Theater: Imagination delightful, convincing as it runs wild

THEATER REVIEW: Rover reads 'Mind' impressively

07:33 AM CDT on Friday, September 22, 2006

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News

PLANO Comedy is all about tone. When you've got that right, you're set.

Rover Dramawerks finds just the right comic tone for Woman in Mind . Alan Ayckbourn's psychological comedy feels as light as a well-whipped meringue. But the actors live each moment of their roles with just enough seriousness that we believe the (quite impossible) action onstage.

Woman in Mind takes place in a woman's mind, all right. Susan (Carol M. Rice) is out cold as the play begins. Her doctor, Bill (Joe Porter), wants to make sure her head injury isn't serious. In come her husband, Andy (Bobby Cole), daughter Lucy (Catherine DuBord) and brother Tony (Brad Stephens) all of whom adore Susan and seem blissfully unconcerned with her condition.

After a while, though, another husband, Gerald (Michael McNiel), comes along and apparently he's the real one. His sister, Muriel (Lorna Woodford), is living with them, much to Susan's displeasure. Susan and Gerald's son, Rick (Matt Fowler), hasn't spoken to them for years, but he's expected for lunch.

Mr. Ayckbourn, the most prolific of contemporary British dramatists, always has a trick up his sleeve, like this one of a stage populated alternately by real and imaginary families. Other productions of Woman in Mind have made the device seem clumsy. But Rover's version feels natural not the first word that comes to mind for a such a premise and highly entertaining, as well.

Much of the credit should go to newcomer Chris McMurtry, directing his first show for Rover. Mr. McMurtry's day job is communications coordinator for Shakespeare Dallas, but he should get out more. This is the most impressive directorial debut around here in several years.

Most of his cast has been active in community-theater shows or is just out of school. Mr. McMurtry helps all his performers find both the humor and the humanity in their characters. Ms. Rice, Rover's artistic director, does her best work to date as Susan. Even mad as a hatter, she's the sanest person on the stage more self-aware than the "real" characters, more rational in behavior than the ones created by her imagination. Shades of emotion play over Ms. Rice's face as delicately as reflections on a lake.

Mr. Porter makes a delightful comic creation as the dithering doctor, and Ms. DuBord crackles with energy as the imaginary daughter. Alex Hargis' lighting design fills the garden in which the action takes place with an atmosphere that changes with the weather both literal rain and sunshine and the shifting moods in Susan's mind.

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co.