Stage Raw – “Immaculately Honed Portrayals” in “Highly Entertaining” BREATH OF SPRING


British playwright Peter Coke devised this living room farce in 1958. (The play served as the basis for the classic British film Make Mine Mink with Alec Guinness) It involves a group of heretofore respectable aging Brits who go on a crime spree — a plot that proves highly entertaining due to the painstaking attention to details and comedic timing instilled by director Bruce Gray.

The play is set in 1960. Dame Beatrice Appleby (Melinda DeKay) owns an immense flat overlooking Albert Memorial in London (amazingly well-detailed by Jeff. G. Rack). Having long outlived her usefulness to crown and country, she survives by taking in boarders: Brigadier Albert Rayne (Lary Ohlson), elocution instructor Miss Nannette Parry (Flora Plumb) and pottery repairer Elizabeth Hatfield (Jean Kauffman) with occasional visits from her friend Lady Alice Miller (Katherine Henryk).

The action starts when DeKay’s maid, Lily Thompson (Allison Blanchard) — a lady with a “shady past,” — presents her employer with a mink stole that DeKay suspects has been stolen from the next flat. Worried about Lily, she confesses her concerns to her boarders, whereupon retired army officer Rayne comes up with a complicated plan, utilizing everyone, to return the mink. The group is successful, and so enlivened by the process that they form a “syndicate” to steal furs and then return them for a reward. By Act 2, they have become so overconfident that a misstep brings the police (Joshua Olkowski, Richard Carner) to the flat. Now it is the maid who comes to the rescue.

The success of this production derives from the immaculately honed portrayals of the ensemble as well as the exquisite pacing established by Gray. The planning of each crime caper is a perfectly choreographed bit of comedic nonsense wherein Rayne marshals his troops as if he were planning the Normandy Invasion. And the final scene — a bit of chaos involving the police — has our seniors confounding the constables by hilariously feigning bouts of dementia.

DeKay and Henryk are also deliciously rapacious in their competition — which escalates during the course of the play — for the affection of Ohlson’s Brigadier Rayne. And it was a pleasant surprise to be presented a smattering of British music hall “oleo” soft shoe by Blanchard and Olkowsksi (choreographed by Kauffman), to help soften the changing of a three act play into two.