The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts November 17, 2006

Melodramatic Miss Reardon Fails to Excite

This time, we won’t give away the entire plot, because it’s really not necessary.  The ensemble of And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little by Paul Zindel, directed by sophomore Anna Strasser, bears all the requisite roles for a melodrama as put on by your high school drama club: the over-the-top socialite that you wish would get bitten in the ass by a chihuahua, the bitter spinster teacher who just wants everyone to leave her alone, the crazy sister who bursts into method-tears every time the plot looks shaky, and the strapping businessman who just can’t see why everyone won’t do it his way.

Oh, and in case you forgot why all these folks were thrown together, there was a scandal, and somebody’s mother died awhile ago.

With as many good actors and directors as Oberlin’s student body boasts, the melodrama could have turned into a somewhat compelling story (although maybe only along the lines of an ABC miniseries), but unfortunately Miss Reardon never graduated.

Watching Strasser’s cast storm on and off the stage in Wilder Main was a little like watching kids in my high school musical stand nervously onstage during rehearsal, putting emphasis on different words in a line, unsure of what anyone wanted to hear, until the director chucked a shoe at them from the balcony.

However, it can’t be said that the material and atmosphere these actors were working with provided much inspiration. For one thing, as most student theater productions know all too well, Wilder Main is much better suited to Parents’ Weekend registration than live performances. For another, the script itself may have begged something of a melodramatic execution.

Playwright Zindel is best known for his young adult novels and sometime adaptations for the stage, all with zany titles such as his play The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and the novel Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on my Eyeball!. He ends up on ninth-grade reading lists quite a bit. I don’t remember much about his other works, except that excerpts from Gamma Rays made it into a lot of Scenes and Monologues for Young Actors-type books.

In combination with slightly directionless and shallow acting, the script of Miss Reardon hits a lot of the acting-exercise moments emphasized by some of those books, for example: “I’m so mad I’m about to hit you with a spatula;” “Really, why can’t everyone see it my way;” “I’m so embarrassed by my husband, let me show you how embarrassed I am by grinning a lot;” and “Oh, look, another opportunity to throw myself on the floor in tears,” and so in a way, the cast has no choice but to play to the non-sequitur, shallow and anachronistic points of the script. Of course, it’s been a long time since my last high school theater class — I could be remembering the spatula bit all wrong. 

I sat through the first twenty minutes of the show forcing myself to remember why I was supposed to care about Anna, the central character who is discussed by her two sisters in situational detail before she ever arrives on stage. However, some of the acting-exercise moments were actually gratifying.

Mostly these were nailed by sophomore Sarah Frank, playing the obnoxious, insensitive socialite Fleur; and sophomore Joel Solow, as Fleur’s husband, Bob, a man who refuses to use the bathroom in his own apartment. Anna, played by sophomore Annika Franklin, also led relieving stretches of what appeared to be actual conversation with her fellow characters, although these were usually followed by furious fidgeting and nervous breakdowns at the sight of fur. Miss Reardon herself, played by sophomore Hannah Pinover, drank a disappointingly small amount. 

Zindel’s position on the sore side of tragicomic theater aside, the main difficulty of Miss Reardon was that most of the actors just looked bored — or hysterical. And, forgetting criticism for a moment, who can blame them? If the College is going to continue to force traditional student theater productions to perform in Wilder Main, they should at least sell bourbon at the door. 


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