Does the Playhouse’s ‘Auntie Mame’ leave us starving at the banquet?

auntie-mame.jpgBy Vicki Paris Goodman
Arts and Entertainment Editor

The Long Beach Playhouse kicks off the 80th anniversary season of its Mainstage with Auntie Mame, a big play with a big cast that takes, frankly, a big gamble.
This is the play, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, upon which the famous musical Mame is based. The music would have been a big help.
You probably know the concept– larger-than-life, flamboyant aunt gets custody of orphaned nephew and, to the horror of his trustee, exposes him, albeit lovingly, to the eccentricities and excesses of her arguably not-so-wholesome lifestyle. Mame’s motto: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
The Long Beach Playhouse pulled out most of the stops, gathering together twenty-two capable performers and accomplished director Terri Miller Schmidt, to carry out the monumental feat that is Auntie Mame. Unfortunately, this production results in far less than the sum of its impressive parts.
Make no mistake, individual performances sparkle. The dynamic Beverly Turner makes a great Auntie Mame. She is kind, loving, clever, theatrical and every bit as smitten with life as she is supposed to be. When she moves, she commands the stage with grace and panache.
Young Parker Lewis, as nephew Patrick, achieves an amazing mastery of his many lines, which are delivered with animation and charm, even if they are sometimes hard to make out.
I appreciated actress Carla Heller’s Mother Burnside, an old southern battle-ax with a keen wit and a keener snort. Anna Kate Mohler does a fabulous job in the role of Agnes Gooch, the mousy, uptight stenographer. I thought, if only she’d lose the beige bobbysox, hairbun and spectacles…
Playhouse veterans appeared to come out of the woodwork in an almost never-ending stream: Mitchell and Jane Nunn, Katherine Prenovost, Bruce Thomas Eason, Lewis P. Leighton, Jerome Loeb, Ken Jagosz and Brian Page. It was heartening to see all those familiar faces from productions past.
Other skilled performances were given by Elizabeth Desloge, Matthew Yee, Kimberly Lewis, Charles Lewis, Toni Beckman, Nick Slimmer, Janet McGregor, John Gillies, Jillian Fisher and John Schwendinger.
So why did Auntie Mame never soar, never excite, never thrill? Could it have been the far too understated set design that took virtually no lead from Mame’s ostentatious persona? Or maybe the fact that background music, apparently intended to be there, generally distracted from the dialogue and action on stage? It was as though someone backstage had turned on a radio not knowing it could be heard by the audience.
How about the fact that chemistry was lacking from all of the play’s close relationships? And consider the tedium of 24 scenes comprising the play’s two acts, each scene change requiring a break for some degree of set rearrangement.
All I know for sure is that I was uninspired early on, way before I became aware of the show’s astonishing 3-1/4 hour length!
Sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is more. Auntie Mame might have benefited from both.
Auntie Mame continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through October 25. General admission tickets are $22, $20 for seniors, $12 for students with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m, with Sunday matinees on September 28, October 5, 12 and 19 at 2 p.m.
Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at

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