By Bill Hirschman
Initially, New City Players’ Little Montgomery lands as a satisfyingly cute summer chuckle of a comedy as two Texas teenage girls stumble into kidnapping a past-his-prime country singer when all they had planned to do was steal his guitar. They bring him back to a classically frou-frou girls’ bedroom and bind him to a chair with rolls of duct tape.
After a left turn at the end of the first act, Stephen Brown’s play remains mirthful. But the second-act humor is woven into a deeper and occasionally touching examination of human beings struggling awkwardly to cope with difficult modern paradigms of the word “family.”
In between the entertainingly oddball behavior from every character, most of the quirky heroines and heroes are trying to get a clear picture of who they are, especially the teenagers dealing with problematic parenting issues.
We don’t want to give away that left turn – which you can deduce about five minutes before its revealed halfway through — so we can’t go into too much detail, but…..well….
Rick Montgomery has come to rural Sheepshead County in a farewell tour that you deduce is coming not a moment too soon. We meet 16-year-old wide-eyed “soul friends” Megan and Kimmy, both infused with adolescent enthusiasm although Megan is even more earnest, driven by something underneath – a safe bet since she has set her school on fire twice.
Megan is pushing the two to break into Montgomery’s dressing room and steal a storied 1927 guitar, ostensibly to sell on Ebay and fund their developing dreams. For instance, Kimmy wants to take music lessons so she can win on TV’s The Voice.
To disguise themselves, they don bright colorful ski masks decorated with ornaments. They also bring a hammer to bust up everything in the dressing room – for reasons that don’t become clear for a while.
It is no surprise that a scene or two later, they are back in Kimmy’s bedroom with its dolls and swath of multi-colored chiffon at her bed’s headboard — and with the unshaven, pill-popping, bemused-as-he-is-confused Rick bound to the chair. Ostensibly, they want the missing guitar, which turns out not to be some valuable classic but an old battered wreck with a hole punched in its face. But there is more going on than we know.
At the same time, local police chief Patty is assigning her two inept Mutt-and-Jeff officers Larry and Chet to investigate the kidnapping. Chet is enthusiastically filming the “investigation” for a potential You Tube series with Larry as the star.
With an unexpected road trip suddenly needed, all the characters head out for collisions that expose secret after secret – most of them having to do with efforts to deal with faulty and failed relationships – again, with chuckles surfacing regularly.
Equally interesting about this season closer is that it was created as a multi-part aural podcast by New City Players during the pandemic to keep its ensemble members and patrons engaged. And while you can detect those origins, Brown has succeeded in making it a fully-realized theater piece, crucially made corporeal by sure leadership of director Michael Gioia and a cast fully committed to the wacky comic tone mixed with the emerging undertow.
The cast and creatives are mostly veterans of this ambitious tiny company whose enviable work over the years has ranged from the family dealing with an autistic child in Falling to a merry Twelfth Night, from Tennessee Williams to Sam Shepherd. Most of its near repertory company here also played these parts in the podcast production.
Megan’s evolution from an intentionally comic uptight and intense youngster to a troubled teen whom we come to feel sympathy for is masterfully sold by Krystal Millie Valdes. Casey Sacco is a hoot as her buddy Kimmy, especially in her “audition” playing the guitar and singing (kind of) for Rick.
Todd Bruno is convincing as the end-of-his-career Rick, badly needing a shave and nursing some internal angst. This is especially tough because Rick never seems overly worried at being held captive by a couple of young girls. Elizabeth Price has the toughest job as the commanding unbending police chief of a tiny staff of clowns, but this pro is skilled enough to make it work.
Timothy Mark Davis (the company’s co-founder and producing artistic director) has a delightfully broad comic turn as Chet, the older and only marginally more experienced police officer — a deft turn for a chameleonic actor who played one of the brothers in True West.
Matching him is Seth Trucks, again someone who has done Beckett and Shakespeare, whose Larry is a fish out of water as a hapless law enforcement officer and who is grappling with his own issues.
The sets are simple in the narrow shallow playing space at the hosting Island City Stage, but Jordon Armstrong has graced it with a painted lovely evening sky with stars that seems to bless the varied events below.
The countrified musical environment is performed by Alex Joyel on a stage right guitar who wrote the evocative interludes.
But two key scenes feature songs with lyrics by Brown and music by Eliza Simpson. One is the aforementioned Kimmy auditioning an intentionally truly awful but hilarious song “Star Quality” for the still trussed up Chet.
But they also wrote the music for the most moving moment in the show as Rick’s recently deceased wife sings a song on tape “Little Montgomery” (vocal by Laura Creel plus guitar and harmonica by Josh Diaz). Again, we can’t explain the importance of the latter number as perfectly directed and acted, but it’s crucial.
Brown’s script does a solid job mixing the comic and more sensitive threads, but he benefits from Gioia’s accumulated experience invested in the passages. Brown has another script, The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd, slated by Theatre Lab in Boca Raton in September.
After seeing the production, you might want to listen to the original podcast at newcityplayers.org/littlemontgomery.
Once again, the playbill is accessible only online through a QR code you scan on your phone. I wish every company would abandon this. First, you can’t refer to it during the production without turning on the phone you hopefully turned off. Second, I can’t put the program in my box of Playbills of shows going back to the 1950s that I want to go back and recall for pleasant memories.
Promotional trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCukHWyH0gg
Little Montgomery runs through July 23 presented by New City Players performing at Island City Stage, 2304 Dixie Hwy, Wilton Manors. Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including an intermission. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets at https://tinyurl.com/52s6j4wb.