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Playgoers of Lethbridge’s Send me No Flowers provides a laugh-a-minute

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Let the laughter begin. Again!
In yet another zany, wacky, comical farce brought to Lethbridge audiences by the 88-year-old Playgoers of Lethbridge Theatre Company, the play, "Send Me No Flowers," opened  Oct. 26, playing at the Sandman Inn as a dinner theatre for a four-night run.Marty Blank, Erin Mitchell and Nancy Bridal rehearse Send Me No Flowers. Photo by Richard Amery

The local version of the comedy, made famous by the hilarious 1964 Norman Jewison film starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall, substantially follows the original Broadway script written by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore, which opened in New York in 1960 for a brief run.

The play comes on the heels of two other farcical comedies produced by Playgoers, “One for the Pot,” staged last October, and “The Importance of Being Ernest” running in February. In choosing this play for Lethbridge production, it seems  director Elaine Jagielski simply won't let us stop laughing. She has a point!

The play opens with the leading character, George, experiencing chest pains. A hopeless hypochondriac, George sees his doctor for a checkup and overhears his doctor discussing the diagnosis of a terminally ill patient with an associate.

Assuming he is the one dying, George asks his friend Arnold to help him find a new husband for his wife Judy so he'll
know she won't be alone once he's gone. He locates Judy's old college beau Bert, now a California oil baron.

Meanwhile, Judy mistakes her husband's machinations for an attempt to cover up an extramarital affair and begins steps to abandon the marriage.

What follows is a laugh-a-minute parody leading to false assumptions, plot twists and complicated shift-changes as the characters attempt to sort out unexpected and, at times, bizarre, yet always comical, actions and reactions.

It is a very funny play with an equally funny cast, which includes:
* Marty Blank as George;
* Nancy Bridal as Judy;
* Josh Hammerstedt a Arnold;
* Mark McCue as Bert;
* Erin Mitchell as Miss Mason and as A girl;
* Benton Neufeld as both Dr. Morrissey and as Vito
* Richard Amery as 1st Passerby; and,
* Marcie Stork as Ms. Akins and as 2nd Passerby;

The leading man, George, aptly portrayed by Marty Blank, humorously embodies all the traits of self-doubt, self-misery and self-pity of a sympathy-seeking, hypochondriac, but, who comes across, not unwittingly,  as too funny to feel very sorry for him. Marty Blank's George is laughably vulnerable and therefore easily swayed by bad advice from his closest friend.

Judy, a delightful leading lady, is exceedingly well played by a competent actress,  Nancy Bridal, whose apt facial expressions, movements and gestures set such a perfect mood for her character that one can even see frequent glimpses of Doris Day's innocence in Nancy's portrayal. Yet Nancy, a Lethbridge drama teacher in real life, has never seen the film version of this play. She truly lives her character.

In the play, she is, indeed, an affectionate, warm and caring wife, despite a developing disgust with her husband's increasing, misguided behaviours. And judging from her obvious acting talents, one can easily see why she teaches drama to a class of fortunate students.

Mark McCue dresses, swaggers, talks and overall looks exactly like the California  oil baron he portrays so well. McCue, a perennial cast/crew member of Playgoers productions, and always a joy to watch, fits his character like a glove, not surprisingly — considering the numerous fine performances he has given in previous  roles.  

Benton Neufeld's booming, resonate voice establishes his doctor character with a strength greatly needed to pull off the humour of the role and the legitimacy of the character. Neufeld also uses his vocal boldness to bring "Vito" to life.

Josh Hammerstedt, whose lawyer character Arnold, also George's best friend, pulled off a few great drunk scenes, reminiscent of his capable performance of another drunk lawyer in last year's "One for the Pot." He showed the flexibility of portrayal of a wide range of moods and emotions required for his sometimes confused character. His role is significant to the plot and to the comedy of it all and Hammerstedt nancy Bridal rehearses. Photo by Richard Amerydelivered the goods very well, as he always does.

Pretty, sexy,  foxy, Erin Mitchell, fulfills her roles both as Miss Mason and as "A Girl," also by pounding out her lines with obvious vocal strength, while wearing colourful, even dazzling costumes. Erin seems to possess even more acting talent than the roles gave her an opportunity to portray. Yet, she turned in a credible job with the roles this script offers.

Richard Amery provided a solid act as his "passerby", looking and sounding both strong and bold, just as his character is supposed to be. He looks and performs like a bold character actor.

The overall strength of this production lies in two facts: first, that Director Jagielski has exercised obvious personal veteran theatrical experience by carefully selecting the perfect cast choices for the roles of this play. Working together with obvious warmth, the cast pulled it off with laughs to spare. Secondly, Jagielski's razor sharp eye for attention to detail and for running a tight show kept things moving, always with her strong, well experienced directorial finesse.

The performance clearly showed results of all of their combined hard, committed work.
Tickets for "Send Me No Flowers" are available weekdays through the Allied Arts Council, 318 Seventh Street South, Lethbridge; call 403/320-0555; or from the Sandman Inn on performance days.
 A version of this story appears in the Oct. 28, 2011 edition of the Lethbridge Journal

 — By Bill Axtell, Special to L.A. Beat Magazine
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