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The Miracle Workers
dinner and show
Every Friday evening, 6 p.m.
Tickets: $32-$38 •
TheatreNOW • 10th and Dock St.

Chef Denise Gordon prepared pork two ways with kale souffle and shallot bread pudding last Friday

Wilmington has secured another reason to celebrate theatre arts. Housing locally written shows, paired with three-course meals prepared by Chef Denise Gordon, in a brand-spankin’ new space founded by local thespian Alisa Harris, TheatreNOW quickly is becoming a one-stop for all things entertainment. From murder mysteries and children’s shows on Saturdays, to Sunday’s jazz and gospel brunch and family movie night, to arts education classes, they have much to offer folks across the tri-county region.

“The Miracle Workers” currently is on tap for Friday evenings, with a rotating cast and surprise characters interacting among the audience as part of the comedy show. Written and directed by Hank Toler, the story follows a motley crew theatre company, Dawson’s Hill Theatre, which is financially in shambles yet needs to pull off a major gig for a prestigious governor’s banquet. After their actors flee, they decide to put on “The Miracle Worker” on their own accord, by depending on their lackadaisical interns, a recently probated janitor and the town’s quintessential drunk actor. What ensues is a hilarious romp through a botched Helen Keller story and a look into the funny bones of some of Wilmington’s well-known (and not-so-well-known) thespians.

The story itself is a loose concoction of hijinks, often times cheesy, yet nonetheless inviting to folks who are simply looking for escape through laughter. Toler certainly fleshes out many characters in a superb cartoon-like fashion. Of the ilk, Charles Auten’s probated janitor Mason as Papa Keller comes to mind. Auten’s a complete steal in this show—literally taking over the scenes in animated glory. Who knew he had such comedic acting chops? From his “Love Boat” getup to his pipe-smoking absurdity and bug-eye responses, he never tires the audience’s desire for humor.

Likewise, Anthony Corvino (a new face to me) as Leo, the overzealous intern and cheerfully energized James Keller, gives new enlightenment to the term “touched.” His rather odd timing, quirky hand gestures, boisterous attitude, and multi-colored propeller hat and suspenders flesh him out in a heaping of eye-candy beguilement.

Act two brings us Key lime tartlets for dessert!

A surprising evolution in character, the one most astounding to watch onstage, comes from Erika Hendrix as Carrie the misanthropic-intern-turned-tortured-Helen Keller. Honestly, Hendrix seems overshadowed by such big performers at the onset of the show—practically inaudible with every line she speaks. By the second act, she outshines them. Her speech impediment (brought on by a pizza-burned tongue) grows louder, as her costume—Dorothy-gear, sparkly ruby slippers included, paired with odd ’80s sunglasses—malfunctions. And her sheer distaste for being ridiculed onstage comes natural of a cynical intern who only wants the grade. The audience embraces her full-heartedly.

Quite a few well-known names help ground the show. Stephen Raeburn as the ring-leader of the theatre company and narrator of the performance certainly holds the cast accountable in making the banquet a hit, even in the throes of its disastrous undertaking. Raeburn’s Greg sweats yet schmoozes with each misfire; his bold demeanor a little more agitated and ashamed with each botched scene attempt.

His second-hand, Janis/Mother Keller, comes through thanks to a serious Susan Auten. Auten provides a no-nonsense demeanor, with each scowl and beady-eye stare, skeptical of every move throughout the show. Auten’s humor shows more through sarcasm and evidential suspicion. She’s the black cloud of the group, so to speak—the only one who wears annoyance and aggravation full force and by grasping the gravity and reality of the situation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum comes Amy Koresko as Elaine. Koresko gives her character naïveté times a million. Missed cues, lines and simply absent from life’s common sense, the actress plays dumb well; though, it gets tired a bit after her initial scene. Her jokes often feel too easy—a writing problem more so than acting.

A loud, full Craig Kittner as the drunk/Keller family doctor wraps the audience around his finger the moment he steps into a scene. He’s the guy you never want to see any where other than at a rambunctious party—and maybe not there, either. Kittner’s plot to ruin the play because of back-pay not remitted by Greg helps steer the show into murky water, which of course leads to laughter, even if predictable and expected.

While the show remains solid enough in its three short scenes, paired with dinner, it certainly makes for a nice respite between courses. Chef Denise Gordon’s meal consists of salad, entrée and dessert, which may change weekly at TheatreNOW. Course one’s mixed greens taste fresh with bits of finely chopped red onion, carrot and cucumbers, all providing great textural crunch. The Balsamic dressing’s tangy sweetness thickly dresses the bitterness of the radicchio, arugula and Swiss chard.

When course two arrives after act one ends, pork two-ways touts two slices of tenderloin and perhaps pork belly. The thick lining of the fat melts against the easily pulled pork, while the tenderloin remains dry, even against a rich though mildly burnt-tasting reduction. Where the meal shines most is in the kale souffle. Light, earthy and worth recreation in my own kitchen, it’s a great side item not seen at other restaurants across town. Likewise, the caramelized shallot bread pudding’s flavor makes a decadent starchy accompaniment; only it could use more moisture.

After act two, Key lime pie comes in a perfect, individual-size tartlet. It has everything one wants of the dessert: acerbic creamy filling against an underbelly Graham cracker crust; the crust could use better liquid binding as to avoid over-crumbling.

Act three finishes the evening’s show, allowing one to sip on after-dinner cocktails (Cava for only $6!) or coffee. Laughter bounces off newly hung walls, as folks mingle with each other at their tables and servers delightfully wait on everyone hand and foot. It’s expedient, friendly and everything one could want from community theatre. A rotating roster is on the rise in coming months, too, with a Halloween show and even “A Christmas Carol,” featuring the revered Tony Rivenbark, come holiday time. Folks can catch “The Miracle Workers” through October.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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