There’s no 99-seat theater company with a better track record for musicals than Actor’s Co-op.  Past productions of She Loves Me, Damn Yankees, Into The Woods, The Most Happy Fella, and last season’s brilliant 1776 are textbook examples of how to shrink a big stage, big cast Broadway show down to intimate theater dimensions without losing any of the original’s magic and allure.  This season, the Co-op has taken on the challenge of presenting a world premiere musical.


Makin’ Hay, with book, music, and lyrics by Matthew Goldsby and directed by Linda Kerns, is an eleven-character adaptation of an obscure Moliere comedy, George Dandin, transported from 17th Century France to a 1957 Texas border town.  The result, though not entirely successful, is a mostly entertaining and well-performed musical farce.

Wealthy middle-aged rancher George (David Atkinson) is married to the foxy Anna Lee Sottinport (Rory Patterson) but not entirely sure of his much younger wife’s love. Could it be that Anna Lee only married him for his five oil wells and six-million-dollar fortune? When Mexican field worker Ruben (Johnny Chavez), not knowing who George is, informs him that he has just delivered a love letter to Anna Lee from an admirer (“Just don’t tell the husband.”), George begins to suspect that Anna Lee may be fooling around with an out-of-towner named Clayton. “I knew it!” exclaims George.  “My wife can’t part her lips without lying!”


Anna Lee’s parents (the honorable Judge and Mrs. Sottinport—Brian Habicht and Suzanne Friedline) arrive, clearly none too pleased with their daughter’s choice of husband. The uncouth George needs to be taught even basics like how to greet his mother-in-law with a kiss on the hand (as “landed gentry” do).

Later, Mr. Fancy Pants himself aka Clayton (Steven Hogle) shows up looking as slick as the shiny fabric his perfect summer suit is made of.  Though Anna Lee can scarcely believe that this stranger could be in love with her, the way they gaze infatuated into the other’s eyes would seem to indicate otherwise. If only George would understand her. If only someone would. 

In a subplot, farm girls Clementine (Liz Randall) and Clara Belle (Wendy Shapero) can’t help feeling bored this summer.  When George reminds them that “summer isn’t only about having fun,” they reply that he’s not to worry. “We ain’t havin’ none.”  Ranch hands Philly Bob (Matt Lowe) and Terrence (Daniel J. Roberts) come by to chat the girls up, but Clara Belle tells them, “We’re busy.  Can’t you see we’re pining for love?”  “What a pair of ragin’ fillies!” Terrence exclaims to Philly Bob, and putting their “brain power” to good use, the boys come up with a plan to fake their own deaths.  “Maybe they’ll want us around when they found we done drowned,” suggests Terrence.


Will Anna Lee run off with Clayton or will she stay with George? Will Clementine and Clara Belle realize that their suitors are alive and well and not at all drowned? Will Judge and Mrs. Sottinport ever be able to enter stage right without thunder and lightning announcing their arrival?

These are just some of the questions which will be answered before Makin’ Hay’s final curtain, though not always as one might expect in a musical comedy.  One major character disappears midway through the second act without a satisfying resolution, and the show itself ends abruptly, prompting repeated exclamations of “What?!?” from both this reviewer and his guest. Perhaps some musicals can get away without giving everyone a happy ending, but Makin’ Hay isn’t one of them.

Fortunately, under Kerns’ imaginative direction, there are a baker’s dozen fine performances that make Makin’ Hay worth a look-see. 

Atkinson and Patterson are a charming pair of leads. Patterson shows off some melodic pipes in her solos “What’s A Girl Gotta Do” and the honky-tonk torch song “Shame On Me” and Atkinson continues to be one of the Co-op’s most versatile and watchable actors.  The comedy quartet of Lowe, Randall, Roberts, and Shapero are an absolute delight, with the adorable Shapero getting laughs just by opening her mouth and letting go with Clara Belle’s pip-squeak of a voice. 

Habicht and the divine Friedline are hysterically over-the-top as Anna Lee’s snobbish parents.  It’s fun to watch Friedline nearly felled by an attack of “the vapors” or declaring with misplaced pride, “No one in my family has ever done anything worth talking about.” Also laugh-getting is Habicht’s habit of putting his fingers in his ears and humming whenever he doesn’t want to hear what someone is saying, or keeping a gavel conveniently stored in his pocket for whenever there’s a need to signal for quiet.

Chavez, as Ruben, and Gina D’Acciaro, as his love interest Lucia, are so cute and ingratiating that they can pretty much get away with their ethnically stereotypical roles. It’s a particular treat to welcome D’Acciaro back to the Crosley stage, scene of her Ovation Award-nominated performance in Tales Of Tinseltown, once again getting laughs pretty much every time she opens her mouth.

Finally, there’s the tall, handsome Hogle as Anna Lee’s infatuated suitor. Director Kerns gives Hogle the funniest bit of the evening in his duet with Anna Lee, “A Life Of Its Own,” in which his body does indeed seem to take on a life of its own. Clayton begins by talking off his cowboy hat, then his jacket in full seductive mode.  He then flexes his pecs, swivels his hips, and smoothes his hair back.  His legs start to quiver, then he’s down on his knees, advancing towards Patterson on both knees. Even a charley horse in one of his legs can’t stop him, as he proceeds forward on one foot and one knee, a seemingly irresistible magnetic force drawing him towards the object of his desire.

Kern and choreographer Francie Ridenhour have characters square-dancing as befits the Texas setting and, in my favorite Act 2 bit, have Philly Bob, Terrence, Clementine, and Clara Bell in a comic search for each other “In The Dark.” 

Goldsby’s book amusingly updates Moliere to 1950s Texas, the small town setting a good fit with the French master’s classic plot mix-ups.  His songs are pleasant concoctions whose titles alone provoke chuckles—“Simple Minded Folk,” “Death,” and “A Gun To Your Head,” musical advice to would-be lovers that “you’d be better off to put a gun to your head” than to wed. It’s easy to imagine Makin’ Hay becoming a community theater favorite with its family-friendly plot and single-set structure.

Providing first-rate piano backup is musical director Brent Crayon leading a small backstage band.  Stephen Gifford’s set design is a wonderful feat of perspective, an angular white farmhouse in the foreground stretching back to distant oil wells spotting the Texas plains. Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting is yet another inventive design from the brilliant young designer.  Paula Higgens’ costumes are a countrified treat, with special mention due Friedline’s hoity-toity suits and dresses. Cricket S. Myers’ sound design couldn’t be better.

If Goldsby can provide a more satisfying conclusion for Clayton and a better plot resolution for George and Anna Lee, Makin’ Hay could easily have a future in family-oriented theaters. As is, it’s still a good deal of fun.

Actors Co-Op Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1769 N. Gower St., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
February 27, 2009
                                                                     Photos: Lindsay Schnebly

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