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Review: 'Subject to Change' keeps you chuckling

The six-member cast of the Duluth Playhouse production "Subject to Change" doesn't have a stinker in the lot. Director Julie Unulock has pegged 'em right on this one, choosing five Playhouse veterans and one Renegade Theatre regular so in-charact...

The six-member cast of the Duluth Playhouse production "Subject to Change" doesn't have a stinker in the lot.
Director Julie Unulock has pegged 'em right on this one, choosing five Playhouse veterans and one Renegade Theatre regular so in-character that this Jules Tasca comedy will keep you chuckling beginning to end.
The story is about the liberation of two aging sisters, longtime housemates, who ultimately get a reprieve from each other and from the past.
Gertrude, played by Jill Hoffman, has functioned for years as a co-dependent servant to her sister Madeline. When Gertrude abruptly disappears, sis Madeline, played by Priscilla Manisto, acts as though the sky has fallen.
The loss of Gertrude is felt by the whole community.
She's been supporting not only her leaching sister but also the school district, the Girl Scouts, her church and all kinds of other volunteer endeavors.
Their mainstay is gone, and while police are dragging the river, heartless Madeline can only grouse that her chief, cook and bottle-washer has disappeared.
Neighbor Joanne, played by Bernie Nordman, fills in as Madeline's thrall.
She tidies, begs the 260-pound protagonist to eat and offers her cash. But Madeline is so upset that she's lost her gravy train, her source of cigarettes and sustenance, that she doesn't snatch up the offers.
Her bad-mouthing borders on downright abusive, and her manners likewise. She doesn't work at a job or lift a finger in the house.
Mel Sando's set design, a middle class living room, is totally believable -- that is in a household with kids.
My friend Carla said, "It looks like home!" Papers, dishes and soft drink cans are strewn; stuff is on couches and chairs. Gertrude has been lost for three weeks.
When she shows up, it turns out she was off with a brand-new beau, Erwin Leeds, played convincingly by Renegade's Scott Manisto (also Priscilla's husband).
Realizing the extreme loneliness amidst the busyness of her life, she had dropped it all to go off on an adventure to Vermont.
And now, Erwin has asked Gert to marry him, though he comes with a price. Swilling octogenarian mom Leeds, played by Jeanne Frodesen, is a hoot.
During the bulk of the play, domineering slob Madeline and the whole community try to coerce goody-two-shoes Gert to drop her love life and come back and take care of them. It's a tug-of-war.
Gertrude is already reading "Sex With the Elderly" by Patience N. Prayer. Madeline bombards her with one-liners: "Your next sacrament should be extreme unction."
Beneath the sisters' funny, sometimes scathing, sometimes obsequious repartee is extreme loneliness. They haven't spoken with each other in decades.
Mr. Pignitelli, played by Alan Zeppa, breaks the impasse toward the play's end.
It's too bad his character isn't introduced earlier. Alan Zeppa, a member of my own church, is so caught up in Pignitelli he's unrecognizable after first being recognized. And what he can do with an Italian accent to Bugs Bunny!
The costumes were perfect. The orchestration of scene changes during intermission was itself entertaining. This is a "must go," and bring your sister.
The remaining run is from Wednesday, Jan. 31 through Saturday, Feb. 3, at 7:30 p.m., and concludes with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Feb. 4, at the Duluth Playhouse in the Depot, 506 W. Michigan. Tickets are $10, $9 for seniors. Call 733-7555 to reserve seats or for group rates.
Kriss Osbakken is a writer who lives in Duluth and Herbster, Wis. She can be reached by e-mail at
kosbakken@duluth.com .

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