission. The house is practically falling apart, and the neighbors are all weird ... but none of that amounts to much amusement, either. The script isn't exactly laugh-a-minute to begin with, and the cast seems too eager to jerk chuckles out of you however they can.
The real entertainment comes in the final act. Visiting Uncle Stanley (LaMarr Nielsen) is unable to help the Fullers come up with the money they need to make the payment on the house, and the evil Mr. Prescott (Lyn Vickery), a British man with an accent not found in the real world, is going to foreclose.
Newton and Annabelle begin to despair, and it's most amusing. Their solution? To drink, at 10 in the morning. Everyone who comes in is offered his or her own bottle, and soon we're having a grand time. The tension between husband and wife was more uncomfortable than funny anyway; now that they're in league (she's fallen in love with the house, too), we can relax and enjoy their banter.
Nielsen is a saving grace as Uncle Stanley, fully committed to the part and making it more than just a bland stereotype of rich, demanding uncles. Gastelum's Newton is also very likable. Even when the play is not funny, it rides well on his easy-going shoulders. Douglas, too, is good, once Annabelle stops being sarcastic all the time and starts being a real person.
Also earning many laughs is the Fullers' precocious nephew Raymond (Bryce Ashdown). His outspokenness provides most of the best laughs in the second act.
There are some loopy interludes, mostly as time-fillers while the sets are changed, in which the cast lip-synchs to an appropriate song and dances around the stage like crazy people. Part of what makes the third act so good is that it is full of that kind of wacky sensibility, as if the cast has freed itself from the shackles of the humdrum script and is finally cutting loose.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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