Mrs. Mannerly, the title character of playwright Jeffrey Hatcher’s somewhat amusing show, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through November 17th, is a formidable woman. Her no nonsense approach to teaching the young of Steubenville, Ohio has been a rite of passage for generations. Learning how to properly speak, glide around the dance floor, and knowing the differences between the European and American place setting are just some of the competences acquired by the sessions’ end. Enter young Jeffrey, an intelligent young boy, not athletically inclined, who sets his sights on mastering the intricacies of the course as a way to prove to himself and others that he can succeed in something. Thus the stage is readied for a battle between the two protagonists.
The two-character play by Jeffrey Hatcher, taking place in the mid-1960’s, is to some extent remindful of the movie Harold and Maude as the relationship of the two main players is fleshed out and deepens. The show is full of jokes, hitting the mark about 40% of the time. There are many cultural references to the era, especially to old-time television detective series, which might leave younger audience members scratching their heads for lack of understanding. Within the humor there is also the heartache as we slowly realize Mrs. Mannerly is alone and probably an alcoholic. Fortunately, Hatcher doesn’t dwell on her misfortunes or depressing life for very long as he continually launches one-liners, wisecracks, and rib-ticklers, hoping some of them will stick. In the end, after a rather contrived final scene where Jeffrey must perform in front of a luncheon of the local chapter of the Daughter’s of the American Revolution, while at the same time protecting a dark secret from Mrs. Mannerly’s past, the two come to a mutual detente and understanding.
Raymond McAnally, who portrays Jeffrey, as well as a number of other adolescent boys and girls in the class, is impish, reserved, and determined. He also plays the grown-up playwright, who narrates the story, providing his recollections and reminiscents, both good and bad, of his experiences in the course. The actor seamlessly alternates between the adult Jeffrey and the assorted youngsters.
Dale Hodges, as Mrs. Mannerly, is an imposing, spinster-type drill sergeant. You would snap to attention if in attendance at one of her sessions. Ms. Hodges shades her character with world-weariness and resolve. She has poured just one too many cups of tea over her 36 years of manners classes.
Director Ed Stern, who has helmed the production at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, keeps the pacing brisk on the small stage and allows the actors to fully develop their characters.
Mrs. Mannerly, a mild diversion of a show, at Theaterworks through November 17th.