Meadow Brook Theatre fans who enjoyed the 2012 production of Londos D’Arrigo’s comedy “Spreading It Around” have something to cheer about. The Canadian playwright enjoyed working with MBT and its Artistic Director Travis W. Walter, and gave him first rights when the newest script was ready for production.
This latest laugh-fest, “Harris Cashes Out!”, made it’s world-premiere Saturday evening, and the audience howled at the fast-paced banter, most of it courtesy of the central character, Harris Wellborn. Created by veteran actor Paul Hopper, Wellborn is a curmudgeonly senior citizen who remembers better days as a writer of novelty songs… and as the sole author of a musical that lasted one night on off-Broadway.
That dream is 40 years in the past when the show opens. Now a widower, Harris Wellborn is barely getting by, surviving on the charity of his overbearing sister (Milica Govich) and living in a run-down apartment. That’s when young space-cadet Kim, the wacky neighbor who has been asked to check in on Harris, enters his life. He tries to get rid of her, but finds it’s like pushing Jel-O. And when she brings along her conniving boyfriend Jason (Lucas Wells), it looks like things will go from bad to worse. Jason hits on a perfect plan to cash in on Harris' near-fame – but will Harris survive the gambit? Or is it curtains for the old theatre tune-smith? Tune in to Act 2, when all is revealed.
This production, directed by Walter, is a fun culture clash. Wellborn is obsessed with a theatre scene that was thriving 20 years before the sincere but loopy Kim was even born. She has no idea “what” a Cole Porter is. And Harris is befuddled by the text-speak that is de rigueur with the young couple. D’Arrigo himself was a comedy writer for the likes of Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin and Joan Rivers – so you can be sure that Harris Wellborn’s disparaging banter is inspired by the best standup material.
“Two years ago we produced ‘Spreading It Around’ and audiences absolutely loved it,” according to Travis Walter. “When we were given the opportunity to do the very first production of Mr. D’Arrigo’s new comedy, we jumped at the chance. Everyone at the theatre—artists, staff and audiences—are excited to think that we’re doing it first!”
This production is up to Meadow Brook’s usual high standards. The set design by Brian Kessler has all the detailed touches we have come to expect – complete with clotheslines running between the apartment buildings and a cramped kitchen peered through an upstage exit. Terry W. Carpenter is the stage manager, costumes are by Liz Goodall, lighting is by Reid G. Johnson and sound is by Mike Duncan. (As an extra bonus, all the incidental music is a clever party track of old Broadway standards – we’d love to have their play list.)
‘Harris Cashes Out’ runs through February 2, 2014, with performances on Wednesday through Sunday. Curtain times vary, so check the theatre’s calendar. Tickets range from $25 to $40 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at Ticketmaster. Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. For additional information, please visit the theatre website.