Mischief afoot in 'The Ransom of Red Chief'

Friday, May 30, 2003

Little Johnny Dorset (Nick Augspurger) prefers to be called Red Chief, scalps little girls' dolls and insults grownups. He asks unanswerable questions like, Why can't a river talk even though it has a mouth?

When small-time con men Sam (Mike Craig) and Bill (Jeff Stricker) kidnap Red Chief they quickly discover they are holding for ransom a little boy so mischievous and irritating almost nobody wants him back.

Based on a story by O. Henry, the enjoyable musical comedy "The Ransom of Red Chief" will be presented Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the American Legion Hall in Jackson.

The Starcatchers Community Theatre production has everything a family-oriented production should offer: Singing, Spic and Span humor, a bit of square dancing, hijinks and even pets.

The setting is the small, flat town of Summit, Ala., where the townspeople sing, "We're not mentally defective, but we've got our own perspective."

In a tune titled "Summit Complaint," the townspeople emphatically let the sheriff (Richard Behring) know how they feel about joining a posse to go looking for Red Chief. "If you find him, shame on you," they sing, wagging their fingers.

This is a comedy, but there also is an underlying sadness to Red Chief's plight. In "Red Chief's Song," he wonders why other children run away when they see him coming. He enjoys being kidnapped because Sam and Bill have taken him camping. His mother won't. He considers Sam and Bill friends and gives them nicknames: Snake Eye and Hank.

Nick Augspurger has the right air of innocent mayhem about him as Red Chief. He keeps Bill particularly busy with pranks. Craig and Stricker work well together as a bygone Dumb and Dumber.

Mary Jane Fieser is a hoot as the black-garbed, surly Widow Dooley, Red Chief's mother. When she learns he has been kidnaped she only cackles and devises a way to make the kidnappers pay -- literally.

There are some strong voices in the cast, particularly Terri Popp as Mrs. Hicks, Carol Daniel as Mavis Brown, Teri Jett as Irma Dooley, and Becky Koeller as teenager Gertie Brown.

Rounding out the cast are Mark Short as the hard-of-hearing Jeb Carter, and the girls Red Chief terrorizes: Amelia Popp and Abby Fieser as sisters Mollie and Becky Brown, Allison Baugh as Katie Lewis and Karly Hinkebein as Lucy.

This is a family production in every sense. The cast includes Janell Hinkebein as Mrs. Lewis, her son Shawn as Stanley Lewis, her daughter Karly as Lucy and the family's cat as Angel the Cat. Mary Jane and Abby Fieser are mother and daughter, too. There's also a basset hound named Abbie, the constant companion of the sheriff.

The musical is well directed by Jerry Ganiel, who also plays piano in the three-piece band accompanying the singers. Shawn Asmus is the bassist, and Danny Tetley plays drums.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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