THE OLD Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy type of musicals are nauseating. You have probably seen those 40-year-old Hollywood bombs on television, with their foolish plots, childish dialogue and overdose of song and dance, tap-tap-tap. They always feature a pretty (though never sexy) heroine and her smiling, good-natured boyfriend caught in some "terrible mix."
Rick Besoyan must have shared this same distaste for the tap-tap-tap when he wrote his Little Mary Sunshine, a delightful satire of those song and dance shows to which director Greg Delawie '80 and the South House Drama Society have done justice. The play takes place on a summer day in Colorado in 1910. The main plot is simple: a group of forest rangers, who resemble Dudley Do-Rights more than Ranger Ricks, arrive at Little Mary Sunshine's vacation home in search of the wild Indian Yellow Feather. Of the 17 characters, 14 are romantically involved and the other three are Indians, who are not supposed to have such emotions in 1940-type Hollywood shows.
The key to the success of the current South House production of Sunshine is the script itself. A satire, the play relies on neither serious characterizations nor precise singing and dancing but instead on the actors' ability to infinitely exaggerate their stereotyped parts. The cast is obviously having as much fun as the audience. The lyrics are witty, the plot cleverly stupid and the music fine, although the drums did sound a bit overdone during the overture.
Matt Levine, as Captain "Big Jim" Warrington, lacks the physical presence a blustery Big Jim should have and fails to compensate for this with a commanding speaking voice. His singing, however, is deep and mellow.
Mary Beim in the title role has a saccharine content well above 800 Tabs a day. With a pleasant voice, she competently presents herself as the virtuous and innocent heroine in danger of losing the mortgage to the home she bought with the earnings from her cookie sales. When Big Jim finally proposes to her, Beim gives the audience a saccharine high as she exclaims "I am a woman fulfilled."
Bernard Leman is amusing as the ineffectual, newly-in-charge Corporal Billy Jester who looks to the forest ranger's manual for the answer to every question. As Jester's heart throb, the flirtatious Nancy Twinkle, Robin Leidner steals more than the corporal's heart. Her "Mata Hari" scene is worth seeing all by itself.
The play has a slew of minor characters worth noting. Julie Zickefoose gets several laughs as the marriage and exercise-crazed German opera singer, Mme. Ernestine von Liebedich. She teams up with Skip Mendler, the delightful society lecher, for the nostalgic "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna."
The young ladies from the Eastchester School, Elizabeth Justice, Cheryl Feldman, Patricia van Buskirk and Laura Campo, are the scheming debutantes who amuse themselves with Jane Austen novels, croquet and garden parties while all the time secretly wishing for men. Their hopes are answered with the four forest rangers, Josh Goldhaber, Kent Griswold, Mike Fancher and Jon Weinberg. The rangers try to come across as boyish Keystone Kops, which is fine, but their image would be more effective if they were all clean-shaven.
THE CHARACTERIZATIONS of the Indians, although minor parts, are crucial to the play's spirit of mockery. David Kleeman as Chief Brown Bear is so overly dignified and wooden that he deserves a chair in the Classics Department. Fleet Foot, portrayed by Alan Middleton, is the typical half-blind, half-dead reservation Indian. The best of all, however, is the wild savage Yellow Feather, Adam Ramirez, who lusts after the white flesh of our Little Mary. By giving Besoyan's characters the right amount of schmaltz, the Sunshine Indians help rebut the John Wayne school of frontier history.
As the rehabilitated Yellow Feather marches on stage waving an American flag, the cast sings, "You've got to hand it to Little Mary Sunshine," and they are right. Unfortunately, the title is not too catchy and Cabot Living Room is an obscure corner in the world of Harvard theater. The Bible claims, "Revenge is mine, thus saith the Lord." For all of us who are faced with a rainy Saturday afternoon choice between "The Wild Kingdom" and old Hollywood re-runs, the South House Drama Society's satire is a divine favor.