I often say that RI theater is more than a community, it is a family. Well that is literally true at the Newport Playhouse. Newport Playhouse has been a staple on the island since 1983, and this family-run business does everything possible to make sure each patron feels special. The host with the most, Jonathan Perry, takes time to talk with every guest, offering tidbits about the theater’s rich history.
I have to be honest — dinner theater frightens me because generally you leave hungry after eating some dry chicken. That is not the case in Newport! There is something for everybody — salads, baked ham, baked scrod, barbecue chicken, roast chicken (and it was not dry!), rigatoni and meatballs that I am convinced came out of my Italian grandmother’s kitchen. Not to mention the insanely delicious canolli for dessert!
After everyone has eaten, you’re ushered into the intimate theater, which doesn’t have a bad seat in the house! You’re immediately greeted with Tanya Free’s set, which has a rustic charm to it. Incredibly, this simple set is transformed into five different locations throughout the show. Free’s design is something that the actors can change with ease, which brings a delightful element to the entire evening.
Cheaters by Michael Jacobs has a checkered past. This script is over 30 years old, and fought to find its footing on Broadway. If the playwright’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you watched television in the ’90s. He created many popular sitcoms, and his script has that feel to it. And that’s not an insult! However, the danger in a show like this is that in the wrong hands, the dated dialogue can make the show fall flat. However, in the expert hands of Tony Annicone, this play has new life breathed into it. It is a joy from start to finish, and this ensemble cast carries it off perfectly.
The show opens with Rick Bagley as Howard and Michelle Brennan as Monica in a motel room. She is bemoaning the fact that he is not romantic anymore, a common theme in plays about couples. We then learn that they are having an affair, which adds to the humor of the situation. His face tells it all, and sometimes I found myself laughing at his facial expressions. Brennan matches him laugh for laugh.
We are then introduced to Sam and Grace played by Jim Killavey and Cindy Killavey. She bursts in the door looking for a Bible so it can be out of the room; it becomes evident that they are both cheating on their spouses. Cindy is an amazingly physical comedian. Frequently while watching her, I felt she had the comedic timing of Carol Burnett. And Jim’s timing is impeccable.
Finally we meet the third couple. They are different in every manner — they are younger and are not cheating on their spouses. Meredith Imbimbo and Jacob Davis play Michelle and Allen. She is upset that he threw back the bouquet at a wedding, symbolic of his commitment fears. They each go to their parents’ homes, which is when the audience discovers that the parents know one another, in an unconventional way. Davis’ scene with his father was downright touching; their chemistry as father and son was palpable. And when Brennan walks into Howard and Grace’s home, she stops the show.
The show is expertly directed by Tony Annicone. Tony is well-known in our RI theatrical family, having directed over 120 shows and acted in 71. Tony’s comic timing comes through as a director. He included a few moments of hilarious physical comedy while showing some of the script’s more tender moments that could get lost in between the laughter. Annicone’s expert direction ensures that they don’t, turning this script into a night of fully enjoyable theater. I can’t wait to see the next show he directs!
After the show, your night is not complete. You head back into the dining room for the cabaret to find your drink order waiting for you. Within moments, the actors you just saw onstage are joined by some new faces, and the music begins. And this cabaret has not only music, but comedy as well! Sandra Nicastro’s lady from East Providence is hilarious, as is Tanya Free’s news anchor. And Kyle Mederios as the emcee, where he not only plays piano, plays characters and leads the way, finds time to heckle the audience as well, displaying his comedic chops. Another highlight has to be Jonathan Keene’s rendition of “Maria” and Cindy Killavey’s “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” It made me wonder if there is anything she can’t do!
All in all, Newport Playhouse offers a delightful night of comedy and music. If you haven’t made reservations for Cheaters yet, I suggest you do so!
Cheaters runs thru Jun 14, with matinees on Wed, Thu and Sun, and evening shows Fri and Sat. Tickets can be purchased by calling 401.848.PLAY (7529) or by visiting their website at newportplayhouse.com