WCT's 'Father knows best' brings back popular '50s family
By MARILYN JOZWIK
published June 4, 2018
When I was in grade school, I'd walk home from school for lunch every day. When I got home, “Father Knows Best” was just starting and mom set up a tray table with a boiled egg and bread, peanut butter and jelly or a bologna sandwich on it as I watched the program.
With thoughts of the idyllic Anderson family dancing in my head, I headed back to school shortly after the show ended (even got to watch a few minutes of “The Bob Cummings Show”).
Waukesha Civic Theatre is presenting a two-act play based on the TV series. The play runs about 75 minutes including several commercials, about enough time for maybe three episodes. David Scott directs this charming and funny version.
He's supposed to know best
WCT presents a version that maintains the family-centric themes with characters remindful of the popular 1950s cast featuring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt as Jim and Margaret Anderson, parents of three rambunctious children, living in Springfield (presumably Illinois).
In this show, father Jim (Thomas Van Gilder) doesn’t really know best as his over-reaction to a newspaper article, in which a 15- and 16-year-old run off and elope in Kansas City, sends the whole family into turmoil. “Every time I pick up a newspaper young people are up to something,” bemoans Jim.
So, he sets out to keep his children under his roof for the night, within arm’s length, despite their considerable objections. First, teenager Betty (Shannon Zoglan) is told she can’t go to a dance with Ralph (Lee Johnston II), but the couple can spend the evening at her house, which would give dad a chance to interrogate the young man he’s never met. Bud (Alec Anderson-Conlon), a middle schooler, plans to go to basketball practice, but dad says the team can practice in the basement. And when Kathy (Julia Rady) tries to sneak out of the house with a suitcase to spend the night with her grade school friend, Patty (Lauren Spencer), she is chastised, but allowed to have Patty overnight at the Andersons instead.
Beyond the complications of parenthood this evening, Jim brings home a lucrative contract for an insurance policy for a local factory he’s hoping the owner will sign. The owner, Mr. Brinkworth (Jim Stahl), visits the Andersons to look over the contract in the midst of several more family crises – including a washing machine repair, a missing daughter, a police visit and a garden club meeting going awry.
This play, adapted by Kristin Sergel from a radio play by Edward James, starts with solid characterizations for parents Jim and Margaret by Van Gilder and Jacqueline Gosz. The show opens with Margaret incongruously dressed in gray coveralls, head scarf wrapped around her head washer woman style and … high heels! She is carrying a tool after trying to fix the washing machine. At one point, Jim shows how firmly delineated roles were in the 1950s by asking, “Where IS the washing machine?”
Van Gilder has an engaging presence, as his dad character tries mightily to keep calm among the chaos he has helped create so as to keep his ever independent family under his thumb. His character never becomes a caricature. Even when he bumbles his decisions, he maintains his dignity.
As his spouse, Gosz, too takes on her character nicely. She matches well with Van Gilder and has a pleasant, but firm, maternal manner befitting her character as the pair battle the wills of their children with their wits.
The kids all do well with their characters. I especially enjoyed Anderson-Conlon as Bud, who teeters on the edge of insolence as he tries to understand the rationale of his parents’ decisions.
As Betty, Zoglan is all aflutter over being asked to the dance by Ralph and dials through a range of emotions as her dream date turns into a nightmare.
As the youngest Anderson, Rady is suitably spunky along with her friend Patty as the pair cavort around the house.
Stahl has an expressive manner, making his Brinkworth character a delight to watch. He has a subtle way with comedy, giving some ordinary lines a little comic boost. For instance, when Brinkworth hears Mrs. Anderson’s explanation for Patty having ice cream for breakfast he deadpans, “Couldn’t she just have … milk?”
In smaller roles, Lindsey Willicombe as Perkins the cop adds comic flair, especially to her mimed opening remarks which also included a brief display of her amazing pipes. Joe Nettesheim as the repairman also does a lot of face acting, making his brief stints memorable.
The show featured a number of commercial breaks in front of the curtain including a bit featuring “Hide” detergent and another advertising “Bit O-Funny” candy (recommended by most dentists). All performers did well with those cute bits on opening night.
IF YOU GO
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “Father Knows Best”
When: Through June 17
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha