Monmouth Players’ ‘Mama’ a delight

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MONMOUTH — “I Remember Mama” is a sure-fire, feel-good family play and the current production by Monmouth Community Players (MCP) at Cumston Hall is excellent.

The play, which was a beloved 1948 movie, is a classic of American theatre, and director Christine Heckman has assembled and guided a talented cast.

Colleen Mahan gives the audience a very memorable performance as Mama. She and Papa, played by Dan Salisbury, are a strong team at the head of the Norwegian family struggling to make a life in San Francisco in 1910.

Mahan holds a steady hand at the helm of the family, but there’s also some good comedy in her scene at the hospital when she defies rules and sneaks onto a ward to see her daughter.

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This is Salisbury’s first appearance on the stage with MCP. His restrained characterization of Papa is very pleasing.

Richard Messana is a stand-out of the play with his booming, blustery characterization of Uncle Chris. It’s a role that requires a full range of dramatic skill from bombastic outbursts to important tender moments that reveal unexpected qualities.

Messana, who is pastor of the North Livermore Baptist Church, has appeared in theatre productions throughout the state, and he has played the lead role of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” five times.

Katrin, the eldest daughter of the Hanson family and an aspiring writer, is portrayed very well by Jocelyn Curtis, and it’s her memories of the family that propel the plot. Her coming-of-age moves from self-centeredness into an awakening to the values of family.

Dagmar, Nels and Christine are the other children of the family.

As Dagmar, 12-year-old Anna Bilodeau performs very well with the added task of holding a cat through several scenes. Kimberlee Lewis appears as Dagmar in some shows.

Matt Buganza as Nels and Casey Griffin as Christine handle their parts with skill.

Raymond Fletcher also delivers a fine performance as Mr. Hyde, the flamboyant boarder from England who enthralls the Hanson clan with his evening readings from the classics of literature. He has a solid theatrical background and has recently come to Monmouth after 25 years in the United Kingdom.

The role of Arne also has double casting. On opening night, Chris Dumont, a 10-year-old student at Lewiston’s Farwell School, played the part of Arne. He performs excellently in a delightful scene with Uncle Chris at the hospital where Arne has undergone knee surgery and the big, boisterous uncle teaches the boy a few mild swear words to ease the pain.

Logan Lattin plays Arne in other presentations of the MCP production.

The aunts are played by Emily Trefethen as Trina, Buffy Dumont as Sigrid and Molly F. McGill as Jenny. Dumont and McGill put some fine comedic touches to their characters, and Trefethen’s Trina is a nice match with the timid Mr. Thorkelson, played by Gregor Smith.

Lisa Patton has a small, but effective role as The Woman.

Christine Heckman, whose direction of this production is her first for MCP, is retired faculty advisor of MAD (Monmouth Academy Drama) Players.

Although “I Remember Mama” might be seen as a string of individual episodes, Heckman ably unifies them so that each event is essential to the development of this family’s strength through adversity.

Heckman recalled that she presented “I Remember Mama” as a student show. She said Buffy Dumont, an aunt in this MCP production, was one of the actors then.

A team of costumers led by Ann Fairchild came up with outstanding period clothing for all the characters.

The set is simple, but authentic and pleasing. A neat and comfortable dining room is the central setting of the play. The ornate box seats beside the stage of Cumston Hall’s unique miniature opera house design are used creatively in several scenes.

Remaining performances of “I Remember Mama” will be at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 1, and Friday, April 2. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee April 3, which is a Saturday matinee before Easter Sunday.

The shows are at historic Cumston Hall, 796 Main St. in Monmouth.

Tickets may be ordered by calling 933-2229.

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