By: Julian Bonner
So what does a play about a 1950's homemaker pageant have to say to a 2022 audience?
Well it turns out, quite a lot.
Mrs. California Set Design by Jeff & Emma Beckers
Yes, there are very amusing, twee, dated (and occasionally uncomfortably funny) references to the "perfect wife", having dinner on the table as her hubby comes home from a hard day at work, everything in order, kids washed and attentive, immaculate kitchen with a drink on ice to hand to her beloved, but as the play progresses this stereotype is slowly pulled apart like the stitches on an apron.
The play revolves around 4 women, a male and female "coach", the pageant announcer and 2 judges who preside over each task as they each drink martini's and bourbon (not the Coca Cola that's usually imbibed as on Americas Got Talent).
Babs (Maddie R. Hayes), Dot (Carly Covel) & Dudley (John McGarry)
Dot (Mrs. Los Angeles), played by a very convincing Carly Covel, is our main protagonist, desperate to win but on her own terms (which are constantly derided). Her male coach, Dudley, played by an often flustered John McGarry, shrinks into the background as the militaristic Babs (Maddie R. Hays) commands every scene she appears in with a gruff, no nonsense "fight to the death/win at all costs" approach to get Dot first across the finish line. She turns out to be Dot's best friend and neighbor but things start to derail as the show progresses.
Babs (Maddie R. Hayes) & Dot (Carly Covel)
There is an underdog (whom I will not name here as a spoiler) who turns in a delightfully funny performance in completely the wrong garb for the first task (setting the perfect dinner table - no contestants were harmed during this exercise!).
Additional assignments include sewing, ironing a man's shirt and cooking a meal with (as the tension mounts), flash questions on their "perfect day". Are we sure these 4 fine ladies are up to these grueling tasks?
Mrs.San Francisco (Bara Hrusinska)
Ultimately, the play has many universal themes - competition, betrayal, deviousness, self-reflection and a few tears.
Dot (Carly Covel) & Mrs.Modesto (Liz Aber)
The ensemble works extremely well together: (other contestants played competently by Liz Aber, Bara Hrusinska and Amy Peart), Stage Manager by a demanding Chuck Kane, and the aforementioned judges (Christopher McBreen and the brilliant but (in this play) underutilized Nancy Kadwill).
Judges (Nancy Kadwill & Christopher McBreen) & Stage Manager (Chuck Kane)
Top marks also to a superb set design by Emma and Jeff Beckers and delightful costumes by Kalie DeSimone.
Altogether a very family-friendly comedy (some mild swearing) which provides a nostalgic escape from the very different pressures we feel and encounter 70 years later.
Mrs.San Bernardino (Amy Peart) & Stage Manager (Chuck Kane)
Mrs. California plays through/including 28 August over 2 weekends with evening performances Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday matinees at 2pm.
All photographs courtesy of Annalise Settefrati