Don't trust him! Joseph Pyfferoen, Rebecca Wilson, and David Nando.
Photo by Michal Daniel
For many years, the annual Showboat Players production has sported a split personality: dramatic melodrama at one end; well-chosen and staged period songs at the other. Sweet Revenge! finds the emphasis much more on olios than the action.
A company of 10 eager and fresh-faced University of Minnesota students ran through a breezy interpretation of Lillian Mortimer's turn-of-the-20th-century melodrama (originally titled No Mother to Guide Her; note the lack of emphasizing exclamation mark).
The short plays centers on the dastardly John Livingstone (Joseph Pyfferoen), who along with robbing banks and homes, has destroyed the lives of the women he has wooed. It takes a variety of good folks, including honest-but-slightly-craven Ralph (Christian Boomgaarden), honest and seriously brave Bunco (Maeve Moynihan), and the two ladies he has ruined, Rose (Rebecca Wilson) and Bess (Allie Babich).
That's pretty much it. There's an old hag running interference for Livingstone (Laura D. Hickey) and former cohort on the path to good (Bear Brummel), but there are barely enough complications to keep the story afloat for the hour or so the action runs onstage.
While the first act gets off to a shaky start (sometimes speed and brevity can work against a show, especially during the set-up scene) it finds its footing by the end of the first act to provide a goofy and funny play.
It helped that the audience I saw it with was seriously into the melodrama thing: cheering for the heroes and booing lustily whenever Pyfferoen announced his evil plans. In fact, they were so into it that Pyfferoen got a round of hisses when he came out to sing his first olio -- and he wasn't even playing the two-faced thief at the time.
The olios, selected and directed by Vern Sutton, center on the usual mix of late 19th and early 20th-century popular songs. The company has a set of solid to excellent voices and they are game for anything: even dressing up as representations of bacteria and viruses in one number; or donning the ever-popular hotdog costume at the end of a tribute to Coney Island.
The olio highlight came at the top of act two, as a trio of the ladies showcased their pipes in a run through arias from the likes of Carmen and La Boheme, with some rather pointed new lyrics about the diva's role onstage.
IF YOU GO
Through Aug. 24
Minnesota Centennial Showboat, Harriet Island, St. Paul
For tickets and information, call 651.227.1100 or visit online.