E.W. Marland Era Comes to Life in "The Broken Statue"
A Review of the Ponca Playhouse 2012 Production of "The Broken Statue" by Kay Anthony
Used with the Permission of "The Ponca City News."
A rare treat is in store for the next three weekends as Ponca Playhouse debuts “The Broken Statue” in Ponca City. With only 900 tickets available and a few hundred left, it is an absolute must to get reservations as soon as possible, or you may not be able to see this fine production by Bob Perry.
Directed by Jeri Seefeldt, the play far exceeded my expectations, and I think all attending will find it fascinating ... a blending of fact and fiction. The play unfolds before your eyes in a theater in the round on the Ponca Playhouse stage. An outstanding cast and crew have come together to make this event possible, which will be a golden opportunity to entertain and educate a large number of our residents and many visitors to our town as well.
All living in our area have a smattering of information we have collected through the years about our most famous resident, E.W. Marland. Many books have been written, his homes have been restored and toured and we feel like we are a part of this history. However, seeing this come alive on stage through actual characters portrayal gave me a new appreciation of the history we have right here at our doorstep. Seeing the characters as they age from 1908 when E.W. Marland and his wife Virginia came to Ponca City to the end of Lydie Marland’s death in 1987 was interesting to me.
Dave Guinn was well cast as the lead, and was able to be believable in the role of this larger than life story of opportunity and opportunities lost. Although the part of the first Mrs. Marland, Virginia, was a small one, petite and very attractive Wendy Branstetter burst with enthusiasm on the stage and surprised me to be very likeable. I wished for more time for her, but of course, her role in real life was always overshadowed by the second Mrs. Marland.
I can’t say enough about how wonderfully cast Kaley Branstetter was in this role of Lydie Roberts Marland. Although she is just out of high school and ready to attend college, youth was in her favor and she stepped up to the plate and did an outstanding job. Pretty as a picture in real life, she seemed to just be the perfect fit for the willowy, shy Lydie. I never had even thought of her having other loves before Mr. Marland, and I thought presenting her as a young girl madly in love, and then a young woman grieving over the death of her love, made her a much more sympathetic character. She grew before our very eyes and aged gracefully. Her wardrobe was to die for, and the costumers are to be commended for excellence in keeping with the era in a myriad of costume changes. After seeing Kaley in this role, I will never think of Lydie Marland in any other way than a positive one. Baylor University will be lucky to have Kaley with all her talents, and our loss will be their gain!
Tying the play together with his homespun chatter and wit was narrator Larry King (old Charlie) who opened the evening with commentary, and continued throughout the play. Always assuming whatever role he plays with aplomb, this one was no exception. He seemed necessary to explain the time-line of the events, although I must admit at times I was confused about who the younger characters were as they appeared and had aged. Almost everyone was a “young” and an “older” character. Ashley Ballinger as Mary joined her grandfather at the beginning and was a good sidekick for him. I am always struck by the freshness and appeal of her performing in whatever venue it takes.
Also, appealing as the younger characters were the best pals, Charlie and Walt, played by Will Branstetter and Brady Bookout. They became unlikely friends of E.W. Marland on the first day he arrived in Ponca City, and were quite amusing in their many antics. Many of the males in the audience could identify with their trying chewing tobacco and thinking it was better going “out” than “in.”
Although I normally don’t enjoy girls playing the roles of boys, in youngsters, this sometimes works fine, and Emma Dunningan and Karis Branstetter took the roles of Young George and Cricket and ran with them. No one was the wiser about their sex until the curtain call when as hats were removed, they revealed their feminine side!
Young Lydie, played by Ema Adams, was an adorable beauty who also acted well, and looked like a carbon copy of the older Lydie. Not having any speaking lines, but appearing as child one and child two were Sammi Dunnigan and Zac Adams, who were cute as could be.
