Enthusiasm Abounds in John Cooper’s “Tavern”

For anyone who has seen director, Justin Doran, address the audience prior to the curtain time of his John Cooper School student productions, it is abundantly clear that his infectious energy and enthusiasm jump across the footlights. That same energy and enthusiasm was evident in the work of his wonderful cast for the school’s recent performance of George M. Cohan’s play, “The Tavern.” Yes, I said a play by George M. Cohan, and surprisingly it is not a musical.

But there was pleasant music beforehand from Mr. and Mrs. Davies on piano, dulcimer, and hammer dulcimer, and from a fine student soloist not mentioned in the program (I believe her name was Megan). Appropriate to the piece, there were even pleasant drinking song sing-a-longs during the intermission, joining both the lusty-voiced cast and the appreciative audience. But returning to “The Tavern,” the curtain rose on a rustic early American inn with log cabin construction, a glowing fireplace, candle-lit corners, flickering lanterns, and a hilarious group of inhabitants. Master Carpenter, Craig Norrie, had done his work well. Technical Director, Marissa Nuttall and assistant, Tony McNeil, along with Stage Manager, Chelsea Wade, certainly deserve credit for the realistic thunder, rain and lightning that highlighted the storm sequences in this backwoods pioneer setting.

During the storm Zach (Kyle Cameron) and Sally (Jo Ganner) are cowering in the inn when a mysterious vagabond (Lizzi Biggers) suddenly arrives. Miss Biggers lends an almost Shakespearean atmosphere to the piece with her truly amazing and poetic delivery of numerous long soliloquies in the humorous play. Her effectiveness in playing this masculine role made me wonder if she wouldn’t make a perfect Peter Pan in some future production.

For added tension we have the angry father, Freeman, (played by Trey Comstock), and his zany son, Willum, (played with considerable comic flair by Kyle Moschell). Then there is the arrival of the Governor Lamson, (Anne Terrill), with his wife (Caitlin Booker), daughter, Virginia (Alice Ferron), and her fiancé, Tom (Alex MacGregor). The Governor’s fuzzy beard, sideburns and top hat are humorous touches, and the fun escalates as Virginia flirts with the vagabond while Tom fumes with jealousy.

Adding to the comedy are a fine group of supporting players including Kate Maher, David Meinrath, Asmital Salil, Laura Harmon, Smitha Johnson, and a true comic “ham,” Eric Alba as the Sheriff. Their antics add a Keystone Cops style to the riotous ending, while poor Willum keeps entreating the audience, “For the love of God, will someone please tell me what is going on in the tavern tonight?” Even the romantic vagabond wonders aloud, “Oh God, is there no drama left in this world?” And perhaps it is the vagabond himself that supplies my best answer to that question, saying, “If I’m any critic, it’s a bully good show!”

(The Courier    3.7.04)

(The Villager    3.11.04)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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