Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, September 13, 2001

Cast masters demanding
roles in a tale of
unwieldy emotions

"Debutante Ball" Presented by Army Community Theatre, 2 p.m. Sept. 23, Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter. Tickets are $6 and $8; call 438-4480 or 438-5230.

Review by John Berger

Vanita Rae Smith has her Army Community Theatre "Sunday@2 Matinee Readers Theatre" program off to a good start with a challenging production of "The Debutante Ball." Playwright Beth Henley's characters are odd, and none are particularly engaging, but key performances by Stefanie Anderson and Jo Pruden make this show worth seeing.

Anderson is an actress not seen often enough in local theater. She was absolutely brilliant in Manoa Valley Theatre's 1999 production of "Jake's Women." She also did great work as Truvy in Diamond Head Theatre's revival of "Steel Magnolias" earlier this year.

Anderson is outstanding in a demanding role here. Her performance is all the more remarkable considering that the cast performs seated in chairs on a bare stage, reads the script, and must create characters within those parameters. Anderson's portrayal of emotionally unstable Teddy Walker exposes a kaleidoscope of facets and fault lines in a fractured psyche.

Teddy is her mother's last and best hope. Jen Dugen Parker Turner beat a murder rap by claiming self-defense in the violent death of Teddy's father, but the dead man's family thinks she flat-out murdered him. Jen subsequently married her way into money and now intends to force her way back into "polite society" by way of Teddy's "coming out" as a local debutante. Playwright Henley makes it clear from the git-go that the immediate question is whether the dangerously unstable Teddy can keep her private demons in check long enough to get through the festivities without freaking.

The small but loyal coterie of ACT Readers Theatre regulars will likely be able to anticipate the outcome, but the talented cast makes this dark tale a fascinating experience.

And then there's Jo Pruden (Jen), who has been one of the leading ladies in local theater for years and is usually seen these days playing feisty or venomous women. Her primary role here is another variation of the venomous type. Pruden plays it with her usual skill. Jen is not a woman you'd want to claim as kin.

Pruden outdoes herself in taking on a completely different type of character as her second role, portraying a younger, hearing-impaired woman with limited communications skills. The range required in doing the two roles makes this Pruden's best "Readers Theatre" performance.

Richard Pellett and Shari Lynn play two characters apiece and provide descriptive narration. Pellett is once again the only male in the cast, and there are times when the script requires him to conduct both sides of a conversation. He is generally successful.

Lynn adds another dysfunctional character to her resume with a multifaceted portrayal of Jen's hapless older daughter.

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