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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Belles’ rings bells online as a repurposed comedy in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Play-by-Play Theatre

Sarah Doyle, clockwise from upper left, Alicia Skrivanie, Carolyn Silverberg, Haley Ebinal, Molly Maher Lucareli and Rachel Ziolkowski are the cast of Play-by-Play Theatre’s “Belles.” (Play-by-Play Theatre)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Belles, the word = Proper young women.

“Belles,” the play = The story of six sisters born in Memphis who are down the road in life, now connected by telephone.

The professional Play-by-Play Theatre is offering the comedy/drama (mostly comedy) online this weekend. Director Mary Ehlinger cranks up her excellent cast to let ’er rip – jump into characters as quirky women with individual tales to tell.

“Belles” was first performed in 1988, when “ZOOM” was noise a racecar made. Little could playwright Mark Dunn realize his play would work better in 2021, when ZOOM is a way of connecting anyplace with the appropriate technology.

In 1988, six actors perhaps set up in different spots on a stage and spoke into rotary-dial telephones. Stage lighting probably shifted as they spoke. There was a distance from the audience to the actors.

In 2021, the separation is by two feet, maximum, even though the actors are performing in six locations – most likely their homes – that are miles apart. This ZOOM in this situation makes noise, all right, that of reincarnation.

The belles of “Belles” are funny, goofy, foolish, smart, dumb, calculating, earthy, frustrated, knowing, lively and kind of/sort of tied to a mother who only is spoken of.

Peggy cares for the mother in Memphis, and the other sisters live elsewhere – one as far away from the mother as possible.

The mother is mishap prone.

The play starts when Peggy phones her sisters. “It’s about Mama,” she informs.

“Peggy can make a hangnail sound urgent,” one sister says.

The latest crisis is about “bad tuna.” The mother had to be taken to the hospital, but she’s all right now.

Mama’s daughters? Are they all right? That’s another matter.

Audrey (Carolyn Silverberg) is a ventriloquist and fixated on her career with Huckle, a wooden persona created by her husband.

Peggy (Sarah Doyle) has taken care of Mama since the early death of her husband, who left many pages empty in their photograph album.

Aneece (Alicia Skrivanie) is a hardcore career woman who chose the job opening that best suited her, the one farthest away from Mama – her “instrument of death.”

Paige (Haley Ebinal) is searching for the perfect man – over and over and over – and really likes the current one… almost.

Sherry (Molly Maher Lucareli), who this month goes by “Dust,” has run out of fingers and toes to count the men in her life, gathered in “acts of humiliating desperation,” she says.

Roseanne (Rachel Ziolkowski) is the wife of a minister who regularly leaves her to go hunting, only this week… Ah-ha, the impetus for turmoil with a purpose among the sisters.

“Belles” sometimes has a sitcom feel. Jokes, one-liners and crazy situations tumble.

One wry bit, this sequence in a telephone call out: “Suicide Prevention? Yes, I’ll hold.” I like that dark humor. The scene goes on in a blend of comedy and tragedy.

For drollery supreme, there’s Peggy at 3 a.m. on the receiving end of an obscene phone call and speaking with the demeanor of a pizza parlor chef taking an order for the works.

Sherry/“Dust” and Paige get much attention as unattached women trying to get attached, with propriety optional. Paige makes a phone call to a woman to find out more about her (Paige’s) current flame, Mike, “your ex.” There’s not a vat huge enough to hold that amount of brass. Sherry/“Dust” waxes philosophical with the astounding thought of “giving in to temptation was not a habit you wanted to break.”

The players are up for these characters – so much to work with, so crazy-quilt in personalities, yet basic in ways. Mary Ehlinger gives the pliable players their head while heading them into subtle and sweet directions, such as adapting a soft Southern accent. She, however, does not get credit for only-on-ZOOM-from-home scenes in which Alicia Skrivanie’s cat drifts – on cat-whim – into the action.

This and that:

+ Points to whomever for finding or realizing “Belles” could be repurposed and improved. The COVID-19 pandemic is agonizing, but this is another example of something creative that has come out of it.

+ Play time in 1988 was a step or two slower than today – a line or two longer in a scene than today.

+ Recording from home or home-like settings adds a feel of reality.

+ “Belles” is an entertainment, first, with messages/statements woven into its fabric.

***

Creative: Playwright: Mark Dunn; director – Mary Ehlinger; stage director – Elizabeth Jolly; editor – Carolyn Silverberg

Cast:

Peggy – Sarah Doyle

Paige – Haley Ebinal

Sherry “Dust” – Molly Maher Lucareli

Audrey – Carolyn Silverberg

Aneece – Alicia Skrivanie

Roseanne – Rachel Ziolkowski

Running time: One hour, 40 minutes

Remaining pay-to-view access: 7 p.m. April 15-16 and 2 and 7 p.m. April 17

Info: playbyplaytheatre.org

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