Politics as usual

The Mouse That Roared

Rose Benter, advisor to the Duchess (Sue Higley), Duchess Gloriana (Sara Walls) and Count Mountjoy (Jeff Burres) accidentally win a war in <i>The Mouse That Roared</i>.

Rose Benter, advisor to the Duchess (Sue Higley), Duchess Gloriana (Sara Walls) and Count Mountjoy (Jeff Burres) accidentally win a war in The Mouse That Roared.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 2.0

You can’t accuse the Reno Little Theater of not caring about its audience. Stacks of mismatched seat cushions are provided to soften the theater’s wooden chairs. A scrawled message on a whiteboard reads, “The Mouse That Roared!! Enjoy the show—Count Mountjoy!” It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into this revival of The Mouse That Roared. But is this post-WWII political satire, adapted from a novel into a 1959 movie starring Peter Sellers, still timely enough to make the audience care in return?

Grand Fenwick, pop. 6,000, is a tiny European country whose sole export is Pinot Grand Fenwick. When a California winemaker begins producing a cheap knockoff called Pinot Grand Enwick, the small nation’s economy crumbles. Desperate for a solution, the young Duchess Gloriana and her scheming politician uncle, Count Mountjoy, cook up an ingenious plan: They’ll declare war on the United States, lose, and sit back as the United States pours millions of dollars into foreign aid and rehabilitation. To lead their army, they choose Tully Bascom, Gloriana’s loyal and none-too-bright childhood playmate, who genuinely believes he’s trying to win the war. Under Gloriana’s command, the small army storms New York with its traditional weapon, the longbow. By a freak stroke of luck, Tully takes the high-ranking General Snippet and government scientist Professor Kokintz hostage, captures the deadly Q-bomb and wins the war.

Now, the feckless Fenwickians must decide what to do with their unwanted victory and a very unstable bomb. Has this little nation uncorked more than it can drink?

The 1950s novel was a satirical commentary for an audience that had watched the United States rebuild its defeated enemies after WWII. Its themes still resonate as our nation attempts to introduce democracy to Iraq by conquering and rehabilitating. Despite some dated references, like the general’s entourage of WACs (the Women’s Army Corps, then the only army positions available to women), the script stands the test of time better than most plays from its era.

It’s a shame that the material doesn’t get the performances it deserves. Jeff Burres is excellent as the devious, moustache-twirling Count Mountjoy, and George Randolph is an enjoyably kooky Professor Kokintz. Dalia Gerdel makes the most of her role as WAC Debbie, the general’s lascivious daughter. But the rest of the actors range from stiff to painfully wooden, relying unwisely on arm-waving and frantic pacing to convey emotion. Race Kennedy, as Tully, and Sara Walls, as Gloriana, don’t seem to be having much fun in their roles. Although the play’s G-rated humor isn’t exactly side-splitting, even the most obvious punch lines didn’t get many laughs.

The costume and set designers make the most of a minimal budget, with impressive results. The set is draped with bright purple banners and a royal throne atop faux-marble steps, and the creatively designed costumes range from gaudy tourist outfits to Gloriana’s shimmery purple gown and sash.

Despite the production’s problems, the audience (some showing their support by wearing Grand Fenwick purple) clapped enthusiastically after every scene, and many dutifully pinned on the “Friend of Fenwick” buttons passed out during the intermission.

But not all viewers will be so forgiving. With lackluster performances and uninspired direction, this version of The Mouse That Roared misses its chance to be a truly insightful commentary on current world events.