CENTERVILLE — In the twelve years that I have been a theatre critic, some of my favorite events have been shows that I knew nothing about beforehand. That was the experience I had when attending Dear Ruth at CenterPoint Theater in Centerville. Held in their smaller Leishman Performance Hall, Dear Ruth is a play set in World War II era, written by Norman Krasna. Actually written in 1944, it is absolutely true to the time period. Directed for CenterPoint by Wendy Oltmanns, the show follows the Wilkins family over a weekend that is anything but typical.
In Dear Ruth, Judge Wilkins (played by Ed Farnsworth) and his wife Mrs. Edith Wilkins (played by Natalee Stuart) are dealing with the romantic life of their daughter Ruth (played by Robyn Medeiros), who is engaged to the kind but slightly dull Albert (played by Jordan Palmer). The Wilkins must also handle their politically involved and radical daughter Miriam (played by Rebeca Placido). The family is rounded out by their jovial maid, Dora (played by Robin Renee). All is turned upside down when Lieutenant William Seacroft (played by Dylan Marriott) shows up from overseas, having fallen in love with Ruth through letters not sent by her, but by Miriam. Of course, hilarity and confusion ensue throughout the show.
The first thing I noticed in this production was the costume design by Sydnie Howard. This may have been because of my personal love for the type of dress that is common in the era, but I was also taken by the hats and shoes. The choices that Howard has made really helped me feel like I was transformed into the 1940s. I was also impressed with the uniforms of the military characters.
Prop manager Raquel Davis also made fantastic contributions to this production. Dear Ruth is an extremely prop heavy show, with a script that calls for flowers, teddy bears and more. I was impressed with the detail and the realistic look of all the props. I felt a great deal of care and interest had been paid to making sure everything looked appropriate.
The players in this show really rose to the challenge of entertaining the audience. I especially loved the chemistry of the two sisters. Having a sister of my own and raising two daughters, watching Medeiros as Ruth and Placido as Miriam get frustrated at each other because of the choices Miriam made — just as sisters would. I felt as though the frustration that they showed with each other was realistic and entertaining. I also enjoyed the jovial nature of the parents and felt that Farnsworth and Stuart truly showed a strong bond.
Playing the two love interests of Ruth, Palmer and Marriott had different ways of entertaining the audience. Marriott had a bit of an innocence about him, but also a charming nature that was endearing. Palmer however was very good at portraying anxiety and frustration. His character clearly cares about Ruth and wants to be with her while being fearful that maybe he cannot compete with the new and interesting war hero.
I found the whole cast capable of keeping the show fast-paced and very funny. Renee as Dora was a delight. Every time she came on stage I was pleased just by her sheer presence. I found myself wishing that the story had more of her, but that is the fault of a long-gone playwright, not anything of this team. I was glad to see that Renee was able to take such a small part and truly make it her own. There were small things like when Marriott missed his first entrance cue, and Renee, Farnsworth, and Stuart all covered that with a great deal of grace and professionalism.
Overall, what I enjoyed most about Dear Ruth is it was not a play I would have likely chosen to go see on my own. The script does not discuss a topic that I am interested, and the show is not a musical. However, I really had a good time. I needed a night out and a good laugh, and the cast provided both. So, audiences should give Dear Ruth a chance. They may be just as charmed by this period comedy as I was.