“Cheaper by the Dozen” is about an efficiency expert who runs his large family the way he runs a factory. Any method he can find to save time or energy, he implements it. Fittingly, the play is as efficient as can be, breezing through three acts, one intermission and a whole lot of congenial humor, all in only 100 minutes. My woefully inefficient father used to take longer than that just to say the prayer at dinner.
The play is set in the 1920s, as remembered by Ernestine (Mallory Hansen) and Frank (Daniel Jensen), children Nos. 2 and 3 in a family of 12. They are affable hosts as they reflect on their rigidly structured but very happy childhood.
Their father (Daryl Tucker) has heart problems and will not be around much longer. As a result, he pushes his children to excel in school, to skip grades if they can, so they’ll be as ready as possible for his departure. The children don’t know this, though; they only know he wants them doing homework all the time and won’t let them have much fun.
The oldest daughter, Anne (Kim Hansen), causes turmoil when she starts wanting to date boys and wear silk stockings. The other girls, too, start showing an interest in boys, the little brothers want a dog, Mom (Kaye Woodworth) shows signs of leniency — what’s an efficiency expert to do?
In real life, I suspect a family as tightly wound as this one would be a ticking time bomb. It suits the Gilbreths just fine, though, and the cast portrays the love within the family very nicely.
Dad does a little “minstrel show” near the end that is so racist as to make me, a very white man, uncomfortable. One recognizes it as authentic for the time period — but one recognizes swearing is authentic, too, and that doesn’t stop local theaters from cutting it out of their scripts. A play doesn’t have to use cuss words to be offensive.
Anyway, this play has few things to make you laugh out loud, but it does make you chuckle. It’s a cute show — a bit mishandled when it gets serious, but adorable the rest of the time.
Should you go? It’s a good family outing, and short enough to hold kids’ interest.
"Cheaper by the Dozen" is the sort of show that makes old people chuckle. Old people can chuckle twice in a two-hour show, and still walk out of it saying, "What a funny play!"