THE CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG
nytheatre.com review by Hope Cartelli
A comical warning against the perils of gambling,
Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, as
adapted by Jess Lacher for The Delicious Theater Group, is a grand mix
of family fun, morals, misplaced guns, and amphibians.
August 15, 2003
Framed by the live, melancholic bluegrass of Lee Overtree, the show swiftly engages the audience with its story theater rendering of gambler Jim Smiley (the hilarious and nimble Frank Smith), his wife Molly (a winsome Kristin Slaysman), and their scheme to make a mint off Daniel Webster, an amphibian with legs made for jumping, not eating With the cast amusingly commenting on the action at all times, the piece follows Jim’s gambling highs and lows, his temporary redemption through marriage, and his ultimate showdown with the nefarious Virgil Slade (Blake Longacre). The artistry in this piece comes in showing how the Smiley family’s unfortunate end comes to pass. This includes such prime scenes as the Smileys’ courtship from between jail-cell bars, a dogfight between canines by the names of Andrew Jackson and Aaron Burr, and the climactic frog jumping competition featuring the marvelous puppets of Nancy Lacher.
The remaining cast members are spot-on in their portrayals of various Calaveras inhabitants, including Molly’s deliriously funny father Simon Wheeler (Drew Callendar) and Louella, the town lulu whom actress Kristen Schaal takes to dizzying heights of humor. Under the direction of Maureen Towey, the company seems to tremendously enjoy every aspect of the story, as if they’re telling it for the first time. Aiding their efforts are Sarah Krainin’s simple set pieces, which effortlessly evoke a barroom and jailhouse among other places, and Sarah Maiorino’s costumes, which seem to be lifted from both the Old West and a kindergarten class production to playful effect.
Unfortunately, in an eleventh hour attempt to enlighten the audience with the gruesome TRUE story of what REALLY happened, Jumping Frog sinks and never resurfaces. But, I think all the piece needs to do is shed this extra pound. The group says in its press materials that it loves "a simple, well-told story" and most of this show attests to their sentiment. I think the more they trust what they’ve got right in front of them, the more true to their sentiment they will be.