No Time for Sergeants

The lead role in the 1950s fish-out-of-water comedy “No Time for Sergeants” was originated by Andy Griffith, and you can picture him saying the lines in his gentle Southern drawl.

Those are big Air Force boot to fill, especially with the main character, Will Stockdale, acting as narrator and appearing in every single scene.

The Hale Centre Theatre West Valley’s production is double-cast, but the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday crew is led by David Stensrud, who proves himself unquestionably up to the task. Wide-eyed and belly-voiced, Stensrud is a large and imposing figure — a perfect fit for the hayseed Stockdale who gets drafted into the Air Force and rises to the top despite rarely having a clue what’s going on. Stockdale isn’t dumb; he’s just naive and backwards. Stensrud plays the role with full vigor, making standard lines and situations funny again with an occasional effortless twist on the delivery.

In the beginning, Stockdale is drafted away from his hound dog and his house-bound father and sent off to be classified. Without meaning to, he runs afoul of swaggering hot-head Irvin Blanchard (Rusty Bringhurst), and becomes defender and friend to bespectacled nerd-boy Ben Whitledge (Eric Armstrong).

Sgt. King (Kevin Cottam; normally played in this cast by Ron Johnson), who seeks to make no waves with his superiors, puts Stockdale on latrine duty. Unfamiliar with military ways, Stockdale sees this as an honor and gets King in trouble when he tells the captain (Will Phillips) that he’s been working on the toilets all week. The captain threatens to strip King of his rank of Stockdale, now a week behind the other recruits, doesn’t pass the classification tests.

Then there’s more comedy with Stockdale breezing his way through the various psychological and physical exams without even trying, leading up to the first-act finale, which has him unintentionally ruining things for King and Whitledge, his only two friends.

The second act, oddly, takes a different turn. The conflict set up before intermission is more or less ignored, as the three go on to gunnery school and people wind up being decorated heroes without actually doing anything.

It’s an uncluttered comedy, very straight-forward in its plot and free of preaching or moralizing. It’s not a satire of the armed forces, though it could be played that way, what with Stockdale becoming a mover and shaker without knowing what he’s doing. It’s just a comedy, pure and simple, and an enjoyable one at that.

David Stensrud, as it happens, served in the same LDS mission I did. This didn't color my opinion of his performance; I mention it because it's interesting, because I almost never run into people I knew on my mission anymore. He looks a lot like Fred Flintstone.

It could be determined by reading the program that the cast members -- at least the ones in the cast I saw -- were fans of "The Simpsons." In no fewer than five of the biographies, there is a reference to "glavin." This is a nonsense word spoken by Prof. Frink, a recurring character on that show. ("Mmnhey!" is another thing he says.) Funny.