ACT shows mines humor of visiting gynecologists

An unknown, first-time playwright from California provided the material for Alpena Civic Theatre’s new show, “Stirrups.”

Don’t think a Western here. Instead, the show by Stacy Powells derives its humor from repeated visits to a gynecologist’s office in California over the course of some 50 years. It’s also about the relationships forged throughout that time as Dr. Sheldon and Nurse Carol get to know a young girl named Elyse in a most intimate fashion – trading body part jokes and the stuff of life all along the way.

Director Julie Meyers had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the playwright via phone and learned that Powells wrote her play not just to elicit laughs over a universal and oft dreaded experience of womanhood, but also because she’s a champion of the need for women’s health care. So expect some social commentary slipped in on a few hot button topics and even some mild political zingers.

Depending on your take on abortion, it might give you pause when Beatrice, the mom – in talking to 15-year-old Elyse prior to her first official visit to the gynecologist – tells her daughter if legal abortion and Roe vs. Wade had been around back when she and Elyse’s dad got together, then Elyse might not be around today. She reminds Elyse she’s fortunate that things have progressed so that she now has more options available, including birth control.

The show is well cast with some fun performances. Amelia Berles plays Elyse in her younger years and nails the characterization of the perennial mother-daughter struggle and the teen attitude. Marlo Board also gives a strong turn as Elyse’s overly involved mom who nevertheless is none too comfortable giving her daughter “the sex talk” before the visit to Dr. Sheldon.

Curt Hampton plays Dr. Sheldon in his early years. He too does an outstanding job playing a doc in his first week on the job who, before today’s modern era of health care regulations, really took the time to get to know his patients. He forges a doctor/patient relationship with Elyse over the course of many of life’s passages – her going off to college, dealing with toxic shock syndrome from tampon usage (remember that scare from decades past?), marriage, births, divorce and menopause.

Elyse also forms a strong bond with Nurse Carol, wonderfully portrayed by Doreen Kriniak. Her character harbors aspirations of becoming a stand-up comic, and she tries her material out on Elyse with each succeeding visit.

Another notable performance in the first act is given by Ashley Cotton as the “hippie chick” named Diana Reynolds. She meets Elyse and her mom on Elyse’s first visit to Dr. Sheldon. An active participant (that’s putting it mildly) at Woodstock, Diana regales the other two with tales of her exploits and life as a rock star groupie.

We later meet Diana again in the waiting room after she’s converted to Christianity in Texas and wants to forget about her colorful past. Even so, she tells Elyse, she opts to come back to California for her gynecology exams because she’d rather have a Democrat doctor from California looking at her private parts than a Republican one from Texas.

By act two, the characters have aged. Elyse and Dr. Sheldon were appropriately double cast so that Amanda Hulsey now appears as the older Elyse and Ted Rockwell as the older Dr. Sheldon. The years have marched on, and toward the end of the play, it seems Dr. Sheldon might have some health concerns of his own. Meanwhile, Elyse is weathering the fall-out from a failed marriage and finally, hot flashes and other well-mined comedic symptoms of menopause.

Diana, the reformed “hippie chick,” now comes to Dr. Sheldon’s office with a care giver because she suffers from dementia. Linda Suneson, who appeared as the receptionist in the first act, portrays the much older Diana. Suneson gave the most touching and real performance of the show, along with Broad as her caregiver. Her character, well-aged with makeup and hair, doesn’t always live in reality and often repeats herself. She also just wants to go home to her safe haven. The characterization lists on the heart-wrenching side, but so indicative of dementia sufferers.

The final exchange in Dr. Sheldon’s office (he’s now retired) comes between Elyse and his new replacement, a nephew. The new Dr. Sheldon, who prefers to be called Dr. Robert, employs digital record keeping and comes off as brusque with a no nonsense, no time to chat approach. The exchange between the two could be taken as a social commentary on the state of today’s health care system. Not surprisingly, Elyse is incensed.

There’s levity up until the very end, including a nice closing moment. The show runs nearly two and a half hours, with throwback Karen Carpenter songs spliced between scenes.

“Stirrups” is not recommended for anyone under the age of 15 because of adult language and mature themes. The show continues this week only, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For reservations, contact the ACT box office at 354-3624.


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