CEDAR FALLS – Saucy is a good description for Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s current show, “Nana’s Naughty Knickers.” The light-hearted farce, directed by William G. Dawson, opened Thursday on the Oster Regent Theater stage to an appreciative audience.
J’Kalein Madison and Jean Carlisle serve as assistant directors on the comedy, written by Katherine DiSavino.
“Saucy Slips Etc.” is the name Sylvia “Nana” Charles (Liane Nichols) has given the illegal boutique she runs out of her rent-controlled New York City apartment. Saucy also is her unapologetic response to being exposed as the maker of racy undergarments for women of a “certain age.”
Let’s back up a bit. Law student Bridget Charles (Amanda Wagenofer) has arrived to spend the summer with her octogenarian grandmother, Nana. But Nana seems distracted, harried and uncharacteristically secretive. Nana’s sassy best friend Vera (Marnell Lyle) isn’t helping matters, nor is rookie cop Tom (Dave Hisler) who has a crush on Bridget and is repeatedly given the bum’s rush out of the apartment.
Nana confesses her secret to both her granddaughter and pal. Nana’s bullying landlord Gil Schmidt (Rick Johnson) has been looking for a reason to evict her, and she’s never paid state sales tax or declared the extra income on her IRS return. Then there’s a mix-up with a shipment from a company with a similar-sounding name, and it isn’t long before Nana’s world comes crashing down in typical farce fashion.
Wagenhofer plays Bridget as a sweet, savvy young woman who veers between dismay and exasperation, with a hint of desperation. At first, the character seems a little tightly wound, but Wagenhofer chose a cool, controlled burn over hot anger, which is unexpectedly effective. Wagenhofer may be slight, but she has good comedic presence, especially when she suffers Vera stuffing a pillow in her bodice to fill out a drooping nightgown (obviously made for a more matronly figure), and when she ditches her law book to reach for the vodka bottle.
There’s a good cast of supporting characters. Hisler plays the dopey, silly, smitten (and a bit puffed-up) cop to a T, while Sam Cota as Heather Van Pree is convincing and fun as the hot pants-clad hottie who shows up to claim the misguided shipment and unwittingly reveals Nana’s knickers to the law and landlord. Rick Johnson is perfect as the sneaky, overbearing landlord who can’t wait to kick Nana to the curb and jack up the rent for the next tenant. But when his wife Clair (Kimberly Sommermeyer) shows up, he’s suddenly reduced to a hen-pecked husband. Derek Wagenhofer has a brief walk-on as the delivery man.
For her part, Sommermeyer steals the show with the best line of the night — which I’m not going to reveal. It also was wonderful to watch veteran actresses Nichols and Lyle playing off each other and lighting up the stage. When Nichols is flustered, Lyle is feisty; when Lyle is milking her hearing aid and use of a walker too much, Nichols offers her brand of “motivational therapy.” One of Nichols’ best lines all night is describing the difference between “winter” and “spring” chickens.
Tim Walker’s scenic design couldn’t be more on the money. Walls are slightly dingy, as one might expect from a careworn, rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and the furnishings are appropriately grandmotherly. Rather than having lots of doors, which are common in a farce, this set has concealed closets and hidey-holes for Nana’s lingerie that we're told were previously used for bootlegging booze during the Prohibition.
The show was a tad slow in warming up — maybe it was the suddenly colder weather outside — but it wasn’t long before the players hit their strides. The audience’s laughter grew louder and more sustained, and those final hilarious scenes involving pink handcuffs, barely-there teddies and hidden compartments overflowing with filmy, frilly undergarments, are the comedy’s payoff.