There is nothing like an old-fashioned, barn-burning melodrama on a hot summer night, the kind that encourages the audience to boo the villain or cheer the hero. This one is based on Mrs. Henry Wood's popular 19th century novel, which, despite allegations of plagiarism at the time, became a huge success and was the basis for numerous stage productions, as well as silent films.
The plot is about as simple as the U.S. tax code, with twists and turns aplenty, revolving around murder, deceit, betrayal, death, adultery, and a few other popular Victorian themes. In a bloated nutshell, Archibald Carlyle (Brian Ecker) purchases the estate of the deceased Lord Mount Severn and marries Severn's daughter, Lady Isabel Vane (Christa Woomer), much to the chagrin of Archibald's spinster sister Cornelia (Ali Deyer), and a family friend (Jazz Monde') who has a secret crush on Archibald. After much wooing and whining, death and divorce, all is set right in the end. Hooray!
This peculiar form of campy melodrama—which spoofs the perfectly serious, if overwrought, theatrical soap operas of the Victorian age—is quite hard to pull off and requires a demanding mix of comedic skill, physical gags, and audience interaction. It also needs a large cast and is therefore rarely performed outside of community theatre. Perhaps for that reason these theatricals have become a staple of summertime theatre and depend on a relaxed, enthusiastic audience of friends and neighbors to participate in the frivolity.
Director Vince Fazzi, who also plays Cornelia's hapless suitor, keeps the action brisk and bright. The performers are solid, in particular Woomer as the dimly clever heroine and Ecker as the stalwart, upstanding hero. David McGee is a suitably smarmy villain, Richard Landis is gravitas personified as the kindly uncle, and Yvonne Younger is perky and tart as his wife. Jake Belcher has a funny turn as an accused murderer, Deborah Philips is delightfully wry as the larcenous servant, and Fazzi's two children, Adam and Rachel, have endearing cameos. It's a family and neighborhood affair, and fun summertime entertainment.
Presented by T&Cakes Productions at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Sun. 7:30 p.m. Jul. 9-30. (626) 256-3809.