It's hard to imagine slower going than Trinity Players' version of "Auntie Mame" by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The turtle pace of the show makes for two of the longest hours I've spent in the theater.
This production is frustrating because the play, based on a Patrick Dennis novel that was adapted by Lawrence and Lee, is one of Broadway's enduring classic comedies. It opened there in 1956 starring Rosalind Russell, and in 1966 was made into the legendary musical "Mame," starring Angela Lansbury. Both versions were wildly popular, chronicling the loony adventures of Mame Dennis, an eccentric bohemian who takes in and raises her orphaned nephew Patrick.
Most of the plot proceedings are just details, because the real nut of "Auntie Mame" is how she teaches Patrick (and the audience) to live with a love -- a lust, really -- for life. "Life is a banquet," says Mame more colorfully, "and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." The sentiment isn't deep, and seems slightly dated, but it's easy to swallow.
And the players in this large cast of 40 all turn in good performances. At the center of the play are Mame and Patrick. Connie Geis' Mame is flinty and flippy, a nice mix for the part. You believe her when she manages to catch the fox at the hunt and when she exposes a family of preppy snobs. Her velvet-glove manipulations are loving and gentle, and Geis underplays nicely a role that can become overwhelming.
Both actors playing Patrick (David Jimison as younger, and S. Kent Harrill as older) do the same. Jimison takes away the overly sweet image of child actors by being truly sweet and realistic. Harrill, though a bit wooden at times, is aptly impressionable and confused as a young man becoming an adult.
Even the set, by Daniel W. Brooks, is nicely wrought. It's eccentric as Mame might have made it with loopy wallpaper and odd furniture.
The problem with this production lies squarely with director F.C. Wadas Jr., who stages this as if it was a series of sketches. It's a problem integral to the way the comedy is written, I'd guess, but Wadas doesn't help it with his total blackouts between scenes and meandering pace.
Wadas needs to tighten the play and give it energy and momentum. It is the least he could do for Auntie Mame, who should hit the stage like a human hurricane.
Auntie Mame. Tomorrow and Saturday, 8 p.m., Trinity Theater, 36th and O streets NW. Tickets $7. For more information, call 965-4680.