CEDAR FALLS – A retro slice of comedy was served up in the appealingly funny Cedar Falls Community Theatre production of “John Loves Mary.” The show opened Friday at the Oster Regent Theatre, directed by Jay Edelnant.
What sweeps the audience up is a full view of the quite lovely living room of an apartment in expensive New York City hotel as they enter the theater house and take their seats.
Scenic designer Alex Westrum has created the perfect, elegant setting for this 1940’s romantic comedy, and it's a visual treat. Broadly striped walls are muted, flattering shades of lavender and green and trim and molding is painted a burnished gold. These are stylish and yet comfortable digs for a U.S. Senator (John Hanson as James McKinley), his wife Phyllis (Natalie Keene) and their daughter.
The door opens and suddenly Mary McKinley, portrayed by Christine Dornbusch, enters in her soft blue skirt and matching jacket, seamed stockings in perfect alignment, jiving a little to Gene Krupa pounding the skins on Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” on the record player as she plumps pillows and sets out refreshments. There’s a knock at the door and Mary quickly puts “Sentimental Journey” on the turntable and drapes herself rather uncomfortably but coquettishly across a table and edge of the sofa.
She’s awaiting the return of her beau, John Lawrence, played by Grant Yoder, who has been fighting in World War II. But first the doorman (Gaylord Stauffer) shows up, then Fred Taylor (Sean Hurst), the buddy who saved Lawrence’s life during the war. Hurst is sweet and funny, slurping up cavair like soup. Then, finally, John is in Mary's arms and love's light is shining — except it isn’t. Their love is apparent, but there are a few complications.
Fred left behind an English girl ,Lily, he fell in love with when he shipped home. So John weds Lily (Carrie Pint) to bring her stateside for Fred. Except Fred’s now married and expecting his first child. Sen. McKinley isn’t too keen on John, either, so the humor is stoked by the lengths to which John and Fred will go to hide the marriage from Mary and her parents and get John to Nevada for a quickie divorce.
The script, written by Tony and Oscar-award winning playwright Norman Krasna, has all the hallmarks of a ‘40s screwball comedy. The original production of “John Loves Mary” opened on Broadway in 1947, followed by a movie version starring Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal.
Dornbusch is a charming stage presence as a sassy and smart girl who is determined to get what she wants — John and a wedding ring on her finger. She’ll go to just about any lengths a nice girl will go, including pouting, a mild tantrum and asking her dad to intervene on John’s behalf. She is well supported by Yoder, who veers between being bewitched and befuddled, blustering and bewildered.
Supporting players like Hurst, Keene, Hanson, Pint, Bill McNett as the bleary-eyed Lt. Victor O’Leary, John C. Luzaich as Gen. Biddle, both stand-outs in the cast, buoy the action and comedy. The dialogue is witty, the pace seldom slows, and the humor is never farcical or gimmicky.
The audience skewed toward an older demographic on opening night, and the show is never outright hilarious, but “John Loves Mary” is a well-directed and well-acted sweetheart of a Valentine.