CHAUTAUQUA - For the 10th consecutive year, the Friends of the Chautauqua Theater have ended the Chautauqua season by sponsoring a performance of one or more plays by Chautauquan David Zinman.
This year, the presentation was a staged reading of a trio of one-actor vignettes, in a distinct comic vein. The performances benefited by taking place in Fletcher Hall, one of the Institution's newest facilities, where the hard, bright acoustics made every word clearly understood - at least from where I was sitting.
The central characters were, respectively, a put-upon husband, prepared to stand up for his rights; a wise grandpa, learning to silence the restless grandchildren with a dose of truth; and a woman trying to make a sales pitch, not unlike Lucille Ball's famed Vitameatavegamin routine, while finding her focus harder and harder to find.
Jean Badger, left, and Kay Kramer grapple over a flask during a performance of “Love Insurance” on Saturday at Fletcher Hall at the Chautauqua Institution.
Photo by Howie Schiller
All three works were directed by Bob McClure, who found a way to give them clear point and focus.
The first work was titled ''WHIMPS.'' That title is an acronym for ''Women with Husbands Involved in Making Purchases.'' In this case, it is the classic lament of a man of middle years who has spent much of his life following his wife around stores. She claims she values his opinions and needs his support, but he has learned well that what his wife wants is help in carrying the purchases and an occasional nod of agreement - and nothing more.
Hugh Butler was the speaker, trying to rally all husbands in his character's state of affairs, to create a version of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in the parking lot of the mall. His character was consistent and strong, and he tossed off images such as his wife holding up a purchase, like Theodore Roosevelt holding up the skin of a recently bagged tiger, with great effect.
The second work was more sentimental. An unnamed grandfather, played by Ralph Walton, told us he loved to read bedtime stories to his grandchildren, but he found them increasingly antsy and got mild complaints about having heard all the stories already.
So, Grandpa changes his approaches, telling the children about his own youth, about their father's struggles when he was a child, and ended by finding the young ones to be big fans of the new style.
There was a time when the rich, full baritone of Walton's voice was familiar to theatergoers around the county, and it was a distinct pleasure to hear it once again.
The performance ended with ''Love Insurance,'' officially a sales pitch by one of those bird-like, eternally cheerful women named ''Happy'' Owens. Sadly, ''Happy'' is suffering a bit of a sore throat, so when she is offered some cough medicine by a woman in the audience, she happily accepts. But as her lecture continues, she samples the medicine more and more, and her bright, chipper manner begins to turn a bit maudlin, and her crisp consonants begin to slur a bit.
Kay Kramer was the actor behind the happy woman's performance. The audience was informed that Ms. Kramer was a last minute replacement from a previously-cast actor who was indisposed, which made her performance especially impressive.
The seats in the concert hall were quite full, and the audience greeted the three performances with enthusiasm.
The plays will be repeated, later in September, although specifics of the second performance are not yet available.