Danville Express

Living - October 19, 2007

Exploring the lust for fame

Vicious side of show business shown through musical comedy

by Natalie O'Neill

In theater, the death of a child is typically the recipe for an on-stage tragedy. But put away your tissue - Danville Role Players Ensemble Theatre's production of "Ruthless!" isn't that kind of a play.

Unless, of course, your eyes are watering from laughter.

When 8-year-old actress Tina Denmark, played by Kathryn A. Foley, says, "I'll do anything to play this part," she means ANYTHING. And that includes murdering her classmate with - of all the delightfully ludicrous weapons - a jump rope.

The musical parody uses dark humor to highlight the vicious, cut-throat nature of show business, while simultaneously satirizing dramatic novels like "The Bad Seed" and "All about Eve."

Tina, a manipulative third-grade entertainer, whose lust for fame knows no bounds, is the hook upon which author Joel Paley hangs this absurdist play.

After Louise, a talent-less friend of Tina, beats her out of the star role as "Pippi" in the school play, Tina's evil streak starts to flare up. And this prompts the audience to both adore and abhor the singing, dancing psychopath.

"You took a human life. Do you know what that means?" her mother pleads.

"Yeah, it means I'm playing Pippi!" says Tina, who possesses a Children-of-the-Corn wickedness and a Shirley Temple charm.

Over-the-top foreshadowing gets a laugh from the audience, too, when the eyes of Tina's framed living-room portrait begin to light up with a red, devilish glow - as if to say, "I'm dangerous."

A flamboyant agent, played by an in-drag John Blytt, along with Tina's pushover mother, played by Jessica Magers-Rankin, bring character eccentricities to the forefront, adding rich complexities to the plot. And a cameo from Danville Mayor Mike Shimansky is the cherry on top.

The cast of surreal characters and colorful comic book costume designs help the audience realize the characters have been placed in intentionally exaggerated situations - in order to make a statement about the industry.

When it comes to spoofing show biz, no actor, director, or reviewer is safe from falling victim to the candid satire of "Ruthless."

But much like painting a portrait of a painter or writing a book about a writer, the show may be best suited for a specific audience member: the theater-goer who already knows and loves theater.

Take the two women sitting on either side of this reviewer, for instance. These ladies were having polar opposite reactions to the show, notably when the theater-specific jokes arose. The woman to my right was literally gasping for air from so much laughter, while the woman to my left refused to crack even half a smile.

Overall, though, the performance carried enough of a classic performance appeal to be, at the very least, appreciated by a general audience. You've got tap-dancing, puns, songs, quick wit. And, of course, the lure of murder.

Also appearing in the production are Bevin Bell-Hall as Louise, Shari Oret as Lita, and Shannon Wicker-Mitchell as Ms. Thorne.

Spoofing show biz


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