On a hill behind a gun factory sits a little theater, in what was once a carriage house and stables. On the walls inside are posters and pictures and more posters, compounding the impression of stepping back in time. There’s a little lobby and a tiny kitchen, a fellowship hall of sorts that makes Ilion Little Theatre feel like a church. The miniature auditorium packs about eighty unbelievably comfortable seats right in front of a curtain more grand than it has any right to be. Intimate only begins to describe the setting. The group started performing in homes 91 years ago and The Stables maintains that feeling. It’s homey. A church of theater. A perfect place to watch a show.
Ilion Little’s latest offering is The Psychic, by Sam Bobrick. Bobrick began writing for Captain Kangaroo and has worked on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart and many other programs from the 1950s through the 1990s. The Psychic premiered in 2010 at Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre, a place known for frothy comedies by veteran writers. I knew nothing about it when I sat down, and within minutes I wore a silly grin that persisted for the entire show. I’m not going to spoil anything by rehashing the characters or the plot – the pleasures of the piece are best experienced as (gentle) surprises.
Stephen Wagner directed with a light touch, perfectly suited to the play’s sitcom heritage. The actors have a blast digging in to their comic archetypes; all have moments to shine, particularly their first entrances. Andy Vogel does interesting things with a part that was written as a straight man. He dials back the character’s intelligence to dim bulb level, then allows a power surge once in a while: he busts out a joyful, stupid grin when he thinks things are going his way. Remember Bewitched (which Bobrick also wrote for), how she used to wiggle her nose? Vogel has a recurring bit like that, where he wiggles his eyes on a perfectly timed sound cue – in your mind the camera zooms in, cue the laugh track. It’s funnier each time.
Kassandra Harris initially comes across a bit stiff, but the point becomes clear: she acts like a certain kind of unimaginative writer might write her, which pays off later. Those moments are well realized by Harris and Wagner. Dave Dellecese is pure comedy joy as a certain type of sleazeball (his mustache and costume are perfect.) Art Wilks’ costume is even better, and his entrance is fabulous. Almost all of his lines got a laugh – Wilks is a veteran character actor who makes it look effortless. Carrie Bostick finds a nice balance in her part; every review of the Falcon production cited this character as over-acted, which Bostick avoids while still finding the funny. Norm Turner rounds out the cast with another great entrance, aided by an audience-favorite sound cue. Like Harris, what at first seems less becomes more as the character and the situation build steam. The individual scenes where the characters are introduced play like miniature comic gems, so strong and funny on their own that you worry there won’t be anywhere left to go in the second act. (Not to worry – there’s only a slight sitcom sag and all ends well.)
Rick DeJohn’s sound design was quite good – for the moments already mentioned and several more. The selection of effects and their execution were ideal, especially during one extended bit where the background music seemed, incredibly, to be timed with individual beats in the actor’s delivery. DeJohn’s lights were bright and uninteresting, like a television sitcom, which might have been the point.
The Psychic will be performed again at 2:00 this afternoon, as well as next weekend, March 27-29. It’s a brisk, comfortable two hours you’ll be happy to spend.