Other actors, many of which had numerous lines and deserve accolades, were John Howe who played Daniel Craigan, a rough and menacing sometimes friend, sometimes enemy of Mr. Marland ... seeming at his best when he was a true scoundrel; Paul Koenke, who was the second Charlie, best friend of Lydie throughout her Ponca City days, giving a really fine performance; Aaron Clark who was the second Walt, boyfriend of Lydie, a good choice for her love interest (and the one we rooted for); and Morgan Ham as Elizabeth, a very vivacious and talented actress that left me wanting more of her on stage this production.
In addition, giving their all to their character portrayal were Matt Graves as George Marland, Stephen Long as Joe Miller (how exciting to think we knew that name so well), and Jason Issacson as Jody.
Only appearing once and all too briefly but with a surprisingly vital role was another favorite actor of mine, John Maddux, who was the gardener.
Rounding out the large cast, but simply stealing the show, were the town busybodies, Eve Adams as Mrs. Dingle and Chris Ray as Mrs. Berry. These two gals were just hilarious and my only criticism would be that they never aged ... looking the same at the beginning with small children, as they did at the end. Never at a loss for words, these two friends seemed joined at the hip, and would have been the first to think that they were the town gossips since they didn’t believe in that!
They were attired fashionably at all times, and interacted with the audience (oddly, we assumed the role of guests at some of the social functions, so if you were on the front row as we were, it seemed you were included in the activity!). These two played off each other perfectly, like two peas in a pod. I just found them to be delightful and looked forward to each time they appeared on stage. They never broke character and were completely immersed in their roles. Maybe they should consider going on the road as a team.
One of the amazing aspects of this production was that there was no set per se. Everything was brought on the stage as needed and the stagehands did this in such an unobtrusive manner that you never knew anything was set up until the lights went up. Hats off to the crew who pulled this off so smoothly.
Another plus was that there were large screens with original Ponca City pictures provided by the research of Hugh Pickens, on stage left and stage right. This tied the scenes together and actually became a real part of the set. Those of us native Ponca Citians were able to identify many places on Grand Avenue. Pictures of rooms in the mansion and Marland’s Grand Home made us reminisce fondly of days gone by. As stated previously, the costumes were authentic throughout and transported us to the era of the play, never missing the mark. Background music added greatly to setting the atmosphere as well as a soundtrack complete with oil boom and weather sounds keeping the mood spell binding.
In any production, other than having a capable director, a producer, such as Karen Brown Mason, and a stage manager, like Kelli Graves, has to be something money can’t buy. These two gals did so much behind the scene work and need to be applauded for working above and beyond the call of duty. Other crew members, equally important in their jobs and deserving thanks, are Alec Carson, technical director; Jacob Hudson, sound design; Hugh Pickens, historic slide presentation; Dr. S. J. Pickens, historic consultant/ Marland Mansion; Bernard Marsh, projection screens; Gayle Williams-Team Radio, sound design; Shannon Dunningan, costumer designer; Sandy Bishop, Ardeth Mason and Christina Rich-Splawn, costumers; Caitlin Bearskin, hair and make-up; Ryan Brown, Roseanne Cockriel and Deanna Hinshaw, properties; Luke Ballinger, Levi Branstetter, Fran Colle, Jacob Colle, Josiah Colle and Keifer Fulson, backstage running crew; Tiffani Czapansky, child wrangler; Mike Beaucham, photographer; and Graph-XTina Graphic Services, graphic design.
In closing this review, I want to give a thumb’s up! All in all, this was an evening of history, mingled with a lot of imagination on the part of the author as he attempted to fill in background which may or may not have happened. The combination of events as portrayed made a for a perfect mix of fact and fantasy.
I for one will never look at this part of our Ponca City history in the same way, and will be forever grateful to the author of the play who was inspired to pen this play. Don’t miss out attending one of the performances beginning Friday, July 20, and ending on Sunday, Aug. 5, with the Sunday afternoon matinee. Call the Ponca Playhouse office at 580-765-5360 for complete information.