Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

TRP charms with a timely oldie, Dear Ruth

Dear Ruth is an old-fashioned cuddle of a play and, by happy chance, Theatre in the Round Players has staged Norman Krasna's World War II comedy at the tail end of the American-led war in Iraq. In a time of renewed patriotism and international criticism of the war, this nicely produced cuddle feels pretty darned good, thank you.

Clockwise, from top: Jessie Gonior (Miriam), Joel Anthony (Lt. Seawright), Leigh Wade (Ruth)
At the heart of the play is the entertaining family of Judge Harry Wilkins, his wife Edith, and their two daughters. It's 1944, US troops are fighting Nazi Germany, and Miriam, the Wilkins' intellectually precocious younger daughter, has taken a slew of impetuous initiatives to aid the war effort. Chief among them is a vigorous pen pal correspondence with a Lt. William Seawright that has turned decidedly romantic. To boost the lieutenant's morale and to motivate him to fight, Miriam enclosed a photo of her pretty 22 year-old sister, and she signs herself "Ruth," in her sister's name. Amusing from the outset, the real fun begins when dapper Lt. Seawright turns up on the doorstep, thoroughly in love with the unsuspecting Ruth, who has just gotten engaged to an executive at the bank.

TRP ran a risk in picking a sweet oldie off the pile of available plays. Dear Ruth boasts robust characters and plenty of wit, but it is dated in its attitudes and, in a lesser production, it could have been sentimental. Director Linda S. Paulson ably skirts the play's pitfalls with crisp direction, apt casting and strong characterization in the main roles.

Pivotal in carrying the play past the period's easy laughs at the expense of women is Bruce Heskett's interpretation of the judge. The judge is a curmudgeon and, when he finger-wags his wife with lines like, "You are the keeper of my home and the mother of my children, and I am not satisfied," the affection and wry self-mockery in Heskett's tone is irresistible.

The judge and his wife are still in love, and Heskett and Muriel J. Bonertz as Edith play well together in the knowing eye contact and comfortable back-and-forth banter of long affection. Edith is a smiley, well-to-do wife of the '40s and, within the limits of the role, Bonertz taps her character's humor and practicality; but she is somewhat lacking in the strong voice projection necessary for playing in-the-round theater.

Young Jessie Gonior excels as the willful Miriam. She's bold and spontaneous, and emotions cross her face like the sun bursting through clouds on a windswept day in spring. Leigh Wade's self-contained Ruth has the youthful freshness of a young working woman, and Wade carries the plot forward, even when it's pushed to a point of frothiness.

As Lt. Seawright, Joel Anthony is the all-American boy, blond, charming, amorous and honorable. In a nice foil to the Lieutenant, Robert A. King plays Ruth's fiancé, Albert, as an uptight controller who becomes increasingly fraught as things slip beyond his power.

Lack of voice projection marks the smaller roles of Lynda Dahl as Dora the maid and first-time actor Jeff Jesmer as Sgt. Vincent.

Among this production's strengths are Carrie Anderson's elegant set of a comfortable upper-middle class Long Island home, Mary Kaeding's detailed period props, like glass milk bottles, Katharine Horowitz's 1940s sound design and Carolann Winter's costumes.

TRP's Dear Ruth. offers a hug of an evening with ample laughter.

Dear Ruth April 25 - May 18. Fridays - Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sundays 7:00 p.m. and final Sunday additional matinee 2:00 p.m. 7:0 p.m. $16 -18. Theater in the Round Players, 245 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis. Call: 612-333-3010.

Photo: copyright Act One, Too, Ltd.

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Elizabeth Weir

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