Army hospital antics
Truckee Meadows Community College’s production of M*A*S*H gets off to a shaky start but turns out charming
Walking up to TMCC’s Red Mountain Building, I realized that I had never seen a play in the Eardley Auditorium, although, as a student, I’d walked past it nearly every day for two years. The current production of M*A*S*H will be the last performed in the auditorium, which is being converted into part of a new student service center. In light of this, director Carolyn Wray decided to cast 40 members of TMCC’s theater program, both past and present.
With a screenplay adapted from the Richard Hooker by Tim Kelly, M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) is the story of surgeons in the Korean War, mainly revolving around the plots and schemes of Hawkeye Pierce (Raysell Long) and “Trapper John” McIntyre (Dirk Miller). Frank Burns (Ray Polson) and Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan (Laurel Sweigert) try to report their schemes at every turn. Written in 1973, Kelly’s adaptation of the book differs from the movie version, with the addition of the worst USO entertainment the government could send, not to mention a lack of football game betting or a shower scene!
Stepping into Eardley Auditorium was like getting a ticket to a Mini-Korea ride at Disneyland. Cargo-net camouflage, bamboo mats, American and Red Cross flags disguised the auditorium. The camp onstage was a little cramped, but clearly marked with woods signs with white paint that read, “Swamp,” “Mess Tent” and “Showers,” as in the movie and series. Cast and crew were all in (or out) of uniform at the 4077th.
The TMCC players opened this production to a full house, seemingly of friends and family. This may have accounted for the weaker first act. Nothing horrible happened, but there was an obvious nervousness among cast members; a few lines were stumbled over, others were delivered stiffly, and some jokes were nearly missed. In addition, the audio level of the microphones was imbalanced with that of the musical tracks for much of the first act.
However, I was drawn right into the familiar characters and scenarios. Joseph Blaine’s portrayal of underground icon Radar O’Reilly is funny and solid, without being imitative of the role’s past performers. The Bonwit sisters, [Terry Huerstel, Echo Olsen, Lydia Bonaldi and Nikki Dickman] are a fantastic addition to the cast as USO singers. These girls know how to swing, cut a rug and embody a dumb blonde joke. They perform the musical interludes throughout the play, and even have their own hysterical sub-plot in the second act.
After the intermission, either Wray gave her cast a pep talk or they all spontaneously relaxed, because the show came together wonderfully. The earlier audio problems had been solved, lines were said with conviction, characters were acting on the same stage, and comedic timing was … timed. Long and Miller’s patter dialogue and rapid-fire wit dovetailed wonderfully with Polson’s overexcited and anal-retentive Frank Burns. The supporting cast also hit their marks with more accuracy and emotion in the second act, filling out the rest of the performance.
M*A*S*H tries to show all of us that comedy and tragedy co-exist; in this final production in Eardley Auditorium, TMCC’s Theater Department shows what kind of work it takes to put them together in a meaningful manner.