‘Tilly’ is Silly

Tilly is having a rough holiday season.  Her sister ran off with a guy and left her in sole control of their diner which is in danger of going out of business.  She misses her father.  She’s lonely and her beau hasn’t proposed to her.  And her Christmas Extravaganza talent show is lacking star power and talent.  Will her apprentice guardian angel be able to help her find her Christmas spirit?  Find out by watching Tilly’s Holiday Extravaganza currently performing at Harold’s Koffee House under the auspices of 2×4 Planck Productions.

For full disclosure, the show’s playwright, Doug Marr, was a friend of mine and I performed in several of his original works so I have a good feeling for his style of writing.  This show definitely has the feel of an early work (it hasn’t been performed for 30 years) and seemed like a tale of two plays.  The first act needed a bit of polish.  It sets up Tilly’s woes and introduces Novice Betty whose “help” just seems to make things worse and then she vanishes and Tilly’s day just goes from bad to worse with various mishaps.  Act II jumps ahead to Christmas Eve and the extravaganza and is a much stronger act centering on the, ahem, “talent show” and the turn things take when a pair of strangers arrive at the café before everything gets wrapped up in a bow (Christmas pun intended).

Though it has some weaknesses, Doug’s love of Christmas and nostalgia are palpable and the play does feature some of his hallmarks.  Witty one-liners.  Ridiculous situations.  Frenemy characters.  And the energy of his family and friends who came together to produce this show definitely boost the production.

Lorie Obradovich does a laudable job of directing this play and does a very strong job of staging the actors, though there are points where the actors are out of the view of some patrons depending on where they’re seated in the diner.  Her coaching is quite solid as she really got her actors to embrace the silliness of their characters and just have some fun.

Some amusing performances come from Mike Downey as a dumb as a brick mechanic whose angry singing of “Frosty the Snowman” to the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy” is the play’s highlight; Dylan Marr and Elizabeth Planck make for a cute newlywed couple with an enjoyable pair of bad songs; Rob Baker brings some smiles as a never will be singer whose act is more lounge lizard than Sinatra; Ann Downey serves as a capable “straight man” to her goofball husband; Daniel Baye supplies some yuks as a befuddled thief; Wes Clowers has a nice everyman quality as Tilly’s boyfriend, Dale.

Rose Glock is an absolute delight in the dual roles of Novice Betty and Marlene.  As Novice Betty, apprentice guardian angel, Glock summons the spirit of Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker with the Queens accent and her good hearted ditziness.  As Marlene, Glock comes off as a mannish Lucy Van Pelt.  She’s crabby and she’s the boss (especially with her dominance of her brother, Pee Wee) and few are the people she can stand (and probably vice versa) for more than 5 minutes.

Laura Marr shines as the titular Tilly.  There’s definitely a flavor of Vicki Lawrence’s Mama character in her performance.  Marr’s Tilly is, more or less, the level headed leader of this neurotic group.  She never seems short of a snarky one liner, has a real take charge attitude, and can deliver extemporaneous, subtle sarcasm like a champ.  Still, she has a good heart and you genuinely want her to find her Christmas cheer.

The costumes supplied by Laura Marr, Paula Clowers, Robyn Baker are well done, indeed.  Most enjoyable were Tilly’s waitress outfit and poofy wig, Murray’s ugly as sin “tuxedo”, the coveralls for the mechanics, and Novice Betty’s flapper outfit.  There’s even a few clever light tricks from the director and cast as flickering lights (both regular and Christmas) abound whenever divine intervention is afoot.

It’s a sweet show for the holiday season and a worthy tribute to the late Doug Marr.  Come for the show.  Come for the pie.  Come for some Christmas cheer.

Tilly’s Holiday Extravaganza plays at Harold’s Koffee House through Dec 21.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat (Dec 21 is a special added Tuesday show).  Tickets cost $18 for the show and $25 for show, pie, and coffee or soft drink.  Harold’s Koffee House is located at 8327 N 30th St in Omaha, NE.

Full Circle: A Tribute to Doug Marr

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Last night, Omaha lost a talented playwright, a genuine wit, and an all around great human being.

I lost a good friend.

When I think of Doug I think of a genuinely good man with a phenomenal sense of humor and a truly giving and supportive heart.  Doug was responsible for giving my theatre career one of its biggest boosts and for keeping it alive when it was on life support.

I first met Doug back in 2003 when I auditioned for the Circle Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I had high hopes that I would be able to net the role of Billy Bibbit, but received a surprise when I got a letter notifying me that the whole production was being postponed due to the theatre being unable to fill the key role of Chief Bromden, but Doug hoped to mount the show later that summer.

As summer closed in I asked him if Cuckoo was going to be mounted and he wrote back and said Circle would be doing Our Town and immediately offered me the role of Doc Gibbs.

I was stunned by his generosity as I was relatively an untested talent as I only had 4 small roles under my belt and this would be the first time I had something with a bit of meat.  Though he didn’t direct the production, he was present every day at his trusted post at the light and sound board.  He often regaled the cast with his off the cuff jokes and we would spend quite a bit of time talking about our mutual love for classic rock, Sherlock Holmes, and he would share with me ideas he had for future plays and stories.

I experienced a bit more of his generosity when he handed me a small check at the end of the run.  Doug always believed in paying a tiny stipend to the performers and I’m proud to have had my first paying gig under his watchful eye.

It would be nearly a decade before I crossed paths with Doug again.  At that point, I had been going through a dry spell and then he announced auditions for An Inspector Calls.  After my audition, Doug offered me the choice of either of the two young men.  Now one was a decent, level headed sort close to my real personality and the other was a drunken lout.  I opted for the lout.  Doug agreed to that as he thought that was the better of the two reads.

Doug often said that he wasn’t a director, but I think he underestimated his talents in that realm..  For starters, he was a gifted writer with an instinct for beats so he knew what points in a story needed to be hit to get maximum effect.  More importantly, he had an incredible eye for talent.  Doug intuitively understood a performer’s strengths and weaknesses and not only knew where to slot them, but also trusted their instincts so he’d only have to give slight notes to smooth out the rough edges.

I was always grateful that he let me test my range with Eric Birling and it still ranks as one of my favorite roles.

Shortly after that show, my dry spell became an arid desert.  I had grown so disheartened with the constant rejections that I made the decision to step away from theatre for a while.

Trust Doug to get me back into the swing of things.

Six months into my hiatus, Doug sent word through a mutual friend of ours asking if I would consider doing the Circle’s annual Christmas show.  I was a little hesitant because my confidence had been so battered, but he was a really hard guy to say no to so I agreed.

With his trust and support, I began to remember the things I loved so much about theatre and managed to breathe life into his creation of Gunar, the hippie elf which would become another of my favorite roles.  His kindness gave me the shot in the arm I needed and I would bag my biggest role later that season thanks to him restoring my heart.

Many in our community have shared their stories about Doug.  He was a treasure and he will be missed.  I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his good humor, his gift for wordplay, and his goodness.  Most of all, I’ll remember him for being my friend.

Rest in peace, my friend.