Review: 'The Desk Set' full of good acting, holiday charm

12:11 PM, Dec 17, 2012

Kathy Coughenour, Debbie Richardson, Laura Pratt and Katie Keating star in The Desk Set at MuCCC. (Photo provided by Screen Plays — Hollywood's Golde)/

The holiday season is the perfect time to remember the days of old and celebrate new beginnings. For theaters everywhere, it’s an ideal time to present productions brimming with holiday cheer.

Local theater director Karen Tuccio is doing just that with her production of William Marchant’s The Desk Set, which runs through Dec. 23 at MuCCC.

Tuccio’s newly founded company Screen Plays — Hollywood’s Golden Age Onstage presents a romantic comedy that transpires in the reference department of a Manhattan-based radio and television broadcast company in 1955. When the boss’ nephew comes to measure the tiny office for an “electronic brain,” or early computer, it pits the female staff against him in a race to keep their jobs as Christmas approaches.

While most people think of the 1950s as an idyllic time — the age of the ad men in cities and the nuclear family in suburbia — it was, like any time in history, also filled with uncertainty. The Desk Set debuted on Broadway in 1955, midway through the century that brought the Korean War, McCarthyism, Elvis Presley, Disneyland and the first computers in the workplace.

Tuccio has assembled a cast of varied experience to fill the leather pumps, wool suits and shirtwaists of Marchant’s characters. In the lead role of Bunny Watson is the vibrant Katie Keating, a Niagara University theater graduate who’s also worked in the University of Rochester’s International Theatre program box office.

From the moment Keating enters stage left, her energy drives the mid-sized cast. Though the script provides a host of quips and personality for her character, Keating capitalizes on the possibilities, creating a character who’s all at once the best friend, heroine and languishing lover. Her aptitude for nuance is remarkable, eliciting stronger reactions from her scene partners. Likewise, her “office girls” (Kathy Coughenour, Debbie Richardson and Laura Pratt) are fitting sidekicks with their coiffed hair, red lipstick and competent characterization.

The male lead, James Heath (Richard Sumner), is an able match for Keating. Where she is fair, he’s overbearing, and his sour attitude amplifies her fun-loving spirit. He looks at home in Kay Noske’s period costumes (save the hat he always seems to be missing), and his character’s journey guarantees a satisfying nod from the happy ending lovers.

There were a few technical kinks to work out — two intermissions for the sake of a set change misled audience members to think the show ended abruptly. But overall, designer Kate Sweeney presents a simple, fluid set that makes excellent use of the MuCCC’s blackbox.

Set dressers Tuccio, Al Young and Kay Noske fill in the blanks with vintage finds like 1955 editions of Time magazine, an orange leather recliner and electronics furnished by the Antique Wireless Association.

Throughout the show, supporting cast members (some filling multiple roles, like stage manager Al Young) jump in wholeheartedly, helping with set changes and even decorating the little office for Christmas during the intermission.

It’s the same kind of spirit that’s reflected in the story, a truly ‘holiday’ spirit of banding together to help others. Overall, The Desk Set is a laudable premiere for Rochester’s newest theater company and the perfect choice for a feel-good night out during the holidays.