Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
The kids carried the show Thursday as Flint Community Players presented the now vintage, true story of the large Gilbreth family, Cheaper by the Dozen. Dramatized by Christopher Sergel from the book by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, the script doesn’t call for all 12 children to appear, however the nine who do manage to be the collective highlight of the show.
Set in the 1920s, Cheaper by the Dozen is the recounting of the authors’ young lives with their parents and 10 siblings. Dad was a time management expert who often imposed and tested his various theories and efficiency experiments on his family. Newcomer Kevin Marsee portrays Mr. Gilbreth with a good deal of energy, a bit of intensity but also clear affection for his children. We figure out early on that Dad has a serious heart condition, one that his children are not aware of, and that is driving him to make his family self-sufficient.
Carrie Gerrild plays Mrs. Gilbreth, who was also a well-known psychologist and one of the first working female engineers at the time to hold a Ph.D. Her portrayal here however exudes calm and even mousiness as she defers to her husband’s decisions about the children. She does gain some strength in Act Three when Mr. Gilbreth’s condition becomes known to some of the children.
Director Tammy Robison has double cast the children in this production, so an alternate cast will replace the youngsters we saw Thursday tonight. We wonder how this might be affecting the overall tempo and cohesion of the show. Still, the Gilbreth children Thursday were, for the most part, cute and effective.
The play is told in flashback as the two authors, Frank Jr. and Ernestine (played Thursday by Jesse Gerrild and Alexandra Marsee) reminisce about particularly memorable moments growing up. This works to help move the audience back and forth in time as the action unfolds in vignettes. One that repeats is the whistle blown by Dad to summon his children with a stopwatch ready to time their arrival.
Eldest child Anne (played Thursday by Grace Lee) becomes the spokesperson for the children. Her determination to set some modern precedents with her strict father provides some touching and humorous moments.
Anne’s first attempted date turns comical as the buffoonish cheerleader Joe Scales (Alex Weiss) arrives complete with trick bowtie and a backfiring automobile. By the way, sound effects are handled nicely by Robison. The music was a bit overpowering a few times, but other sounds were spot on.
One notable character is the pompous and stiff lipped teacher Miss Brill (Ann Oravetz). It seems there is some suspicion surrounding this family as the children are often found to be skipping grades. Oravetz is prim and properly stunned at their accomplishments.
Jesse Glenn’s set for this show is impressive with multiple entrances and extreme attention to detail. The large cast moves fluidly around the set with no illusion of being crowded.
Somewhat dated, this story still has the power to entertain and amuse. Plus, anytime there’s a passel of cute kids on stage, it’s a good time. Cheaper by the Dozen continues at the Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint 48507. For tickets and info call the box office at 810-235-6963 or access online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com