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Stags and Hens

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 9/14/2005

London’s SongTime Theatre Arts youth theater training school brings to Baltimore an exuberant production of Willy Russell’s raunchy 1981 comedy about a young working-class couple whose bachelor and bachelorette parties (“stag” and “hen,” in British argot) converge in a decaying Liverpool club. You’d never guess from watching them stagger, swear, and carouse in and out of the bathrooms where the action takes place that these 11 actors are still in high school. Or from the crackerjack efficiency of John Payton’s staging that the teenage cast had only two weeks’ rehearsal before embarking on its first American tour.

This is a slick and often very funny show that manages to transcend the occasional sentimentality of Russell’s play—whose coming-of-age in a post-industrial factory town themes are familiar and pleasing in that The Full Monty/The Commitments sort of way. Dave (Brent Ford) and Linda (Katie King) are going to the chapel in the morning, and their best mates have selected the same nightclub for the couple’s final night as singles. Dave actually never finds out his bride is at his bachelor party—he’s dead drunk from curtain up, and spends the entire play passed out, much of it with his head in the toilet. Linda has misgivings about her beau even before she discovers him in his besotted state, and cold feet get even colder when she runs into an old flame-turned-London pop sensation, Peter (Sam Underwood), whose band also happens to be performing that night in the club.

The heavy machinery of the plot is contrived, yes, but most of the play dwells not on the story, but on the casual chatter between the two sets of friends in their respective bathrooms, and it’s here that the biggest laughs and best acting come through. Among the stags, Jonathan Raynh turns in the best performance as the sweet oaf Kav, who has a gift for graffiti. Jamie Leaves is amusingly oblivious as would-be Casanova Robbie, while Lee Thomas ably keeps the lads in line as ringleader Eddy. If the boys look a bit undernourished for the roles of Liverpudlian roughnecks, the girls have no problem filling out the saucy, trampy tarts. Hayley Hills is terrific as the twiggy, ornery Bernadette, and a perfect foil to the desperately romantic Maureen (Carli Jones), whose every drunken, fleshy jiggle is an eloquent plea for love.

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