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March 20, 2007 > Thumbs A play review

Thumbs A play review

By Steve Warga

Guilty already of dozens of crimes committed onstage over the last 11 seasons, Broadway West Theatre (BWT) has succumbed once more to the allure of murder and mayhem. In the West Coast premier of award-winning playwright and novelist Rupert Holmes' script, Thumbs, crimes are contemplated, committed, investigated, solved and punished. Or are they? Well, saying anything more would rob audiences of maximum enjoyment of this cleverly-plotted production. There are enough crimes afoot as it is, so we'll leave it be for now.

According to veteran director Troy Johnson's notes in the program, Holmes visited an East Coast community theatre several years ago to watch a production of his play, Accomplice (which Johnson directed last season at BWT). While visiting with cast and crew afterward - several cocktails afterward - Holmes casually committed himself to the task of writing a play just for cozy, community theatre stages. The final product is Thumbs, which opened at BWT Friday, March 16, and will run through April 14.

Holmes took the unusual step of scripting two female leads in a thriller genre featuring a serial killer who hacks off the victims' thumbs. In fact, the male characters spend nearly all their time as mere foils to Marta Dunhill, played by Wanda Reimer, and Sheriff Jane Morton, played by Leslie Newport. Both ladies are newcomers to BWT and both shine on stage. The script has patrons on the edge of their seats a time or two, but there are also plenty of lean-back-laughing moments as well.

In her BWT debut, Reimer gives her all, literally, as TV star Dunhill come to a remote cabin in Vermont to settle a score with her ex-husband, Freddie Bradshaw, played by BWT veteran Jeff Lind. Reimer, a recent California transplant, says this is her favorite role, to date, if only because she can go over the top a bit, which she does very well. "Most of my other lead roles I had to tone down my acting somewhat. This role lets me hang it all out!"

She does just that, as the nasty bruising on her wrist attested after Friday's opening night performance. She spends a long stretch of stage time handcuffed to a railing and makes numerous attempts to break free, a little too enthusiastically perhaps. Her character is also poked, choked and doused with water at various moments throughout the entire play. Heck, she even sacrifices most of her make-up by the Third Act! But don't despair fans, the perfectly vain Dunhill gets in a few licks of her own before executing a most entertaining exit at play's end. Here's hoping Reimer's body survives the month-long run to allow as many patrons as possible the enjoyment of her performance.

Although Newport's rendition of country bumpkin, Sheriff Morton, isn't nearly so physically demanding, audiences will still wish the same good health to her as she successfully mugs her way through long stretches of stage time with Reimer. Newport's role is vaguely reminiscent of Frances McDormand's Oscar-winning performance in the 1996 farcical, campy, hit movie, Fargo. Newport deserves more specific praise, but that would giving away too much of the fun. Suffice it to say, her acting abilities are impressive and entertaining.

As the only BWT veteran among the four main characters, Todd Wright as Wilton Dekes, rewards regulars with another display of his finely-honed stage skills. Modest and congenial off-stage, Wright's resume includes numerous Shakespearian theatre roles, with all the attendant emoting. His role in Thumbs is far less dramatic than Marc Antony in Julius Ceasar, but Wright's a treat to BWT fans all the same.

The small cast (seven characters total) work well together, exhibiting considerable trust in one another during multiple physically risky scenes on a nicely done set. This is a testament to their dedication and to Johnson's directorial talents. He skillfully coaches rookies and veterans alike to exemplary performances.

Once again, and deservedly so, credit must go to the exceptional efforts and devotion of co-owners Paula Chenoweth and Mary Galde. Their dedication to superior community theatre productions continues with this regional premier. They make excellence the norm, not the exception.

Don't miss Broadway West's latest. No doubt you'll agree this play is all Thumbs ... up that is!

Thursday - Saturday, thru Apr 14
8 p.m. (Sundays - 1 p.m.)
Broadway West Theatre Company
400-B Bay St., Fremont
(510) 683-9218

$20 Adults, $15 Srs/Students/TBA Members
All seats $15 on Thursdays
$20 for Sunday brunches and English Tea

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