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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Little Colonel Delivers a “Delightful” Rosenbloom’s


Teresa Wentzel as Winifred & Mary Ann Johnson as Myrah in
In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s. Photo courtesy of
Little Colonel Playhouse.

In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s

Written by Ludmilla Bollow
Directed by Nancy Hoover
           
Reviewed by Cristina Martin

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Cristina Martin.  All rights reserved.

Before I tell you what a lovely time can be had by all In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s, a word of explanation is in order: 

Those of us of a certain age will remember well the heyday of the urban department store.  Before discount chains and sprawling suburban malls, department stores were where you shopped for most everything from gowns to girdles, from hats to cufflinks to fine perfume.  You could get your hair done in the store’s salon and even have a bite to eat in the restaurant.  And if you needed a rest, well, there was the restroom. 

I can’t speak for the men’s facilities, but as for the ladies’ – it was more than just toilet stalls.  The prosaic part of the restroom was preceded by an anteroom with cushy chairs arranged in conversation groups (sometimes they tended on the faux gilded, fancy-looking side), innocuous but pleasant decorations on the walls, mirrors, ashtrays, tissues, complimentary coffee – and at almost any given time, a handful of ladies, shopping bags at hand, taking a breather.  Some were quiet, some were chatty, some wore garish makeup, some muttered to themselves…  As a little girl in the ’70s, I remember vividly this cast of characters.  I was familiar with them only in passing, as my mother and I never tarried for long.  Happily, however, The Little Colonel Players allow us to get to know some of these ladies in greater depth via a delightful production of Ludmilla Bollow’s In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s, the last show of Little Colonel’s regular 2011-2012 season.

Longtime friends Myrah (Mary Ann Johnson), Violet (Betty Zielinski) and Winifred (Teresa Wentzel) meet regularly in Rosenbloom’s restroom to visit and share news of their lives.  The play takes place on May 1, 1970, and like the aging department store itself, they bear the traces of the passage of time.  Sweet and polite Violet is struggling to make ends meet, sometimes making do without electricity at home and agonizing about whether to sell her favorite doll to an antique dealer to pay the bills.  Fragile, romantic Winifred lives in the past, still waiting after 30 years for her husband to come home from the war.  And Myrah…Myrah tells it like it is with hilarious candor and some resounding words of wisdom.

The complication comes when Winifred gets word that her perennially mean sister, Clare (Nancy Hoover), is planning to take her on a “vacation” (read: put her in a nursing home) from which she’ll never return, much as Clare did to their mother years ago.  Winifred may not have the firmest grip on reality, but she certainly is not ready for this, and her friends are ready to defend her against Clare with all they’ve got.  What ensues crosses age and gender lines to be poignant and amusing to audiences of any stripe.

It’s challenging to keep long periods of dialogue among the same three characters fresh and engaging, but this cast manages to do it.  Displaying excellent expression and timing, the three main players shine equally and in balance; these are clearly very talented actors.  Mary Ann Johnson has us rolling in the aisles with her perfect delivery of lines like “Hell, I’ve had three husbands and I’m still lookin’ for another one!” and her description of the ex whose boxer shorts she’s wearing (because they’re so much more comfortable than a girdle and stockings). How ironic that “Old Elevator Pants Charlie” had underwear that said Semper Fidelis!  With her brightly painted face and wraparound print dress, Johnson stands and moves solidly, as if to say, "This is who I am -- take it or leave it."  Myrah may not be genteel, but she does have some good life lessons to impart, such as, “Past is past – you gotta go where the action is!” and “People don’t need keepers.  They need people to show them the joys in life.”  These messages may be a little too spelled out for some tastes, but they work within the tenor and context of the play.  

In contrast to Myrah, Violet is very well mannered.  Dressed from head to toe in – yes – shades of the color violet, Betty Zielinski plays a sweet and genuinely caring friend.  Myrah reproaches her for being too meek, however, and for always being bound just a little too tightly by the rules of decorum.  Zielinski brings out tenderly and humorously how this criticism hits home for Violet.  We see the mixture of emotions as she tries a little boldness on for size and then surprises even herself when, having a cause to fight for, she comes out of her shell. 

Teresa Wentzel delivers a stellar performance as Winifred.  Fair and ethereal, she virtually floats into the restroom in her canary-yellow wedding dress from years ago, toting her birdcage.  May 1st is her anniversary, and she and her birds are off to the zoo, a place that holds fond memories for Winifred of her husband Henry.  Wentzel’s vibrant facial expressions reflect joyful delirium and abject terror equally well.  Gradually, Winifred’s girlish dreaminess gives way to an acceptance of reality and, with her friends’ support, to confident defiance of the one she has feared since childhood.

And that one, of course, is the infamous Clare (Nancy Hoover).  It is definitely not easy being director and actor in the same production, but Hoover does it with aplomb.  After Winifred’s monstrous description of her, she seems almost too nice when we first meet her, but that’s only because she hasn’t put two and two together and realized who Myrah and Violet are.  Once it dawns that they’re Winifred’s loyal friends, prepared to help her defy Clare’s plans, the real Clare comes out with a vengeance.  Hoover plays a good rough-’n’-tough bully in rabbit skin shoes (a tool for her dog training business at Clare’s Canine Campus).  Her voice and body language create a big presence, and yet, when Winifred stands up to her, she seems to deflate in our eyes, too. 

Not to be left out are Jodi Geise, Jane Burke and Madeline Kinser, who play store patrons who happen to pass in and out of the restroom at various points throughout the play.  Their varied and colorful costumes provide a great ’70s feel, and their wordless reactions to what they see and hear are priceless.  Most memorable were the eye-rolls of the patron who really needs to use the toilet, which is unavailable because Winifred is in the process of arranging her wedding dress!

As director, Hoover has choreographed a seamless show whose blocking seems natural and makes great use of the clever set designed by Bill Baker.  Everything has an authentic feel, from the cracks in the walls of the restroom to the old-fashioned radiator in the corner.  A big window upstage that opens onto a roof is a very creative element that lends itself to some great physical humor as well.

So, do such tales of loyalty and self-realization take place in the Men’s room at Macy’s, too?  I guess I’ll never know.  But all are invited to see what goes on In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s.  This remarkable cast of The Little Colonel Players will have you laughing for sure, and they might even make you tear up a little bit.   But don’t worry.  You’ve come to the right place for tissues.

In the Restroom at Rosenbloom’s

Remaining performances:
June 15 & 16 at 8 p.m.
June 17 at 2:30 p.m.

The Little Colonel Players
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Crestwood, KY  40014
Tickets: (502) 588-1557

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