The Charleston Light Opera Guild warmed the audience’s hearts and tickled its funny bones Friday night as it presented the delightfully odd yet immediately endearing play “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
A strange mishmash of every stereotypical nerdy child tromped across the stage, played mostly by adults. The uncomfortable tittering of patrons grew exponentially as four seemingly unscripted audience members were called to the stage to become spelling bee contestants.
The overgrown middle-schoolers brought with them every imaginable Achilles heel that, in the real world, a compassionate adult would never laugh at, but from the stage, they became impossibly, if uncomfortably, amusing.
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Danae Samms) lisped her way through interminable spelling words, prodded by her two overbearing fathers.
The self-deprecating Leaf Coneybear (Bob McCarty) deemed himself unworthy of the bee but snapped into an alter-ego spelling savant each time he took the microphone.
The slovenly William Barfee (Dewey Fletcher) delivered every word with a superior intonation belying his outward appearance.
Chip Tolentino (Gabriel Gorby), reigning spelling bee champion, was more into girls than words, and the overbearing overachiever Marcy Parks (Allison Whitener) is there to compete with a vengeance.
With their eccentricities each peculiar “child” becomes a little more lovable than the next.
The one-act production not only highlights the quirky, socially awkward, angst-filled years of intelligent teens, but it also pokes indelicately at the strange juxtaposition of glorifying competitive intelligence, while also bullying children for their inability to comply with social norms.
Although unmistakably an uproarious comedy, the play is also a tiny bit heartbreaking as these special but inelegant humans sing their way through a spelling bee.
Probably the most heartfelt moment of the play came when timid Olive Ostrovsky (Devin Elliott), a child with a latch-key life, finds herself pining for her absent parents (Julie Miller and Cameron Burford). The three sang “The I Love You Song” with such heartfelt longing that it made my chest ache.
The cast was rounded out by the two snarkily amusing judges (Kennie Bass and Julie Miller) and one slightly shady comfort counselor (Cameron Burford).
The production was absolutely delightful. With impeccable comic timing and tight musical numbers, it was a pleasure to observe. There is a fragile balance in a comedy about children but not by children, to amuse but not abuse. The Guild did an excellent job of striking just the right note.
The play is mildly irreverent, with a few off-color puns and minimal profanity. If you are overly sensitive, you might pass on this one, but for the vast majority of theatergoers, this will provide a genuine light-hearted treat on a cold winter night.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” will run at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Feb. 2 and 3 with two matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 4. in the Charleston Light Opera Guild Theater.