OnStage Massachusetts Columnist
The marketing of this play as a “riotous comedy about solving crimes in middle age” gives the audience much to expect as they take their seats for “Women In Jeopardy!” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. To their delight it is everything you want in a comedy: brilliant writing, fantastic comedic timing, outstanding actors, amusingly relatable to real-life and of course some unexpected twists and turns. Director Sean Daniels informed the audience before the show that our performance was the first sold out opening night performance MRT has had in at least ten years. That alone tells me the word is spreading, after only a few preview performances, that this show is hit!
Wittily written by Wendy MacLeod, the play focuses on three women living near Salt Lake City, Utah and finding their way through the challenges of middle age. Mary and Jo are desperately trying to hold onto their friendship with Liz, who is head-over-heels about her new boyfriend, Jackson, whom they find creepy. When one of his employees goes missing they instantly think he may have had something to do with it, yet Liz will hear none of their concerns however genuine or crazy they may seem. So, it’s up to Mary and Jo to solve the crime and save their dear friend from a potentially disastrous fate.
Before the show, fun and upbeat music plays getting the audience ready for an entertaining evening. The mood was electric from the moment the lights went down. The pulsing music instantly captured the audience and geared them up for what was expected to be a good show. Sound designer David Remedios did a great job selecting music that fit the “mood of the moment” throughout the production. The tunes were familiar and when added to a bit of dancing in some of the scene transitions, the audience was clearly amused. Scenic designer Michael B. Raiford and lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal kept the set simple, but with many small details that enhanced the overall design. These included tall birch tree trunks set against a dark blue sky-like background that stood on either side of the stage. In between them, was a comfortable kitchen space where much of the action took place. In act two, additional panels of sky and trunks were moved across the stage covering the kitchen and turning the stage into the starlit outdoors of the Utah mountains. The panels were seamlessly moved into place and tiny lights in the blue background were illuminated to create the outdoor feeling.
Daniels, who also directed the world premiere production at the Geva Theatre Center in New York a few years ago, creatively uses the space within each scene to guide the audience’s attention. His staging was well executed by the cast. The cast of six featured two actors returning to roles they’d played before: Julia Brothers as Jo, and Ashley Shamoon as Amanda. The cast also includes Jessica Wortham as Mary, Gail Rastorfer as Liz, Lou Sumrall as Jackson/ Sgt. Kirk Sponsüllar, and Jacob York as Trenner. The chemistry and comedic timing of the cast was fantastic. Each nuance of their characters and their relationships with each other was superbly played and there wasn’t a weak link among them. Their facial expressions spoke volumes and perfectly matched their characters and lines. The audience clearly found this show hilarious, laughing aloud almost continuously throughout and jumping to their feet at the end to give the cast a well-deserved standing ovation.
This hysterical show is one of the best I have seen at MRT and the best comedy I’ve seen anywhere this season! © Running at about two hours with one intermission, “Women In Jeopardy!” is comedy at its best and plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until March 12th, 2017. Tickets are bound to sell fast so get yours while you can. Tickets range from $70-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.
For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/
Title Photo: L to R: Julia Brothers, Gail Rastorfer, Jessica Wortham. Photo Credit MRT.