One of the freshest productions to grace local stages this season comes from a new adaptation of some half-century-old stories, celebrating the distinctive humor in the pages of James Thurber's short fiction. Buntport Theater has adapted nine Thurber stories focusing on the quest for matrimonial bliss, staging the production in the intimate confines of the Smokebrush Cabaret.
The play is performed by a four-member ensemble who brilliantly capture the characteristic quality of Thurber's atmospheric comic scenes, mostly from the '30s and '40s.
Brian Colona stands out for his chameleon-like movement from role to role, including domestic victims such as title characters in "Mr. Monroe vs. The Bat," "Helpful Hints and the Hoveys" and "Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife." Colona draws on a wealth of facial expressions to transport us from one convincing character to another, moving from a milquetoast husband who earns accolades for killing spiders to a brusque man dreaming of ways to improve his wife in a scene reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners.
Hanna Duggan gives memorable performances bringing Thurber women to life in scenes like "A Couple of Hamburgers" and "The Topaz Cufflinks Mystery." The former features spousal tension talk in its highest incarnation, playing off Erik Edborg as the two search for a suitably cute roadside diner. Duggan demonstrates remarkable fluency in her expressive body language, and she can control a scene with the pinpoint piercing of her glare. Edborg also shines in an innovative scene called "The Evening's at Seven," in which the story is told through a dozen freeze-frame images accompanied by narration, giving the impression of an old-fashioned story told through photographs. Erin Rollman completes the self-directed ensemble with elastic performances throughout the evening, delivering textured interpretations five minutes at a time.
Another noteworthy innovation is the central set piece, a raked bed that can be morphed into the inside or outside of a car, a city street, a courtroom and the basement (complete with trapdoor) of the Preble home. The hour-long show has an 11 p.m. curtain to accommodate Smokebrush's mainstage production and makes a perfect nightcap of creative comedy.