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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Birds of a Feather’ lives on far-out comedy in Clintonville


Phoenix Players

Chuck Manske, clockwise from bottom left, Amy Steenbock, Kristian Blaas, Marie Newton, Brandon Byng, Mary-Beth Kuester and Zachary Hunter are among cast members for the Phoenix Players’ production of “Birds of a Feather.” (Troupe photo)


One joke is a fussbudget suddenly has trashy neighbors move in.

Another joke is she speaks to a covered lump on her living room couch, and it – he – answers back.

Another joke is she is a joke to all who know her – for her lofty ways with her prize-winning marigolds, her spying on everyone and her cutting remarks.

That’s some of “Birds of a Feather,” a comedy that Phoenix Players community theater is presenting for two more performances in 1918 Auditorium in Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School.

Featured as the oh-so, oh-so lofty Leona Crump is Mary-Beth Kuester, who takes on over-the-top comedy and along the way gets to be a bit of a fashion plate in her costuming.

Mary-Beth Kuester also offers up her collection of flamingo-related items for flashy and colorful lobby displays that add to the flavor of this production. One of the jokes in the story relates to flamingo lawn ornaments. In a way, such ornaments are “birds of a feather that stick together.” Get it? Thus, the title of the play and the flamingo connection.

Display from Mary-Beth Kuester collection. (Warren Gerds)

The story by Gary Ray Stapp, who writes community theater-style plays and lives in Kansas, bumps along in its setup.

Leona lives on a cul de sac and takes ownership of everything she surveys. Arriving in her home that is decorated with reproductions of famous paintings are a dim neighbor who is a lousy cook (Kristian Blaas), her handyman and always-hungry husband ( Zeke Fietsch), a real estate agent with a joke of a name, Rose Bush (Amy Steenbock) and the postman who Leona regularly insults (Brandon Byng, who is director). Always present is the lump (Chuck Manske) in a one-of-a-kind offbeat situation.

Rose Bush is selling a house in Leona’s view. Leona worries who might move in – drug dealers or hippies from California. Rose Bush tells Leona that a client couple wants to buy HER house instead. What happens leads up the Big Joke, the play’s reason to be:

Suddenly traipsing in and creating havoc is a hillbilly family played by Marie Newton, Jeanine Supanich, Zachary Hunter and To Be Announced (it’s a surprise). Marie Newton takes special glee in her especially vivid send-up of, pardon me, a frisky hick.

Brandon Byng has his cast playing with the for-the-fun-of-it flavor of the script. Everything builds to Leona getting deeper and deeper into trouble with the cops/Officer Doonan (Thayer Fietsch). The jokes become at Leona’s expense… except the last one.


Creative: Playwright – Gary Ray Stapp; director – Brandon Byng; producer – Mary-Beth Kuester; light technicians – Beau Tuddenham, Shea-Lyn Tuddenham; set construction – Ben Huber, Zeke Fietsch; posters, programs, website, Facebook – Brandon Byng; rehearsal prompter


Leona Crump – Mary-Beth Kuester

Judy Harrison – Kristian Blaas

Gafina Hamberfferschmidt – Marie Newton

Rose Bush – Amy Steenbock

Ava/Mawtilda Feeshenshelbafield – Jeanine Supanich

Albert – Chuck Manske

Paul Harrison – Zeke Fietsch

George – Brandon Byng

Turner – Zachary Hunter

Officer Frank Doonan – Thayer Fietsch

Bambi – To Be Announced

Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. Feb. 8; 2 p.m. Feb. 9

Info: phoenixplayerswi.com


NEXT: “Sister Act” musical, early June.

VENUE: The 1918 Auditorium is part of the Rexford-Longfellow Elementary School building at 10 Eighth St. in Clintonville. Entered by way of various sets of staircases, the auditorium is like a large, cream-colored box with some notable architectural features. Capitals on columns, being blue and geometric with a hybrid white oval in the middle, seem to defy the classical Roman forms. The capitals may be one of a kind. The auditorium contains 444 seats, which are of aqua fabric seating areas, with wood arms and plastic backs. The proscenium stage includes dark green curtains, with a beveled white structure at the top surrounding a fringe curtain with “C” at the center (probably for Clintonville). Light fixtures hanging from the ceiling appear to be original; in each, eight lightbulbs in a botanical design form a circle surrounding a larger light fixture. For “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” the stage that is raised about three feet above the seating floor includes extensions on the front, bringing the action closer to the audience. In May 2018, the school was added to the State Register of Historic Places by the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Mary-Beth Kuester of Clintonville and her sister, Kay Doran of Antigo, were instrumental in the process. The architectural firm of Parkinson and Dockendorff designed the oldest part of the building in Collegiate Gothic style often present in educational buildings in the 1910s through 1930s.

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