Review: River City Players' 'Charming Billy' charms crowd at Port Cape Yacht Club

Monday, November 10, 2008

For the final production of their 2008 season, the River City Players Group chose a rendition of "Charming Billy," a family-friendly play by children's author Peg Kehret.

Don't expect comedy aimed only at children, however -- on Friday, all ages at Port Cape's Yacht Club found the production worthy of laughter and applause.

The story centers around the Bloom family: Ruth Bloom, played by Brenda Ferguson, an active public servant running for county commissioner; Ned Bloom, played by Arthur Wilhite, an absent-minded inventor working on a flea repellent; and Melanie, played by Paige Bailey, their teenage daughter who is attempting to score a date for Winter Prom while aiding her parents in their pursuits.

In a series of miscommunications, Ruth tries to tell her husband about a "charming" dog at the Humane Society where she volunteers. Through a series of half-attentive grunts and nods, Ned agrees to adopt the dog. Of course, Ned interprets the situation quite differently: Ruth also volunteers at the local orphanage, and Ned assumes that the "abandoned 3-year-old" she refers to is indeed, a little boy named Billy.

When the press get involved, things become even more convoluted. Ned, reporting his FDA approval, slips into the personal, and as Melanie comes home she hears the wrong end of the conversation, believing that the child her father references is going to be a biological sibling.

Highlights of the production included the performances of Judy Pratcher as neighbor Ellen Adler and director-actor Rich Behring as rival commissioner candidate Mr. Tomlinson. As Ellen, Pratcher spends her time on stage exaggerating words and using body language to her advantage. It was a thrill to watch her mastery of the part.

Additionally, the long-hinted-at appearance of stalking Mr. Tomlinson was made worth waiting for by Behring's intensity. He made a believable "crook" of a candidate, and added to the hilarity of the ending scenes.

Audiences are in for an additional treat when "Billy" finally appears, played by a real dog -- Nellie -- though the canine actress seemed to be a bit too excited to be on stage, and less focused on the task at hand.

The production features longtime actors as well as those new to the stage. Paige Bailey, as Melanie, and Heather Kneir, as Cheryl, in their first River City Players production, do a fine job, producing quite a few laughs, especially with their slogans for Mr. Bloom's products.

The only critique of this funny and well-directed production was the occasional appearance of scripts on stage, and slightly inconsistent acting by Wilhite as Ned, though he kept the audience consistently entertained with his bumbling inventor routine.

The program notes that "no dogs (real ones that is) were harmed in the producing and presentation of this play," hinting at one of the funniest moments -- featuring a bizarre concoction of ketchup, chopped chicken feathers and poultry seasoning.

"Charming Billy" is indeed a charming piece of playacting put together by the River City Players. Tickets can be reserved by calling Port Cape Girardeau at 573-334-0954.

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