Actors' Summit in Hudson has a line under its logo that reads "a professional theater," which is frequently a woeful misrepresentation of the product displayed on this company's stage. Not to mince words, the problem with the group's current production of Suds (and with a couple other recent efforts) is the relentless omnipresence of the Thackaberry family.
The theater is run, to all appearances, by Neil Thackaberry (artistic director and founder), a genial and twinkling fellow with a respectable theatrical résumé, who is wedded to MaryJo Alexander (associate artistic director) and father of at least two children. Last April, Alexander directed and performed in a wretched dismantling of the musical revue The All Night Strut. Then in May, Thackaberry directed his daughter Constance in Picnic, which was well done except for, um, Constance and her husband Keith E. Stevens, who blandly played the two leads. And now, this month, we have Suds, directed by the undeterrable Alexander and starring Sasha Thackaberry as Cindy, the dippy proprietor of a 1960s-era laundromat.
There's an old saying that when an employee is a screwup, you should blame the person who hired her. With that in mind, Alexander should be roundly berated for casting her lovely daughter in a role so unsuited to her abilities. According to the program, Sasha is a dancer -- which doesn't help much in a show that calls for the crooning of 47 (!) oldies penned by Burt Bacharach, Otis Redding, and other stalwarts of that era's pop idiom. To point out that Sasha can't sing -- in a role that calls for constant singing -- suggests only part of the problem. Unfortunately, Sasha also can't act. Her unlined face seems frozen by a grievous overdose of botox, enabling her only to smile sweetly, when not staring blankly. Her one funny moment is achieved when her head is stuck in a top-loading washing machine, a position she handles with comedic aplomb, but which does not suggest a wide array of future roles.
This superficial, dinner-theater-style show revolves around the depressed Cindy ("It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To") and some guardian angels who musically try to perk her up ("I Say a Little Prayer"). While she's in the spotlight, Jean Zarzour as angel Madge is refreshingly funny, helping you forget that stone-faced Sasha is lurking nearby, preparing to sing again. In addition, Pamela LaForce and Joel S. Nunley contribute appropriately broad characterizations -- with Nunley scoring particularly well as slick Johnny Angel.
It's clear that poor Sasha would never have won this role in a fairly judged open audition, unless all the other competitors were deaf-mutes or had just undergone extensive throat surgery. This familial preference is understandable on a personal level, but it's entirely unacceptable in a theater that defines itself as professional. Perhaps they should change the Actors' Summit slogan to "a thoroughly Thackaberry theater." At least in regard to recent productions, that would be far more honest. And a fair warning.