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Monday, October 2, 2023


Theater Review: ‘Bee’ doesn’t spell success

The Hobby Center was transformed into a sweaty gymnasium where a giddy woman kicked off The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee presented by Theatre Under The Stars on March 25.

The play attempted to reinforce the belief that all people are winners as long as they try their best, even if they don’t take home the shiny gold trophy coveted by all.

Rona Lisa Peretti (Roberta Duchak), a former Putnam Bee champion, gave a run-down of the night’s events and introduced the kooky contestants, beginning with Chip Tolentino (Justin Keyes), last year’s champ who is also a boy scout with an overly obsessive imagination.

Other contestants included Leaf Coneybear (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), a spacey kid from Montrose wearing a helmet and a cape, Marcy Park (Katie Boren), an over-achiever with a competitive edge, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre (Robin Alexis Childress), a pig-tailed girl with a lisp and two dads, hence the name Schwartz-and-grubenierre, William Barfee (Eric Roediger), a science geek particular about the pronunciation Barfe’eacute; and Olive Ostrovsky (Vanessa Ray), a latch-key kid dressed in Pepto-Bismol pink.

A few audience participants joined the queer bunch and vice principal Douglas Panch (James Kall) took a seat next to his dream girl, Rona. Ex-convict Mitch Mahoney (Kevin Smith-Kirkwood) rounded out the dysfunctional group, acting as the comfort counselor.

After a proper introduction, the group poked fun at racial and political stereotypes. The puns were typically delivered as definitions or used in a sentence, and frequently referred to the kids’ quizzical attributes.

One of the play’s more brazen statements about race was evident in Mitch Mahoney’s character, a young black man serving community service as part of his parole and outfitted in baggy clothing and flashy jewelry. The definition of "Mexicans" as a broad term encompassing all Hispanic groups was another trite attempt at humor.

The characters are emotionally ineffectual, so the musical scores hinting at their home lives and determination to win seem disjointed and unimportant.

The Putnam contestants relied on local name-dropping and candy showers to rouse the audience consisting of children and adults, who may be antsy and impatient well before the play’s end.

The production’s target audience is sketchy, as the humor is inappropriate for younger audiences, and the scenario and characters will fail to captivate most adults.

It would have been nice to chuckle at something refreshingly funny, but instead the group offered little more than dated jokes about minority groups and political missteps. Although the cloying characters tried to stay within reason, the wisecracks were cliched and insensitive.

The production was neither profound nor atrocious, just somewhere in between, which just isn’t good enough. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs through Sunday at The Hobby Center. Tickets are available online at or by calling (713) 315-2400.

Verdict: S-K-I-P I-T

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