Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Oconto troupe mines laughs in original comedy

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OCONTO, Wis. (WFRV) – Grandma is rolled in her wheelchair into the dining room for a family gathering. At first, she is preoccupied with her book, “Kama Sutra,” which she holds in all manner of ways. This little bit is an early sign that “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” is a spicy play like no other. Often, it is a hoot as playwright Kathy Campshure plays with situations played out all across the land on one of those “special” days when you never quite know what will happen because of one thing: Family.

The family in this play includes a brat child (Cindy), an 82-year-old (Helen) who shoots from the lip and wants to be fed and have a real drink with hard liquor, a perpetually late couple (Tony and Candy), a college student/daughter (Lisa) who has brought her new boyfriend (Rog) who is not so new of age and sets off alarm bells for the parental unit/hosts (George and Jane). The recipe for the turkey is filed under “D” – disaster.

Now, other things are happening as we step back and look:

One community theater troupe in this region has a playwright: Machickanee Players with Kathy Campshure. Writing a play and getting it performed are two different things. Campshure is up to having had seven of her plays produced by the Machickanee Players. Seven is a feat. Something is happening in Oconto. Something is working.

The latest Campshure play is “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane,” a lively comedy that has three more performances through Sunday, May 10, at the troupe’s Park Avenue Playhouse. Info: www.machickaneeplayers.org.

The play is quite likable. It’s loaded with laughs. Toward the end, the tone shifts for an elaborate setup for the resolution, but that works, too, in its fashion.

***

Creative: Playwright, director, set construction – Kathy Campshure; lights and sound – Alex Reed; make-up/hair – Shelly Macco.

Cast: George – Chris Weis; Jane – Denise Kallies; Lisa – Breanna Gusick; Rog – Russell Johnson; Helen – Tammie McCarthy; Tony – Dean Reed; Candy – Rebecca Benser; Cindy – Emmy Reed.

***

Woven into “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” are nuggets of observations and lessons from life. Campshure isn’t merely playing for laughs.

The basics: George and Jane, married 27 years, have moved into a new house. Arriving for Thanksgiving dinner are a son and daughter-in-law and their 11-year-old “princess” daughter, along with a younger daughter who unexpectedly has brought a tag-along boyfriend and expectedly has brought Grandma.

This, to Jane, is reason to bring out the good china. The good china is news to George. He doesn’t know such a thing exists. Jane jogs his memory. They unwrapped it at her mother’s house. The subtle joke: That was 27 years ago, following their wedding.

The cast, directed by Campshure, frolics with the characters the play hands them. Tammie McCarthy is nimblest, plus she plays the most out-there character, Helen.

The beauty of the production is the sharing. A group of people share the opportunity to get together to create a family made up by somebody local and then share what they have with people who have come to see a show that nobody else in the world has seen. The responses to lines and situations are genuine. In a way, this is the community-ist of community theater.  

NEXT SEASON: “Dearly Beloved” by Jones Hope Wooten, Oct. 16-25; “With This Ring” by Kathy Campshure, Feb. 5-14; twin bill of “Regrets Only” by L. Don Schwartz and “Double Engagement” by Kathy Campshure, May 13-22.

THE VENUE: Park Avenue Playhouse is a converted early 20th century church at 530 Park Ave. in Oconto. The interior includes a raised stage, a wooden floor seating area with tables for eight and a capacity (for this show) of around 80. On the edges of the hall are a control room, box office, coat room, concessions window and doorway to rest rooms. The Roman-arch windows that perhaps once held stained glass, are decoratively covered.  

Because I review a broad range of performances, professional and amateur, and because of the tremendous range of production budgets, I have decided to forego putting star ratings on performances. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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