Thursday, April 26, 2012

REVIEW: Battle Ground/Prairie High Present One Smart "Get Smart"

When it comes to quality productions, High School Theater can be hit and miss. The delightful and campy Battle Ground/Prairie High [Prairie Ground Drama] production of “Get Smart” is one of the hits. I never knew such a play existed, but it was written in 1967—an adaptation of the (1965-1970) TV show’s pilot done by Christopher Sergel. [The original episode, “Mr. Big,” was written by creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.]

The play is quirky, corny and fun, though doesn’t move along quite at the TV show’s pace. There are a couple places where the script drags and it is certainly no literary work of art, but it’s mostly amusing and was made all the more so by the talent delivering it.

In a nutshell, Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) and Agent 99, assisted by Agents 13 and 44, must thwart KAOS plans to use a ray gun to destroy the Statue of Liberty, recover the device’s kidnapped creator, and, well, save the day. Smart, and his assisting agents, cleverly bumble through to do just that.

James Martine as Smart
James Martine is excellent in the role of Smart. While he doesn’t attempt to play the role in homage to Don Adams’ iconic character, he fills the shoe (phone) well. His rubber-faced performance reminded me a lot of Danny Kaye or Jim Carrey. Maybe it was more Pet Detective than Inspector Gadget, but it worked very well. I really hope Martine will continue to pursue comedic acting—he has a real gift.

Most students—there were 28 on stage and 14 additional in-house performers—played their respective roles well enough, but many stood out in addition to Martine. While Diana Ferar was lovely as 99, the part didn’t give her much to do—really playing down the role that was done so well by Barbara Feldon in the TV series. And that is a shame; Ferar, I feel, may have deserved something better.

The members of the house improv troupe were amazing, playing their roles from the moment the doors opened. While in character, they served as hosts and ushers as well as providing distraction during the scene changes.

Our party was passed off from agent to agent upon entry as we were surreptitiously seated. Later a young man “accidentally” dropped some change near our table and whispered, “The eagle flies at dawn.” All around us extreme espionage ensued.

I just loved how they let their inhibitions down and kept in character at such close contact with audience members. It is one thing to do a play from a stage, quite another to do it interactively.

Amanda Hoffman as Ingrid
The cast stand outs were Robin Becar as Prof. Zalinka, Nick Hulscher as Agent 44, and Amanda Hoffman as Princess Ingrid.  Becar, with her thick German accent and stellar command of the stage, was charmingly two-faced. Hulscher was calm, cool and collected with a touch of zany.

Hoffman was marvelous; she just threw herself into the role. She threw herself at Max (with more than a polite stage kiss), she was thrown into a shopping cart, and she threw all caution to the wind to pull off the quirky and ditzy Scandinavian.

Also worthy of mention were Josh Snider as the ever cool Agent 13, Austin Ebert as the wacky Prof. Dante, Thoni Holbrook—who stood out from the four kidnapped blonds—and the three nutty ninja Wong sisters played with much aplomb by Sky Ring, Rose Caughie and Grace Cook. The Wongs were weally wonderful.

Director Clair Verity—drama teacher at both schools—did an amazing job. She really pulled the best out of these students, helping them fully immerse themselves into character. The overall look and comic timing that a good director brings to such a show was certainly evident.

The mid-show dance number to “Secret Agent Man” was nicely choreographed and winningly performed.

The sets were simple but effective; changed quickly while the audience was entertained and distracted by the in-house improv players. The lighting and sound nicely executed. The costumes were altogether fun and often quite snappy. (There were so many trench coats in the opening scene, I’m thinking half the production budget went to London Fog.)

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to use the restrooms during intermission or you’ll miss some of the half-time improv. Do show up when the doors open at 6:30 p.m. to see even more. The whole experience is an interactive, immersive show.

Opening night was snack theater as are April 26 and May 3 ($7 online/$10 at the door). Dinner theater nights are April 27 and May 4 ($25 online/$30 at the door). Advance tickets can be purchased at

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos by Ruth Zschomler

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