Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in the living room of the Wilkins' Long Island home in 1944 toward the end of World War II, the plot begins when Lt. Bill Seawright arrives in town on a two-day leave with hopes to finally meet and hopefully marry Ruth, the eldest daughter of Edith and Judge Harry Wilkins. However, Ruth has no clue who Seawright is, though he claims they've been corresponding for months. The family quickly learns that Miriam, the youngest Wilkins daughter, who is fired up with patriotism, has been sending Seawright letters posing as her older sister as a way to give the Lieutenant hope as he fights overseas. She's even sent him a photo of her sister and kept all of the letters he sent back, which are addressed to "Dear Ruth." The obstinate Seawright is charming, but there's one problem: Ruth is already engaged.
Krasna's script is full of humor, though it never veers into farce or slapstick, which grounds the comedic moments in realism. Under Cambrian James' confident and spirited direction, Hale Centre Theatre's cast demonstrate perfect coming timing to ensure that every single joke gets a laugh.
Tim Paul Fiscus and Laura Soldan are perfectly cast as Harry and Edith. The witty banter and knowing looks they share elicit the feeling of a real couple who have been together for years. The Judge and his wife are the grounded force of this family and the actors play off each other incredibly well, delivering two exceptional performances. Sarah Davidson and Clara Bentz exhibit a natural sisterly relationship as Ruth and Miriam, respectively. The foursome derive big laughs from the many humorous situations and comical lines this family experiences throughout the play, and show an abundance of love for each other as well. Bentz is a knockout as the precocious and overly dramatic 16-year-old. The moments she and Fiscus have together feature expertly timed repartee and are simply sublime.
Josh Hunt instills Seawright with an abundance of charm and a sheer sense of determination to win Ruth's hand. As Albert Kummer, Ruth's nerdy and jealous fiancé, Nicholas Gunnell gets big laughs with his rubbery facial expressions and body movements. Both men create characters who, while they are complete opposites of each other, are both entirely lovable. Ami Porter plays the Wilkins' maid and, while it's a small part with few lines, she turns it into a crowd-pleasing performance. Veronica Spector and Nathan Spector do well as supporting characters who factor into the action in the second act.
Brian Daily's set design features period furniture and other elements that, like Mary Atkinson's beautiful costumes, instill the production with a perfect 1940s feel. The play features scenes set during the day as well as some that take place late at night and Tim Dietlein's lighting beautifully evokes the various times of day.
Dear Ruth may be a nostalgic throwback to a much simpler time, but with a talented cast and sure-footed direction, Hale Centre Theatre's production is bright, charming, very funny, witty and incredibly delightful.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Dear Ruth runs through November 13th, 2018, at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181
Directed by Cambrian James