WEST VALLEY CITY — Sweet, silly and sentimental all describe Hale Centre Theatre’s “A Bundle of Trouble,” which runs through Dec. 1 and is the nonprofit theater company’s final production in its West Valley location.
The Ruth and Nathan Hale original comedy has been staged only twice before, most recently in 2001. Its turn on the stage is both a touching tribute to the HCT founders and a breath of fresh air in its divergence from the regular rotation, though it’s bereft of bells and whistles.
Preoccupied scientist Jeff Baker is no stranger to surprise visits, thanks to the frequent presence of his sweet but busybody landlady and her marriage/green card-hungry daughter. However, Jeff is caught off guard when his estranged wife, on her way out of the country for a business trip, abruptly drops off their 6-year-old daughter and her dog for a three-week stay. High jinks ensue as father and daughter learn to live together while facing obstacles that include overbearing neighbors, research setbacks and a nefarious social worker who sets her sights on breaking up the family.
Eric Jensen is delightful as Jeff, who frequently crosses the fourth wall — literally — to address and involve the audience. Jensen is also the director, and he reworked the 37-year-old script, which he previously updated for the show’s 2001 incarnation in which he also starred. His familiar handling of the role helps to stabilize a show that could easily get away from its cast, though some of his quicker quips as Jeff can be hard to understand.
While Jensen carries the weight of the show’s success, he’s buoyed along by a strong supporting Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast. Particularly notable performances come from Gayle Hayes as landlady Mrs. O’Boyle, Mckelle Shaw (single cast) as Merced Mason of the Department of Children and Family Services, and child actors Morgan Thompson as daughter Leelee and William Smith as neighbor boy Everett.
Rounding out the cast are Shannon Ricks as Jeff’s wife, Annette; Mara Lefler as Mrs. Boyle’s daughter, Maggie; Anthony Lovato as Jeff’s brother, Ivan; and Brandon Green as Annette’s boyfriend, Preston. A local service dog plays Lancelot and steals just about every scene he inhabits.
The set’s furniture and other properties are individually quirky and work together to create a bright, retro feel, and the abounding clutter of Jeff’s apartment warrants a closer look. The humor is warm and well aware of its Utah-based audience, with malapropisms aplenty, and theatergoers seated alongside the aisles and in the first two rows may find themselves inadvertent participants.
“A Bundle of Trouble” is fast-paced fun, appropriate for all ages and a fitting farewell to a venue rich in HCT history.
Content advisory: "A Bundle of Trouble" does not contain any objectionable content and is suitable for all ages.
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