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Published: Wednesday, 3/9/2005

'Lu Ann' follows life's bumpy road

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander is a lot of names for a lot of twists and turns that a life can take.

The play, the middle in Preston Jones' Texas Trilogy, which also includes The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia and The Oldest Living Graduate, runs through March 19 in the Village Players Theater on Upton Avenue.

But unlike The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, Lu Ann is less dated and more accessible to a wide audience range.

In each of the acts, the title character is a different age, 10 years apart. Thus, we see Lu Ann at pivotal stages in her life, and although the action takes place in a small Texas town, her disappointments, trials, and triumphs are close to being universal.

In the first act, Lu Ann is a high school senior, a little giddy, filled with possibilities but refusing to worry about the future. In the second act, she is cynical and angry, buffeted by life. The third act brings a sort of peace, some regrets but also a willingness to accept that which she can't change. Sharing Lu Ann's journey will provide the audience with a heartfelt experience and a few hearty laughs.

Directed by John Henry, who appeared in the Players' Arsenic and Old Lace and Of Mice and Men, among many other productions, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander has a superb cast that is anchored by Mary Wagner, a student at the University of Toledo.

Making her Village Players debut as Lu Ann, Wagner is a surprise and a delight. As her character gets older, she gets more interesting, and Wagner handles each stage with so much confidence that it makes one wonder about her life experiences.

Wagner is ably supported by Jean Mills as Lu Ann's mother, Claudine, and John Jennens as her brother, Skip.

Whether Claudine is trying to counsel Lu Ann about her future or is incapacitated as a stroke victim, Mills has the marvelous capacity to disappear inside her character.

Jennens, especially, has a tough role, for Skip is the town drunk. Self-centered and none too bright, Skip is not an immediately sympathetic character. Jennens' performance, however, hints that Skip could have been a decent human being had the Korean War and the whiskey bottle not intervened.

D. Nicholas Hansen, Ben Lumbrezer, and Frank Venda play the men with whom Lu Ann is involved, and each is very different from the other. One is a missed opportunity, one is a mistake, and one is a joy, which is, after all, the way life runs.

Particularly welcome is Lumbrezer, who was a staple at the Village Players for several years, then took some time out for a personal life. Whether he is playing Benedick is Much Ado About Nothing, George in Of Mice and Men, or the Cajun narrator in Cherchez Dave Robicheaux, Lumbrezer is a pleasure to watch.

Norb Mills, Tom Wagner, Marc Malley, Alex Read, and Deanne Miller play less-important characters whose presence adds a great deal of texture to the proceedings. Audience members may remember some of the characters from White Magnolia.

Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander is neither a comedy nor a strict drama, but there are great swathes of both in the production. In the hands of the Village Players' talented cast, it provides pleasure and food for thought long after the stage goes dark.

"Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander" runs through March 19 in the Village Players Theater, 2740 Upton Ave. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for seniors and students. Information: 419-472-6817.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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