High Jinks And Low Humor: Theatre Suburbia's Who Was That Masked Man?

The set up: "Meller-drammer" says it all - outlandish acting, deliberately exaggerated actions, simple plots, a mustachioed villain and a damsel in distress. Hisses at the villain are encouraged as are cheers for the hero, and Theatre Suburbia caps it all by providing popcorn to throw at the cast - and the cast sometimes throws it back.

The execution: An uncomplicated set permits close to a theatre-in-the-round arrangement, and a bar in Slick Willy's Saloon doubles as a teller's cage for the local bank. The widow (tearfully and well-played in the expected histrionic mode by Susan O'Connor) is slated to lose her home to the evil bank president with a mustache and black cape, certain emblems of villainy. Glenn Dodson plays the morally-challenged villain with confidence, but I did miss some of the lip-smacking relish and the savoring of pure evil that is the traditional hallmark of roles such as these. I especially liked Donna Dixon, who played the barmaid in a attractive period red gown with eyeshadow to match, and who dominated the stage with her powerful self-assurance.

Daniel Corrigan was great as the dim-witted, bungling sheriff and he managed to add nuance - believe it or not - to his role. Amesti Reioux played the widow's daughter - she can flutter a mean-eye-lid, nailed the ingenue smile, and made us want to protect her virtue from the inevitable assault.

The young Andrew Miles was effective as the Magnolia Kid, a gun-slinger dressed in black, but with so much cherry-red jacket fringe that I feared it might slow down his quick draw. The hero was the Masked Man, played by James Plake, and, while I found him unconvincing as the hero, he came to life in a dance routine in a dress - no, not cross-dressing, just a disguise. There is more dancing in the play, including an energetic, engaging can-can by a woman well-past the first blush of youth And there is singing as well, by the cast and by the audience - a song-sheet is provided with the program, though the songs are familiar classics.

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The verdict: The entire cast worked well together under the able direction of Doris Merten, and created a world of high jinks and low humor which, much to my surprise, I came to believe in. The events are enhanced by Alice Smith providing appropriate piano accompaniment. Nineteenth-century histrionics cavort shamelessly on stage in a fun-filled performance, and, unless a curmudgeon by nature, you'll enjoy it. See it - you may exit with popcorn in your hair, but there will be a smile on your lips.

Through Aug 27, Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive, 713-682-3525.


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