Born in the mind of local playwright Jeff Stilwell, and brought to life in the PUD Auditorium, Penny Upstart is a perky, “worth my weight in gold,” effervescent young woman who, like her name, is on her way up in the Kindred Circle production of “Penny Upstart and the Widget War.”
The action takes place at Mr. Dogood’s (Peter Sill) Widget Factory, where Penny, a Buxom Bob’s former futon model, is somehow hired as Mr. Dogood’s assistant.
What is a widget? It’s hard to tell. According to Mr. Dogood it’s “quality of the highest magnitude which stands for white picket fences, Easter dresses and a world without outsourcing.” In sharp contrast, the competition — Mr. Overbearing and his wadget — represent “dogs who bark too loud, fast food gobbled down in minivans and long lines at unemployment.”
Huh … so what’s a widget?
Directed by Stilwell, “Penny Upstart” is a comedy, melodrama — complete with hiss and applaud lighted signs — and slapstick vaudeville all wrapped into one. Clever dialogue and quips showcase Stilwell’s talent for comedic writing. However, between the actors’ dramatic entries, occasional confusing special effects and multiple plotlines, often it’s just too much. Like the widget, it can all be just plain confusing. Still, with such a talented cast and some tightening or redefining, this first-run production has tremendous potential.
Penny (Anne Kennedy), a fashion queen who delights in waving an arm and posing each time she enters the room, is not the brightest bulb. Pointing at the monitor on her desk she asks, “How do I turn on this lamp?” Told to push any key on the computer to start it, she gleefully asks, “Where is the any key?” Yet Penny is endearing. A Pollyanna of sorts, Penny’s thrilled if she makes it to work before lunch. Amazingly it is Penny who saves the company in the end, in a speech that even a bloodhound would have a hard time following.
Also good is Mike Way as the overbearing Mr. Overbearing. (The names are clever, but at times remind you of a children’s book such as Mr. Little, Mr. Smelly, etc.). Way fills the stage, bellowing at Penny, shy secretary Francis Wannabee (Dayna Childs), and the flunky/programmer/turn-coat employee Mr. (you guessed it) Underling (Jed Adams). Underling tacks another identity onto his name when he is turned into a dog by a malfunction of the Global Sonar Interconnectivity Machine produced by the widget factory … I think. Leslie Foley also gives a fine performance as Mrs. Parched, as in parched dry of any sense of humor, who runs the factory with a sharp voice and a tight rein.
Sound confusing? It is, but fun. Stilwell uses the auditorium to its full advantage with spotlights coming off and on, shattering glass sound effects and other surprises.