The outrageous Mame cries, "life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Luckily, Chantilly High School kept its audience well-fed with its lively production of "Auntie Mame," a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, adapted from a 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis. The glittering comedy, set in New York City during the roaring 1920s and Great Depression, follows an orphaned Patrick Dennis and his eccentric aunt Mame, his only living relative, who is left to bring the child up among the insanity that surrounds her.
Abba Kiser was a true star as Mame, with incredible stage presence and impeccable comic timing, never missing an opportunity for a laugh. She was complemented on all sides by fantastic comic actors, but was at her best when playing off her deadpan nephew Patrick, played in his younger years with excellent youthfulness by Andrew Dugan, and with more cynicism and dry austerity by Mike Wilbur as he aged.
COURTNEY SIEGERT, as the histrionic, alcoholic actress Vera Charles, also played excellently off of Kiser. Siegert's vivid facial expressions added to her character's wry humor.
As the upscale Upsons, Patrick's soon-to-be in-laws, Eddie Monk and Alexandra Hally contrasted with the other wild and fancy-free characters, but still burst with the same energy that lit up the whole show. Emily Withers' lurching, laughable Agnes Gooch, Mame's awkward secretary, was a favorite, bumbling and mumbling with good-natured nerdiness. Tracy Carter had a short, shining moment in the final scene as Pegeen Ryan, a brassy, level-headed interior decorator.
Marley Monk's and Kevin Jones' towering set design was awe-inspiring, consisting of several versatile, two-story pieces that transformed into a number of highly detailed locations. The stage crew was superb, with each shift performed efficiently and quietly, making this one of the very few shows ever to actually earn applause for set changes. Kendra McCullough and Leanne Williams deserve commendation for the dozens of professional-looking costumes they created, with each characters having at least three costumes and Mame herself having an astounding 26 changes.
While the entire cast was bursting with comic energy, scenes with many characters on-stage could lag a little, although this was hardly noticeable in the shadow of the rest of the spirited show. There may have been a few late entrances or dropped lines, but they were covered so smoothly and expertly that it was nearly impossible to tell. In fact, much of this show can be said to have that smooth, expert element, flowing without any hitches from scene to scene.
In a show that could be a challenge for many schools, Chantilly proved its comic genius. From the first shining moments to the last, it was hard not to love "Auntie Mame."
(Cappies is a high school critics and awards program involving 50 schools in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas.)