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Open: 04/24/09- Close: 05/24/09 The 103rd annual performance of Ruddigore,
or The Witch's Curse

Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Rob Staeger
LAB Photography ©2017   Back row: Kristopher Monroe, Jason Wynn, David Tillistrand, Michael McGregor Mahoney, Adam Yankowy, Natalie Ellis Seated middle row: Judith Jarosz, Greg Horton, Cristiane Young Front row: Amy Mahoney, Matilda, Sierra Rein

Forget Robert Gatling. The machine gun was invented by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. At the very least, it could have been inspired by their rapid-fire dialogue and clever, darting lyrics. And all their playfulness is put on loving display by Theatre Ten Ten’s performance of their operetta Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse. Or rather, Theater Ten Ten’s production of The 103rd Annual Production of Ruddigore, or The Witches Curse.

Perhaps I should explain.

The company has staged Ruddigore, in an adaptation by director David Fuller, as the latest production of the show performed annually by the staff and patients of a mental hospital in Ruddy Gore, Maine. Prior to the opening number, we meet the cast, including the chief of medicine, a few nurses, and some outpatients and current residents. The hospital’s founder, we’re told, went to school with Gilbert, who named a character in the play after him. It’s a clever conceit, as it adds a fun wrinkle and allows innovation in the staging, such as when Mad Margaret (Judith Jarosz) is rolled in on a gurney.

Peel away that layer, and there is the plot of Ruddigore itself. The fishing village of Rederring used to have enough weddings to keep two professional bridesmaids employed, but when Rose, the most eligible bachelorette (Natalie Charlé Ellis) is too critical of her suitors, but too worried about being unladylike to speak up about the one she likes – and he, Robin Oakapple (Greg Horton), is too darn shy to express his feelings for her, it creates a blockage in the marriages of the town. Enter Robin’s foster brother Richard (Kristopher Monroe), a sailor who promises to woo Rose for Robin, but winds up wooing her for himself.

That doesn’t last long either, as Rose soon changes her mind again, and the couples shift again and again (in a very funny gag, it’s clear that the bridesmaids don’t care who get smarried, as long as someone does), until Robin’s secret is revealed: He is actually Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, who faked his death to escape the family curse that would plague him should he assume his rightful title as Baronet: He must commit a crime a day, or suffer unspeakable agonies at the hands of his ghostly ancestors. The plot is as twisty and delicious as a funnel cake, but what matters is the music, and the performances.

And to a one, the cast does an excellent job. The singing is phenomenal, executed with precision, humor and heart. (Musical direction and accompaniment is by the talented Jason Wynn.) The characterizations are lively and fun, and only rarely are there glimpses of the hospital personas beneath the Ruddigore characters: just enough to be funny, but not enough to distract.

One exception to this is Sierra Rein’s performance as Ruth, one of the professional bridesmaids. Ruth (also the name of the patient she plays) keeps her puppet Matilda with her at all times, singing and communicating through it exclusively. It’s so completely part of her that there is a moment toward the end of the play when you realize how artificial that unity is. The moment has the effect of watching a magic trick performed, with awe and heartwarming wonder. (It’s not the only puppet moment in the play; many of the ghostly spirits who haunt the Baronet are represented by puppets, creating an inhuman effect as they bob and float and threaten.)

As fine as the cast is, the two leads, Ellis and Horton, have certainly brought their A game. As Rose, Ellis brings humor and personality to every line reading, particularly her music. And Horton’s Robin/Ruthven is such a mensch, so obviously uncomfortable with being a villain, that he’s a joy to watch. The two have an early duet, full of barely-concealed yearning, that’s one of the play’s sweetest moments.

Gilbert and Sullivan can be intimidating, with their rat-a-tat lyrics that race by, sometimes more quickly than they can be processed. But Theater Ten Ten’s production of Ruddigore is fun and accessible to G&S newcomers (like myself, for the most part). And as for the lyrics, the playwrights have some thoughts on that. In what must be a jab of self awareness, they wrote:

This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter
Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!

…setting it to the fastest music they could.

It’s advice worth heeding – enjoy what you hear in Ruddigore, and don’t fret the details of what you’ll inevitably miss. Theater Ten Ten’s production, light and charming as it is, makes it easy to enjoy quite a bit.

 


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Venue:
Theater Ten Ten : 1010 Park Ave.