Kiss and Tell

“Kiss and Tell,” the World War II-era comedy currently being performed at Hale Center Theater Orem, produces some of the biggest belly laughs I’ve had in a long time. And I watch a LOT of comedy.

Despite the title, this is no romantic comedy. Love and romance are certainly addressed, but it’s more of a domestic farce about petty personal disputes and the effects of rumors and gossip.

We meet Corliss Archer (Claire Wilkins), a 15-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to be older. When a soldier on leave (John Preator) drops by to visit, she is enamored with him, though once her parents tell him her age, any chance of true, serious romance is squashed.

Meanwhile, Corliss’ best friend Mildred Pringle (Kathy Wahlquist) is in love with Corliss’ brother, Lenny (Neal Gage), who is currently off to war. When he comes back for a 72-hour leave, they hurry up and elope before he is shipped off again.

Why elope? Well, the Archers and the Pringles are in the midst of a suburban feud — over something stupid, to be sure, and fueled by gossip, which plays a MAJOR part in this show — and there’s no way either set of parents would stand for it. The kids are all more level-headed, and they get along fine, but there’s no reasoning with the grown-ups.

The problems — and the aforementioned belly laughs — come when Mildred, now an adoring wife waiting for her husband to return, discovers she is pregnant. Since no one except Corliss even knows she’s married, she can’t very well announce that she’s pregnant (not in the 1940s, anyway). This leads to some hasty conclusions being jumped to by all the characters, and some top-notch acting on the part of everyone involved.

(Bear in mind that Hale Center uses two different casts. There’s one group Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I saw it on a Saturday — but some of the M/W/F actors were filling in for their Tu/Th/S counterparts. So your actors may vary.)

It’s rare (and, indeed, dangerous) to have young people lead your show, but Claire Wilkins carries the play remarkably well as the head-strong, energetic Corliss. Assisting her with confidence and true comedic talent is Jeff Whitlock as neighbor and sort-of boyfriend Dexter Franklin. Whitlock is funny throughout the show, but in the scene when everything hits the fan, he shows a flair for frenetic comedy that is far beyond his years, beginning with a perfectly timed entrance. (His entrance alone is worth the price of admission. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.)

Also a stand-out is John Paulk as Corliss’ dad. His first few scenes have him making wry, amusing comments — sort of a laid-back casual dad. But when things get frantic, he blusters and blows with the best of them, demonstrating a good range of skill.

Nancy Douglas as Mrs. Archer, Joshua Freeman as a precocious Pringle youth, and Neal Gage as Lenny Archer all shine in their roles. Gage, though playing a minor character without much funny stuff to do, adds some real class to the show with a sincere performance that contributes one more layer to the already multi-textured show.

In short, this is an ensemble cast full of funny characters, thrust into well-crafted comic situations and reacting to them with gusto, energy and humor. Don’t miss this one.

I was surprised at how funny this 1940s comedy was. Those belly laughs I refer to in the review were true, hearty, boisterous belly laughs. The script sets up the situation brilliantly, and then the cast carried it through like professionals. Very, very funny stuff. It made up for my friend cancelling on me at the last minute and me having to go to the show alone.

A very amusing thing happened when this was published in the Herald. You see, at the end of theater reviews, we always like to give information regarding the run of the show, how much tickets cost, etc. I usually don't know all that, though, so when I e-mail my reviews to the editor, I just leave a space for it at the end of the review. In this particular case, I wrote, "'Kiss and Tell' will be performed blah blah blah I don't know when." That's a direct quote. It's what I typed when I sent in the review.

Well, somehow, someone managed to put the review in the paper without reading it very closely, because at the end of the review, instead of saying what time the show starts and how long it's running, it said, "'Kiss and Tell will be performed blah blah blah I don't know when."

I was MORTIFIED, let me tell you. I immediately wrote a letter to the Hale Center Theater, apologizing and assuring them that it was an accident. How embarrassing....