Down to earth

From left, Ben Magerkurth, Josh Wielenga and Catherine Przybyla in Richmond Hill Players' "Down to Earth."

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The saving grace of Richmond Hill Players' "Down to Earth" comes in the form of Josh Wielenga.

Playing Pilone, a one-winged apprentice angel sent with compatriots played by A.J. Evans and Greg Bouljon, Wielenga becomes a likeable goof who takes advantage of his character's ability to move objects and not be seen.

His performance is fresh and lively, and carries much of the comedy of the Richmond Hill performance.

The rest of the cast, which does include some admirable performances, is saddled with Bettye Knapp's script from the early 1950s that's overly wordy and overpopulated.

"Down to Earth" attempts to be a little bit of "It's a Wonderful Life," a little "You Can't Take It With You" and a little "Topper," but with too many subplots becomes a clumsy, nearly 2½-hour behemoth.

The trio of angels we see in the opening prologue have been dispensed to pick up Augusta Applegate (Susan Philhower) and her neighbor, Herman Howell (Stan Weimer). She is too stubborn to be taken — we know this because their willingness is measured by "cosmic counters," which look like oversized cellphones — and he is more than ready to go.

With a Katharine Hepburn quiver to her voice and a doddering gallop in her walk, Philhower is unflustered as the cranky old-maid "Gus." Weimer, whose comic timing and delivery is among the best of local actors in the area, largely plays the sad sack as the whining Herman.

If that — counting in Dana Skiles in a warm performance as Augusta's maid — was the basis of "Down to Earth," it would be an enjoyable show.

But we have subplots, where Gus's relatives (Molly McLaughlin and Mollie Schmelzer) try to get in good with the old woman for a share of the inheritance, and each with a daughter (played by Catherine Przybyla and Elizabeth Buzard, respectively) who form two-thirds of a love triangle with a would-be camera shop owner played by Ben Magerkurth, who has a melodious voice but needs a more relaxed delivery.

Director Joe DePauw, who usually brings out the best in the material at Richmond Hill, is given too Herculean of a task here. Staging this show seems more of a way to get as many actors involved as possible, not giving the audience an entertaining production.

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