Review of Farce of Habit at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves

    Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and James Wooten are a prolific team of playwrights. Since their first collaboration in 2005, they have written two dozen plays in a genre they call Southern-fried farce. It finds genial humor in the eccentricities of characters from the South.

    You won’t find Jones Hope Wooten plays on Broadway or a college reading list. You will find them all over the country in community theaters, which appreciate the abundance of appealing roles for women, especially mature women.

    The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves is currently presenting the group’s Farce of Habit. The play and the Guild are a good match.

    “Farce of Habit” takes place at the Reel ’Em Inn, a fishing lodge in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. It’s run by D. Gene Wilburn and his wife, Wanelle. Wanelle is coping with the stress of caffeine withdrawal, while D. Gene is trying to break a habit of scratching.

    The marriage of her son, Ty, is under stress because of his obsession with theatre, which his wife, Jenna, does not share. D. Gene’s sister, Maxie, is a law enforcement officer and will do whatever it takes to keep her job, even if it means dressing up in an outlandish costume.

    The most important guest to the Wilburns is Jock McNair, the host of a hugely popular talk show, who has an equally huge ego. The Wilburns want his endorsement to help the inn survive tough times. He is supposed to be a relationship expert, but his own marriage is about to end. His insistence on not being bothered during his stay is challenged when Barbara, a woman determined to find him, arrives at the inn.

    Another guest is Huddle Fisk, a shy man who was content to throw himself into his work until he had a mild heart attack. Now he wants more out of life. He came to the Reel ’Em Inn by chance, but he finds the adventure he was looking for thanks to an approaching storm and the presence of an axe murderer near the inn.

    A group of nuns on a nature retreat is staying in the barn. The one nun who ventures up to the lodge triggers D. Gene’s longstanding fear of nuns.

    In the Theatre Guild production, directed by Debbie Love, the performers have a good understanding of their characters and work together well in bringing out the humor in the script. The cast includes:

    • Lindsay Morrison-Jar as Wanelle
    • Tom Kessinger as D.Gene
    • Amie Bossi as Maxie
    • Taylor Kelly as Jenna
    • Thom Murray as Ty
    • Luis Aguilar as Jock
    • Robert Tierney as Huddle
    • Debbie Love as Sister Myrtle Agnes
    • Stephanie Rhein as Barbara

    The set design was by Barbara Mulligan, Debbie Love, and Mark Moebeck. The costumes were by Barbara Mulligan and the cast. The sound and lighting designs were by Tim Kelly.

    The program includes an announcement of the Guild’s 96th season, which consists entirely of plays that were made into movies (four of them in the 1950s):

    • The Tender Trap, by Max Shulman and Robert Paul Smith, September 2022
    • Deathtrap, by Ira Levin, November 2022
    • The Gazebo, by Alec Coppel, January 2023
    • Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, March 2023
    • The Seven Year Itch, by George Axelrod, May 2023

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Robert Stevens