Hale Center Theater’s latest crowd-pleaser is a rootin’-tootin’ comedy that delivers on its promise to both root and toot as it tells the story of a dunder-headed cowboy who becomes rich and don’t know what to do with hisself.
Tom Coterel (Mitch Hall) won a ranch in a poker game, and subsequently struck oil on it. Now he’s a millionaire and is pursued by Pamela Wright (MinD Jensen), a golddigger who is coquettish to the point of trashiness. She’s transparently evil and only after Tom’s money; Tom, however, is stupid enough to fall in love with her.
She goes back to New York for the summer, leaving Tom a few months to improve himself enough to impress her. (“I sure am dumb,” Tom says, rightly.) So in the tradition of “My Fair Lady” (which the Hale Center is doing next month), Tom hires a librarianish tutor named Florence (Marydee Potter) to teach him to be more cultured, to say “get” instead of “git,” and to stop slurping his soup.
Florence, however, falls in love with Tom. Since we know Pamela is dishonest, and we soon see how much Tom respects Florence, we can guess what will happen, and we’ll pretty much be right.
Tom’s ranch hands, Hank (Dave Hanson) and Lem (Larson Holyoak) lend humor to the two-fisted drinking lifestyle Tom leads and is trying to clean up, and his foreman, Link (Jim Burch), is a key player in Tom’s plan. All of these roles are played with sincerity and humor.
Also earning quite a few laughs is Josey Suarez as Jose, the ranch’s Mexican cook. His rapid-fire Spanish is cute, but his matador-style setting of the table is hysterical. It’s an interlude that’s completely unnecessary (except that it allows the other actors to change costumes for the next scene), but it truly is an inspired bit of physical comedy.
Mitch Hall is likable as the bedimpled cowboy who one assumes is the title character (though the shape of his toes never really becomes an issue). Marydee Potter seems so intent on making Florence prim and proper that she comes across as a bit bland, until a third-act scene where she gets wasted with Link and finally cuts loose.
This is a sweet, appealing show with relatively short scenes that keep the action moving, and some genuinely funny bursts of comedy. It’s not liable to make you think very hard, but it can certainly amuse you for a couple hours.
I would like to have seen the issue of the shape of Tom's toes dealt with more thoroughly. I sensed that they were probably pointed, but since he wore shoes all the time, it was hard to tell.
This was the first time I can think of where I disliked the audience more than I disliked the play. Being the Hale Center Theater, naturally there was your typical assortment of ancient persons who cannot hear and who therefore have to ask their seatmates to repeat to them, in loud voices, the punchlines two seconds after the performers speak them. I am used to this. But the night I was there, there were also approximately 12,000 teen-age girls who, believing themselves to be at "The Jerry Springer Show," would cheer and hoot every time any character said anything remotely cool or funny. They especially liked Jose 'cause he speaks Spanish and everything. Jose was a fine character, and well-played in this production, but you'd think he was 'N*Sync, the way those girls carried on.
This was also the first review in which I consciously used the phrase "crowd-pleaser" as a code word. To the average theater-goer -- the person who sees a play maybe once every couple months, who doesn't care for experimental, avant-garde theater, who likes a simple and straightforward play (or better yet, a musical) -- to that person, "crowd-pleaser" is a great compliment, and as part of "the crowd" ("the masses," some might say), they know they will be pleased. To the more finicky theater-goers -- actors, directors, theater students, people who see plays quite frequently and are therefore less impressed with simple-minded comedies and like a little more meat on their shows -- to those people, "crowd-pleaser" is a sign that this show pleases "the masses," but is not likely to do much for them.
Please note that I am not saying one group is better than the other -- indeed, real theater snobs irritate me as much as 15-year-old shriekers do -- for "theater for the masses" is every bit as useful, in its way, as is the other kind of theater. I just wanted to discern between the two groups, who obviously have very different tastes in theater, and come up with a phrase that will convey what they need to know. "Crowd-pleaser" does it, I think. (And if you really care what my own personal tastes are, if I say something is a "crowd-pleaser," that probably means the audience liked it but that it wasn't the sort of play I, personally, would go see in my spare time.)