Mistakes were (not) made

John Anderson

The Strayer-Wood Theatre made no mistakes in the casting of its low-budget production of Elizabeth Meriwether’s “The Mistakes Madeline Made.”

The play, directed by theatre professor Jay Edelnant with a company of only 12 cast and crew members, follows Edna, a former peer health educator, as she enters into her nightmarish job as one of 15 assistants to an extremely rich family.

Edna’s perfect foil appears in her obnoxious coworker, Beth, the self-proclaimed “Lion Tamer” who reveres her boss Judith as God. For Beth life is about tiny miracles of love, and failure to perform any of these miracles for the family is a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, as seen when the disappearance of a box of Handi Wipes leads to the introduction of primordial chaos into Beth’s ordered universe.

Elizabeth Cook delivered a brilliantly sarcastic and at times heart-wrenching performance as the untamable Beth, humorously alluding to classical literature and philosophy between brutally honest admissions of promiscuity and scathing parody of her prissy coworker.

Michael Achenbach lowered my guard with a humorous portrayal of Edna’s brother Buddy in flashbacks to a time two years ago when he spent a week in her bathtub but never bathed. The odorous and scruffy news reporter delivered some brilliant lines of black comedy as he detailed his time writing in Pakistan, but quickly showed his darker side with violent outbursts that revealed his humorous fear of bathing was merely a symptom of his inability to return to ignorant civilian life, to wash away the metaphorical blood and forgive himself for what is happening in Pakistan.

Buddy died after returning to Pakistan, and his stench haunts Edna as the past and present overlap with flashbacks to the bathtub interrupting Edna’s work, which the company handled effectively with the low-budget yet ambitious set.

Edna bonds with her twitchy, energetic coworker Wilson as the two try to thwart Beth’s desire for perfection by stealing all of the Handi Wipes for her snack time preparation ritual. Nick Chizek demonstrates his greatest strengths as Wilson, a role that could have been written for Chizek’s abundance of physical and vocal energy as the character zips around the stage, animatedly demonstrating his odd affection for sound effects.

In the director’s notes Edelnant states that the show was produced in a “storefront model,” using the Bertha Martin Theatre as a found space where the small company used resources found around the theatre, costumed out of their own closets and produced the show on a shoestring budget. It didn’t show. The company managed to put on the production with an effective and functional set that vividly set the scene and enhanced the winning performances at the heart of the play.

“The Mistakes Madeline Made” reveals itself to be a play about guilt and redemption as Buddy leaves Edna in her own dry bathtub, Wilson washes away her guilt with the best Handi Wipes in America, and Cook and Achenbach lead a strong cast in a darkly comedic production about forgiveness that has little to forgive.