The well-written and expertly directed Elvis’ Toenail has premiered at Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank, CA, written by Fionnuala Kenny and directed by Sal Romeo and Joe Banno. The play takes place at a dressmaking shoppe in 1961 Dublin. A teenage woman, Rita (Lenne Klingaman), is displaced from her home due to a pregnancy that threatens the social and economic standing of her family. Rita finds work in a dressmaking shoppe owned by Mrs. Kelly (Laurie Wendorf) and managed by Christine (McKerrin Kelly). The antagonist of the Church itself is represented by Mother Francis (Marnie Crossen) and the fanatical Father Ambrose (Gary Bell), who regularly visit the shoppe for various reasons. Rita’s presence there threatens the business, and conflict ensues.
The hardworking, humble and talented dressmaker Rita is believably and sympathetically portrayed with a multifarious emotional range by Lenne Klingaman, whose unwavering commitment to the role is evident throughout the show. Marnie Crossen is flawless as Mother Francis, the frugal nun who hires Mrs. Kelly to make habits and school uniforms for the church. Gary Bell’s portrayal of Father Ambrose is convincingly insidious, and provides a necessary conflict which heightens the stakes of Rita's dilemma.
Comic relief is consistently provided by the actors playing an Elvis-obsessed duo who work at the dressmakers’; Carmel (Arielle Davidsohn) and Imelda (Christine Quigless). The presentation of two separate but extremely similar characters primarily serves the function of providing an effective entertainment device in the form of witty banter. Despite a missed opportunity to perhaps further develop the script by synthesizing the subplot of Carmel and Imelda's antics with the main plot of the play, Davidsohn and Quigless are energetic, enthusiastic and delightful in their performances, and Lancaster is well-cast as their likeable and charming friend, Christy. The tortured Rose (Francesca Ferrara) provides a window into the shame of the past and fears of the future regarding pregnancy out of wedlock that is implied as a looming potential threat, and perhaps foreshadowing, to some of the youngest characters of the play.
An additional aspect of the plot that works effectively is adeptly portrayed by Laurie Wendorf and McKerrin Kelly, who play Mrs. Kelly and Christine, respectively. McKerrin Kelly is sensitive in her portrayal of a secretive, supportive and empathetic character, and Laurie Wendorf is grounded and realistic as a business owner with a big heart who battles with an inner conflict between maintaining the financial success of her business and providing Rita, and other young women like her, with an opportunity to work.
The title refers to a prop in the subplot (a toenail clipping of Elvis’ acquired by Imelda) and perhaps represents the ability to keep something sacred that is not regulated by outside forces, just as young, unmarried women of 1960’s Dublin had to fight to keep their own children despite the powerful social and economic sway of the church. A shrine with a poster of Elvis, a radio and his toenail clipping in a jar are cleverly and humourously shrouded from the watchful eye of Father Ambrose with curtains made by the shoppe's seamstresses and bearing the Sacred Heart insignia.
This is a show that has so many subtle nuances to enjoy in the performances that it would be worth seeing again. The entire ensemble is highly skilled and the direction with their acting is excellent. Each actor is clear about their objectives, and the ensemble connects with one another in a series of seemingly spontaneous moments which, taken in their entirety, contribute to an enjoyable, meaningful, and artistically skilled production.
Executive Produced by Marc Haupert and Kurt Swanson (SST Productions) and Produced by Christian Kennedy, Sal Romeo, and Jonathan Oliver Sessler, this production is scheduled to be extended at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre (4150 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA 91505). The original world premiere played November 15th-December 14th. For tickets to future performances at Sidewalk Studio Theatre, please check back for future announcements on upcoming performances and visit http://salromeo.com/events/