Shamefully I admit, I have not been to a chautauqua or a lyceum. I am, however a fan of Mike Petee and Elixir. After all, I am the one who screams for “Goober Peas” during Elixir’s performances at the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival.
Leave-M Laugh-N, in its opening night Friday, provided good-hearted laughter, a few life lessons and a big dose of American music Petee-style.
As an English major, I’ve read my fair share of Mark Twain works but I’ve never had the opportunity to really peek into Twain’s life and see what he was like while talking with his friends and peers — the human side of writers that we rarely get to explore even with today’s technology. Leave-M Laugh-N opens the door for Twain fans to walk into the post Civil War-era and get a feel for what society was like for both men and women.
The characters are all very dynamic and overly confident in their talents as writers and orators. The one aspect of this play I was surprised to find was the strength of the female roles of Anna E. Dickinson, portrayed flawlessly by Kristi Beatty, and Anna Kim as Kate Field.
Proud and outspoken in a time when women were just starting to find their voice in a country that was on the mend, Dickinson and Field played, perhaps, a small role in paving the way for women to find designated roles in society beyond wife, mother, nurse or teacher. Both Beatty and Kim tackled these roles with true determination and oftentimes, stole the stage — and the laughs — throughout the production.
The male characters — Mark Twain (Doug Gustafson), Petroleum Vesuvius Nasby (Joe Collins), Josh Billings (Don Lincicome) and Dan DeQuille (Jim Stoner) are quite entertaining and really played well off each other with excellent timing to throw out one-liners in perfect rhythm.
Together, the four men expound not only on their writing — and criticism of each other — but help the character of Dan DeQuille overcome his alcoholic “demons.” The idea that a strong support system is necessary for anyone to accept and conquer their own flaws is timeless and Petee brings that social reality to the forefront of the stage with a sense of dignity in a touching moment between DeQuille and his wife (Amy Stoner) as they sit behind bars.
This production is perfect for history buffs, lovers of great written works, supporters of local arts, those in need of a good laugh and lovers of good music. Petee has written several original songs for the play including “I Was Drunk on the Day I Was Married” and “American Lycium.”
The production, directed by Mark S. Jordan, takes place at ThePlace@TheWoodward, tonight, Sunday and April 15, 16, and 17. Tickets are available at Family Video and both Sips locations or by calling 392-3018.