A Diamond in the Rough: “Mary, Mary”
by Jean Kerr, staged at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre
in the Hudson House Grand Hotel, Hudson, WI
Review by independent reviewer Michael H. Kaffrey June 22, 2012

“Mary, Mary,” by Jean Kerr, returns to its rightful place on the stage at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, housed in the beautiful Hudson House Grand Hotel in Hudson, WI.

Many may remember Richard L. Breen’s 1963 film adaptation of Kerr’s play, directed by Mervyn Leroy, starring Debbie Reynolds as Mary, Barry Nelson as Bob, and Diane McBain as Tiffany. The film, as director James Zimmerman expounds in his director’s notes, “received mediocre reviews” while the staged version of the play ran for over three years, accumulating 1,572 performances. Zimmerman goes on to say that one of the reasons for the success of the play over the movie was a direct result of being able to “observe the characters interacting” and being free to “watch the character speaking or the character reacting,” as “much of the interest in the script happens in those reactions” as opposed to the limited focus of the camera shot chosen in the movie. This philosophy is overwhelmingly confirmed in St. Croix Off Broadway’s staging of Kerr’s classic.

The story, as the name aptly suggests, is centered around the somewhat cynical, smart-aleck and at times near deviant Mary, played by Melanie Nelson, and her frustratingly practical husband Bob, played by Perry Thrun. The “couple,” near divorce following a nine-month separation, seemingly due to Mary’s unrelenting personality, find themselves united once again in Bob’s apartment having been summoned by mutual friend and lawyer Oscar Nelson, played by David Frank. The three have come together to address and resolve some financial records and past tax returns in hopes of avoiding an IRS audit. However, due to an unexpected snowstorm, Mary has no choice but to spend the night.

It’s not until former Hollywood heartthrob and neighbor Dirk Winston, played by John Haynes, arrives that the play’s conflict and complexity truly takes flight. Dirk deftly demonstrates his understanding of Mary, showering her with adoration and affection and ultimately forcing her to face the truth. Meanwhile, Bob, on the verge of marrying a well-to-do, beautiful young woman named Tiffany Richards, played by Kelsey Hansen, comes to the realization just in time that he does, in fact, still need and love his Mary.

Immediately upon entering the theatre, the audience is placed in the perfect mind-set. The set, also designed by Director James Zimmerman and constructed flawlessly by long-time technical director and master carpenter, Wayne Peterson, is the idyllic representation of a1960’s apartment. Sitting at the table and gazing upon the dimly lit stage, it is as though we are sitting right there in the apartment just waiting for someone to come home and the action to begin.

Audiences will recognize four of the five actors in the play as returning members to the St. Croix Off Broadway stage. After a four-year hiatus from acting, Melanie Nelson makes a triumphant return to the St. Croix Off Broadway stage and doesn’t miss a beat in her portrayal of Mary. Her every word, movement, and thought entirely embodies the character and complexity of Mary. Her counter-part, Perry Thrun, is just as delightful. Thrun, best described as a modern-day Don Knotts meets Charlie Brown, provides the perfect balance to Mary and completes this “odd couple” wonderfully.

Veteran actor John Haynes makes his debut at the dinner theatre and is a dominant force and a welcome addition to the cast. His power and command of both his voice and character are a treat to watch from his very first entrance.

Kelsey Hansen, most recently having played Bernice in “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant,” returns in fine form having mastered the little rich girl, and future Mrs. McKellaway, Tiffany Richards. Though it comes as no surprise that true love will prevail in the reuniting of Mary and Bob, you can’t help but root for Hansen’s Richards as it is incredibly difficult to take your eyes off her whenever she is on stage.

David Frank, who was also in St. Croix Off Broadway's spring production, “Righteous! The Story of the Righteous Brothers,” rounds out the five-person cast. Frank, an adept character actor, finds himself having to tackle only a single character for the first time in several productions. Though likely not as interesting for the man of many faces, David excels as the dry-witted lawyer and friend to the couple, Oscar Nelson.

Though Kerr’s play is somewhat dated, it does manage to play extremely well. Director James Zimmerman notes that “good writing is timeless in its entertainment value.” The audience the night we attended, predominantly comprised of the 50+ crowd, seemed to agree and to thoroughly enjoy this look into the past. That said, some of the 60’s references were lost entirely on those of us in our 30’s and 40’s. Still, Zimmerman’s perspective seems to ring true. Though the world has changed immensely in the past fifty years, some things – taxes, marriage/divorce, and love to name a few – will remain exactly the same. And for that reason alone, Kerr’s script and the precise execution by the cast as a whole prove that some things can stand the test of time.

On the food front, I was extremely pleased here as well. I had the good fortune of being able to sample three of the five entrees offered, having attended with two close friends, each of us ordering something different. The oriental vegetable stir fry, the fresh salmon, and the steak were all phenomenal. A chicken breast and pork cutlet selection round out the other two options. Having frequented the theatre before, it was quite a surprise to see just how much the food has improved. Though it has always been good, the restaurant side of the theatre has definitely taken things to the next level in the past year and a half and the food can truly be classified as amazing. There is no other dinner theatre in the country that can match the quality of the food served here. Combine the great food and great performance together, and it definitely makes for one spectacular evening.

“Mary, Mary,” at St. Croix Off Broadway Dinner Theatre located at the Hudson House Grand Hotel in Hudson, WI, runs Friday and Saturday evenings through August 3 with a noon lunch matinee only on August 4. A $52 price tag includes dinner; coffee, pop, tea, or milk; show; tip; and tax (matinee is $39 with a set menu), and will send you home smiling. Get your tickets by calling 715-386-2394 ext. 333 or order them online at stcroixoffbroadway.com. Also like them on Facebook at facebook.com/SCOBDT for much more insight and information.

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