The Wrong Side of the Law: A Spectacularly Mellerdrammatic Comedy

The setup:

Theatre Suburbia presents its annual summer "mellerdrammer," complete with boos and hisses at the villain from a cooperative audience, and yes, you are urged to toss popcorn at the actors in The Wrong Side of the Law.

The execution:

There's not much rustic charm to the set, which is the lobby and bar of a saloon/hotel, but the period costumes do help establish that the time is 1908. The sheriff is out-of-own and has delegated duties to his daughter when a pair of evildoers arrive, whom we know to be up-to-no good because Bertha is dressed in (gasp!) shiny black! And Barney has a moustache and wears a black, red-lined cape, as though fresh from a vampire convention. There is a plot but the vehicle, which was written by playwright Dave Brandl for Theatre Suburbia and premiered here in 2004, is about fun, not suspense.

The first act is a bit slow, but the second act opens with warmth as the cast parades and sings two oldie songs, followed by a brief solo by Lindsay Smith (the evil Bertha), who has a lovely voice. No, it's not a musical, but these actors are determined that you have a good time, and will stop at nothing. You are encouraged to join in the singing and, don't fear, you will know the lyrics.

Donna Dixon acts as mistress of ceremony and portrays Mo, the telegraph operator, and she is excellent, as is Cory Grabenstein as young Wrandall, owner of the establishment. His mother and co-owner is played by Susan O'Connor, and she brings professionalism and mature charm to the proceedings. The background piano music is reminiscent of that accompanying a silent film, and is ably provided by Alice Smith. There is a cast of 13, and some appear to be there to gain experience. I was a bit disappointed in Daniel Corrigan as the evil Barney -- he lacked menace and seemed far too aware that this is a spoof, but this may have been what the directors wanted.

The co-directors are the experienced Doris Merten and the relatively new Haig Caesar, and they've erred in allowing far too much winking at the audience from the cast. It could be much funnier and more interesting if the actors stayed in character, as the exemplary Grabenstein does. The evening often grinds to a halt as a character marches downstage in silence to deliver an aside to the audience, then marches in silence back to his or her position to continue the play. What might have been amusing the first time becomes tedious when repeated a score of times, and all momentum is lost. The asides often fall flat, as playwright Brandl has a heavy hand with a quip.

The verdict:

As the name "mellerdrammer" indicates, this is lighthearted summer fare -- bring patience and a sense-of-humor -- the popcorn can be purchased at the theater. The Wrong Side of the Law -- a Spectacularly Mellerdrammatic Comedy continues through August 25, at Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr. For ticketing or information, call 713-682-3525 or e-mail info@theatresuburbia.org.

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