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Jewel Box opens its season with entertaining 'Auntie Mame' production



s who is Mame's best friend. Some of the best scenes in the show are between Hall and Kerby, as they go back and forth between being supportive and sniping at each other.

Cheryl Varnell is another great foil for Mame in a brief role as Sally Cato MacDougall, a rival for the affections of oilman Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, played with earnest Southern charm by Jeff Perkins.

In his stereotypical portrayal of the Asian butler Ito, J. Aaron Chartier comes close to being offensive, but then dives headfirst into the safe waters of cartoonish absurdity, scoring a number of well-deserved laughs. Johanna Hoshall is brilliant as Mame's unfortunate secretary, Agnes Gooch, who pays a terrible and hilarious price for her one night of "living."

As the young Patrick, Braden Sayers continues to grow as an actor, showing improved comic timing and better report with adult costars. As the cool, but beautiful decorator Pegeen Ryan, Allyson Rose Caldwell creates some sparks with Dalton Thomas' older Patrick.

Thomas is natural and likable in the role, which keeps us from hating him when he considers leaving Mame's world for that of the shallow and soulless high-society Upson family, portrayed with revolting and horrifying perfection by Mike Parker and Dana Palmer as the parents, Claude and Doris, with special praise to Emily Frances Brown for her blood-curdling portrayal as their daughter, Gloria.

The play is bookended by some clever, fourth-wall-breaking business that at first serves to pull you in to Mame's world, and at the end has the characters following the audience back into the real world. The minimal sets work fine, thanks to the solid portrayals of these larger-than-life characters and Charlotte Rose's inspired costumes, which fill the space without the help of elaborate backdrops.

A first act that is a little rough around the edges keeps "Mame" from being perfect, but quick pacing, good direction and dynamic performances all add up to a crescendo of hilarity in Act 2 that is truly worth seeing.

Auntie Mame stages at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 13 at Jewel Box Theatre, 3700 N. Walker.

"?Eric Webb


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