GOLDEN GATE — Let's Put On A Show Productions earned their company name Saturday. "Pageant Play," the fledgling theater venture's first show, offers a palpable sense of surprise and delight to everyone in the room - actors, volunteers and audience alike. The joyful experience is community theater at its finest.
"Pageant Play," a highly comedic and farcical satire of child beauty competitions, features two over-the-top mothers who haul Puddle and Chevrolet (the girls) around in search of glory. A pair of child-size party gowns, here in ice-crystal blue and pink polka dots, stand-in for the little-girl contestants. The play takes a dim view of beauty; the gowns get yanked, snatched, tossed, kicked, beat and thrown about the stage.
When Matthew Wilkas and Mark Setlock wrote "Pageant Play," they wanted to highlight the absurdity of the kiddie crown world. Dance coaches, thousand-dollar gowns, veneers and plastic surgery for pre-teens - it sounds absurd; it isn't. Yet, "Pageant Play" finds a heart - and redemption - in genuine maternal love.
Local theater devotees Scott Lilly and Kevin Moriarty founded Let's Put On A Show last fall. The group rehearses and performs at the Golden Gate Community Center.
"Pageant Play" unfolds much like you'd expect any first-time production, happening in a community center, to play out. Awkward, heavy black stage curtains. Minimal lighting. Rookie mistakes in blocking, directing and acting. Slow scene changes. More than a few moments where the script is just a suggestion - although I'll admit Lilly's ad libs are pretty funny.
None of that matters. "Pageant Play" throws up its wig in glee and just goes for laughs. Community theatre, but community theatre at its best. I really do wish director Kevin Moriarty had recognized the opportunity for a "Scooby-Doo" style chase scene near the end of the show.
Laura Lorusso dresses up (or really, down - way down) as Marge, the trailer park mom of one Puddle Jackson. Lorusso works the white trash look without making the character a complete caricature. There's just enough brassy spunk in her voice to let you know she's in on the joke, but not enough to remove the character's humanity.
A jailhouse scene with Scott Lilly (Bobby), where Marge reveals Puddle's secret, is the night's best. Lilly's deadpan humor as Marge's convict husband from one side of the table plays nicely against her sugary sweet demeanor. The byplay - and subsequent dramatic re-telling of Puddle's first pageant win - brings the night to a high point.
Rachel Gallentine offers a wonderfully over-the-top portrait of pageant-mother-from-hell Pinky Corningfield, the very portrait of Pretty Princess rage. Towering on heels, with a permanent martini, Gallentine commands attention as she shakes her poor little ruby-hued doll dress about.
A wonderfully expressive flashback scene with Lorusso as a sizzled mom reveals the source of Pinky's pageant fixation. Watching Gallentine transition from tiger mom to terrorized twelve-year-old, then bring immediate sympathy for the character shows her strength as an actress.
Lilly and Carl Back make an amusing pair of pageant coaches, Bobby and Bob. The assortment of outfits and scarves will amaze. All is not well in pageant land; the duo's "S-H-E-I-T" (their patented pageant system) routine brings huge laughs. Watch especially for the side-by-side choreography sequences from rival pageant coaches. Back more or less steals the show here by virtue of his costume alone. Bravo, sir.
Teddy Coleman's set design, with an assist from Lilly and Moriarty, reflects a strong sense of style. I love the viciously bold pink theme, especially against the stage curtains. Defined spaces for Pinky and Marge yield a fainting couch with pink zebra fur throw and chairs in a shade the Internet describes as "hot magenta" for Pinky. Marge gets two rusty lawn chairs and a dead plant (which she waters).
Costumes, sourced by the actors, create a wonderfully expressive visual palette. I love the range of trailer chic outfits dug up for Lorusso, especially the tiny denim miniskirt and boots combo. Gallentine looks elegant in a crisp white skirt and rose blouse. Back and Lilly race through a rainbow of scarves and outfits, each combination more eye-poppingly atrocious than the last. I love the carnation pink sport coat Back sports in scenes as Pinky's thoroughly tamed husband Gunnar. Crissy Weaver Finney contributed the hairstyles and Pinky's ferocious makeup.
With Let's Put On A Show using a multi-purpose space, all their sets, props and costumes have to be extremely portable. I almost wish the show had not been so ambitious. The effort pays off, but I'm not sure the show needed it. Simpler staging, with more of a focus on bringing out the story might have offered a less work-intensive, stronger show overall.
"Pageant Play" represents a positive first step onto the stage from Let's Put On A Show. Strong visuals, stronger performances, laugh-out-loud lines and ludicrous situations and little girls on hangars make for a fun night. Lorusso brings the funny and goes back for more. Gallentine gets angry - and you'll like it. The boys teach you all about "S-H-E-I-T." Remember, even an ugly child can win a crown!
In the immortal words of Senator Clay Davis, "S-H-E-I-T." Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.