by Jillian Carter
Try not to be jealous, but I got to sit in a theatre audience last night. Beatrice Community Players opened The Outrageous Adventures of Sheldon and Mrs. Levine to a small audience in their spacious theatre, along with a smattering of cardboard cutouts in seats meant for selfies and to keep groups spaced. (Full transparency, I did take a selfie with Shrek, but we were photo-bombed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.) From the mask requirement, temperature checks, hand sanitizer at the door, and tongue-in-cheek jokes from Managing Artistic Director Jamie Ulmer, everything about this experience is designed for the safety and comfort of the audience, staff, and volunteers. The Beatrice theatre already boasts the most leg space I’ve found in a theatre this side of the Mississippi, so I was happy to take up my socially distant space and enjoy a rare night out in the time of covid.
I can’t necessarily speak for the other 30 or so people in attendance, but the atmosphere was lively and genial, if awkward, since we were greeting each other from the requisite six feet away. The audience was clearly ready for a good time, and that is exactly what we got. The Outrageous Adventures of Sheldon and Mrs. Levine is a slightly absurd comedy comprised almost entirely of the two characters (mother and son) reading their correspondence with each other. This is the perfect show to do in this climate, since it has a cast of only two, and the two actors are on opposite sides of the stage for all but the very last scene. That’s the holy grail for theatre during a pandemic! I have to agree with Jamie Ulmer that “I’m surprised more theatres aren’t doing this show right now.”
While it was a difficult decision to reopen to the public, Ulmer stated “If the mission is important, you have to keep it going.” It’s worth noting that Community Players Inc. has kept going this whole time, with regular video content and an impressive online presence, though their doors have been shut to the public since March.
Anyway, back to the show! This comedy is an absolute delight to watch. The audience was clearly in the mood to laugh, but while the laughter was freely given in the beginning of the play, it was definitely earned and deserved as it went on. Rosalie Duffy (Mrs. Doris Levine) and Grant Bennett (Sheldon Levine) are both powerhouses of comedy, from Bennett’s physical comedy and Elvis impersonation to Duffy’s well-timed barbs and subtle yet effective changes in tone and posture. The actors are a good match for each other, with neither stealing the show, but both shining. My only complaint (because a reviewer has to find something, right?) is that the two look close in age, though they are playing mother and son.
The show itself is well-written by playwrights Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein, and beautifully staged by director and designer Jamie Ulmer. While this is not the elaborate set I’ve come to expect from Community Players, it is appropriate for this show at this time. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have the fun details always found in Beatrice; there were recreations of some of the illustrations from the book that inspired the play (recreated by Associate Artistic Director Tyler Rinne) and projections and sound cues that added to the atmosphere and the comedy. As a playwright, I love how this show is all about the script. With the barebones effects, the language is allowed to come alive, and the actors are allowed to thrive. Sheldon and Mrs. Levine should be on the list of dream roles for character actors! This pair is infuriating, but you root for each of them at different times. They also each take several journeys (both emotionally and geographically), as well as introducing other characters who we never meet but somehow get attached to anyway. What I wouldn’t give to see Malcolm Bass, Brenda, Akhbar, or Mrs. Minkus!
All in all, this show is a wonderful escape from real life, and as safe an escape as we can get right now. Even though I had to keep tilting my head a certain way to keep my glasses from fogging up with mask breath, I truly enjoyed myself and trust you will too. For a show that goes against some of the holy theatre commandments (limited movement and interaction), Community Players has once again worked their magic and created a hit.
If you go: Remaining performances of The Outrageous Adventures of Sheldon and Mrs. Levine are August 8, 14, and 15 at 7:30pm and August 9 and 16 at 2:00pm. All shows are at the Community Players Theatre, 412 Ella Street in Beatrice. Tickets are only available by phone (402-228-1801) and at the door, due to creating socially distant groups. There will be streaming tickets available on the website soon, so you can also watch from the comfort of your own home.
Jillian Carter is a local playwright, director, actress, and mother of four. She is planning on teaching all of her kids remotely this semester, so theatre will be more important than ever to her sanity. She is also the managing editor of Appearing Locally.
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