VICTORIAN PLAYERS True to its name, troupe offers classic melodrama

Despite a few rusty spots, 'Dirty Work' provides an entertaining foray into an old form of theater.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Shades of Snidely Whiplash, Dudley Do-Right and Little Nell are what prevailed on Friday night at the Victorian Players Repertory Theatre on Mahoning Avenue. "Dirty Work at the Crossroads" by Bill Johnson opened to an enthusiastic response by all in attendance. "Dirty Work..." is an adaptation of an old melodrama that was popular in Victorian Era Theatre.
And since true melodrama has become a lost art, Victorian Players should be applauded for dusting off an old chestnut.
The plot and even the character names are pretty familiar. Nellie Lovelace, the sweet young thing, is about to be ripped from the arms of her intended, Adam Oakhart, by that villain of villains, Munro Murgatroyd. Of course, along the way the audience experiences everything from false identities to the proverbial scene when our hero is tied to the train tracks awaiting the approaching locomotive.
Odd dialogue
If you have never seen this type of melodrama it may seem a bit strange to you with somewhat stilted dialogue and comments made directly to the audience that the other characters are not supposed to hear. But that is all in the style of classic melodrama.
Nellie and Adam, our two heroes, are played by Joanna Hazimihalis and Jack Eilber, respectively. Both seem to enjoy their roles and are typical of the sweet, innocent country girl and her unassuming but loyal suitor. A highlight of the evening was Eilber's drunk scene as he fears that his bride-to-be has been spirited away by our villain. Eilber builds the scene well to the amusement of the audience.
Munro Murgatroyd, played by Bill Johnson (no relation to the author), is a role which is a world of fun for any actor. Villains seem to be the favorite material of most actors.
Johnson started out strong but never seemed to build the character as one would have liked. He seemed to settle into a groove so as not to get on the audience's bad side. This type of villain, however, is designed to be outlandish and to be the "hated" but humorous element of the piece. The outlandish nastiness seemed to be missing.
Over the top
On the other hand, Mookie Maguggins, portrayed by Tom Hathhorn was the exact opposite. Hathhorn pulled out all the stops for this hilarious character and gave him a rich portrayal. This was definitely Hathhorn's show as he played the dim witted farmhand to perfection.
Barb Malizia does a nice job with Ida Rhinegold, Murgatroyd's wife, who is bent on exposing our villain's devious plans. She consistently throws a wrench into the works, forcing Murgatroyd to regroup and "come back another day."
Others in the production who pop up in and out of scenes are, Julie Colarich as Fleurette, a seductive French maid, Carol Mathews as The Widow Lovelace, Coleen York as Leonie Asterbilt, Leesa York as conniving Mrs. Upson Asterbilt, and Rhianna Durrett as Little Nell.
Energy seemed to be generally low on opening night with some line pacing a bit uneven. But this is the type of show that usually kicks into gear once those opening jitters have passed. C. Richard Haldi directed the show with a very functional set design by Tom Copeland.
If you have never seen classic melodrama you might want to try this one on for size.

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