Knickers is a difficult play to review. The play – about four western Pennsylvania women who create underwear in an attempt to revitalize their destitute little town – has the qualities of successful community theater. A built-in crowd, a packed house on a Thursday opening night, adequate technical aspects and engaging actors. But it also has no ambition to extend beyond the fleeting entertainment value of a single night’s worth of time, so there is the desire to ask Knickers to want more for itself – and for community theater in general.
Knickers is running at South Park Theatre, which is at least forty-five minutes from Pittsburgh – more if you’re driving in the evening traffic on the way to a 7:30 show. But it feels as if director Allison M. Weakland recognizes that most of the audience will be coming from nearby, from the small towns that the play is set in. Knickers takes place in a destitute Appalachian town full of men who don’t want to talk about their feelings and women who sit around complaining about their men. It is filled with outside-Pittsburgh references and monologues about the mill jobs of the past that more than pander to a local audience.
This would all be a more understandable setup if the female characters of the play were more distinguishable from each other than the faceless men in their lives. But unfortunately, each of them has the same stereotypical distrust of outside ideas, the same defensive comedy of small-town insecurity. And while this plays into the comfortable comedy that Knickers relies on, it also limits the actors. This aspect of the production is most frustrating. Adrienne Fischer demonstrated the ability to surprise with her timing – mostly, but not always, for laughs. Michelina Anne Pollini covered a range of accents and had an endearing presence throughout. But there is little more than momentary reward for the actors, regardless how gifted, in a show where characterization is about broadly representing an regional demographic instead of creating individual roles that can unfold onstage.
But again, this is not to say that this production is not successful. It all depends on what it hoped to achieve. The pacing is good. The set – especially the diner location of the second act – was excellent. And the audience was undoubtedly entertained for the duration of the play. But Kickersdoesn’t leave you with much other than images of similar stereotypes and familiar, quickly-forgotten comedy. There’s no demand that community theater not entertain – but the cast and crew of Kickers show that given the right material, they could entertain and then some.
Special thanks to the South Park Theater for complimentary press tickets. Knickers runs though June 6, tickets and more information can be found here.
Performance Date: Thursday, May 21, 2015