The comedy needs a sense of freshness...no stale, repetitive jokes. There needs to be a sense that something funny and unpredictable could happen at any time to characters that we want to laugh at and with. "Nana's Naughty Knickers" needs more of these elements.
That is not to say that the play itself is old or out-of-date. Written in 2010 by Katherine DiSavino, the play has only gone up a few times, with this production being the St. Louis premiere. In his notes, director Landon Shaw says that the show is "unique because not many comedies utilize mature female characters in the lead roles." While this is true, I wish that DiSavino would have given these ladies juicier things to say and roles to play, so that the comedy felt more alive and current.
"Nana's Naughty Knickers" takes place in a single day at Nana Sylvia's Manhattan apartment. Sylvia, played by Nicki Ketterling, is a 'hip' grandma who sports a sparkling pink headband and canary yellow jogging suit when out and about, racing her walker-bearing best friend Vera back to the apartment building. Vera is played with cranky spunk by Kathy Figas Flood. When Sylvia's granddaughter, Bridget comes to the city to stay with her Nana for awhile, she notices newfangled additions to the apartment: new pillows, framed art and a very big secret. Sara Strawhun as Bridget is outraged to find that her Nana has been sewing and distributing sexy lingerie from her own apartment under the company name of...wait for it...no...the company is named 'Saucy Slips, Etc.' Sylvia has never claimed her business on her tax paperwork, and Bridget is mortified, terrified that her Nana may very well go to jail if somebody slips and tells.
I wanted to find myself drawn into the story, but I was confused by many of the choices made. For example, Sylvia is a pretty progressive grandmother. She's got fashion sense, interior design aspirations. She worked for Maidenform, has a chic apartment in Central Park East. If the lady can sew, why should she not make a profit doing what she's familiar with: ladies' undergarments? And if she crafts lacy negligees, what of it? But, Bridget is appalled, as if the nighties in the closet were some form of weaponry. Strawhun's afghan-twisting, sandal-stomping rage and anxiety was much more than was called for. As she gawped and squeaked and frantically flitted about, I could not figure out why she was doing so. Compared to Ketterling's sometimes lackluster attitude about the business, the emotional levels never quite matched, causing more concern than amusement for me.
And Vera. Vera who had some of the night's only one-line zingers ("Are you running a brothel in here?"). The playwright made Flood's Vera into a caricature of a 'mature lead actress.' She bore the brunt of almost every gag about being slow, old, deaf, and senile. They weren't running gags, and they weren't walking either! They were the laughs that made me wince a bit, and wish for better. Surely a mature woman deserves more than being shouted at or pantomimed to when a character wants to get their point across. Sadly, this was not so.
The side plot concerning the growing relationship between Bridget and local law enforcement Tom O'Grady, played with an on-again-off-again accent by Austin Pierce, was a bit strained and mostly unnecessary. It seemed to flourish when Bridget was drunk and Tom was off-duty, all during the rubble of Act Two.
The second Act had some serious cohesion issues. It got a bit messy. Somewhere between the introduction of a new side plot and a couple of new characters, I stopped understanding where the story was going. Or perhaps I became less attentive. There was such a jumble of actions and possible line stumbles, that I had a hard time tuning in to finish out the show. At some point Sylvia led her landlord to her bedroom, for reasons I still don't understand. There was a myriad of blocking issues when the entire cast was on the stage, which led to awkward line deliveries. I sensed a feeling upon the stage that the actors were ready for the performance to end. Unfortunately, I agreed.
The play was not a disaster. I did have a small, polite chuckle here and there, but I wanted to laugh! I'm not sure if there was a target audience for such a play, and that I missed the demographic, but I found many of the jokes ageist rather than funny. I never felt that zany, madcap energy that can come with truly outstanding comedy work.
I must mention that, though it may seem otherwise, I did enjoy much about the play. Though the writing lacked flow and was weak in parts, Ketterling and Cast did their best to bring the work to life. Also bringing the life to the show was the outstanding set. I have heard that the community of Kirkwood takes great pride in their Theatre, and often, members of the city volunteer their time and sweat to assemble a spacious and lively (though messy) Manhattan apartment. Over 40 people were on the set construction team, and you could see the attention to detail when Nana's secret business was revealed.
"Nana's Naughty Knickers" is presented by Kirkwood Theatre Guild at Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. The play continues March 9 – 12, then again March 15 – 18. For more information, you may call 314-821-9956 or visit www.ktg-onstage.org.