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‘Life With Father’ offers audience a pleasant evening |

‘Life With Father’ offers audience a pleasant evening

Alice T. Carter
| Saturday, July 28, 2001 12:00 a.m

Viewed after a hurried dinner in a restaurant filled with rambunctious, vocally assertive children, ‘Life With Father’ presents an undeniable appeal.

Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s warm, nostalgic family comedy, which opened Wednesday night at Little Lake Theatre in Peters Township, takes place in the morning room of the Day household in New York City, where never is heard an insolent word and the kids are not rowdy all day.

It’s presented in the round – actually, a rectangular playing space – with the audience surrounding the action. That precludes the need for scenery but places a greater burden on props and furnishings. Little Lake’s production staff rises to the occasion, outfitting the morning room with a respectable collection of Victorian pieces that evoke both period and mood.

Once a staple of summer theater schedules, Lindsay and Crouse’s play was wildly popular when it opened on Broadway in 1939, playing 3,224 performances, which makes it the longest-running nonmusical in Broadway history.

It’s easy to fall for this sweet little domestic comedy.

As the play opens on an early summer morning in the 1880s, children arrive for breakfast neatly dressed – teen-agers in suits and ties, the younger ones in neatly pressed sailor suits with short pants. They’re polite, respectful, speak in complete sentences, know their catechism and never, never argue with their parents.

How could you not long to live in an era when the biggest problems facing an upper middle-class family are a visit from out-of-town relatives, some minor inconveniences with the servants, a crisis over Father’s lack of baptism and a teen-ager whose suit won’t allow him to do anything his father wouldn’t do• Best of all, every dilemma gets resolved neatly and amicably in just less than three hours.

It’s a devil’s bargain, of course.

The tradeoff is that you need to overlook the unpleasant assumptions that kept the Days’ world going – that servants were interchangeable, disposable commodities; that women’s only weapons against logic and autocracy were tears and manipulation, and that college was ‘OK for girls if they wanted to waste that much time before they got married.’

It’s a tradeoff that many in the audience seemed ready to accept, myself included, from time to time.

Credit for that goes to director Carol Lauck, who makes it clear with a wink and a nod that Paul Laughlin’s Father is only titularly in charge, a man to be humored, pampered and overridden by his wife, Vinnie’s, superior ability at manipulation and misdirection.

Played by Cindy Berg, Vinnie’s outward appearance of wispy, redheaded scatterbrain covers a churning engine of plans, schemes, agendas and iron-willed determination. She would not be unsuccessful or out-of-place confounding, confusing and negotiating with Palestinians and Israelis, Irish Catholics and Protestants, or local homeowners and assessors.

That Laughlin is no match for her is due partly to the script and partly to his halting delivery, which reduces the vehemence and flow of his bombast and bluster. They might achieve better balance and parity as the run progresses and the performance eases into its groove.

As eldest son and namesake Clarence Jr., Buddy Wickerham is a winningly awkward, earnest young man confronting his first attraction to girls. Brigitte Choura plays Mary Skinner, the pretty-in-pink object of his affection and a young woman who’s somewhat more forthright but not unlike the girl who married dear old dad.

Stephen Santa appears as the second son, John, whose moneymaking scheme almost poisons his mother. Jonathan Glock and Samuel Karas play Whitney and Harlan, the two youngest Days, with an appealing, unstudied innocence.

Charita Nemec bustles in and out as cheery, visiting cousin Cora. Dave Disney, Norm Wash and Brian Whitecap lend substance as the Rev. Dr. Lloyd and consulting physicians Dr. Humphreys and Dr. Somers.

Finally, a word of appreciation goes out to Priscilla Laughlin, Dorothy Graeham, Becca Weber, Martha Bell and Andrea J. Tsupros. These five performed double duty, setting and resetting the scenes as run crew as well as appearing as the succession of Margarets, Annies, Delias, Noras and Maggies who labored as cooks and maids and actually ran these pleasant Victorian domiciles.

The Little Lake Theatre production of ‘Life With Father’ continues through Aug. 12. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. 500 Lakeside Drive South, Peters. Tickets: $6 to $13, $35 for dinner theater on Saturdays. Details: (724) 745-6300.

Alice T. Carter can be reached at (412) 320-7808 or .

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