CONWAY — Jeffrey feels he’s not much good at anything, but he thinks he might excel in the etiquette class that Mrs. Mannerly has been teaching for the past 36 years in Steubenville, Ohio.
That’s the basic premise of The Lantern Theatre and the Conway Community Arts Association’s upcoming production of Mrs. Mannerly, by Jeffrey Hatcher.
The play is semiautobiographical as the author recalls the lessons he learned in Mrs. Mannerly’s class, as well as what was going on in 1967. The story is told by 9-year-old Jeffrey, the narrator, who also plays Jeffrey, the young man enrolled in the manners class.
“Jeffrey is a well-behaved kid,” said Ashley Carnahan, director of the local production. “He is more of a watch-TV-and-read kid. He’s discovered that he’s not good at playing ball, but he realizes he might be the best in Mrs. Mannerly’s manners class. He wants to become the first kid to score perfect on the final test.”
Carnahan said Mrs. Mannerly is “a prim and proper woman — such an institution.
“But Jeffrey realizes she has a secret past, and he tries to dig up dirt on the old lady. He also realizes that if he is to be perfect, he needs to get rid of the competition — the other kids in the class.
“It’s a great play,” Carnahan said, noting that it was originally written for just two people, a man (Jeffrey) and a woman (Mrs. Mannerly). The man plays all of the other characters.
“But the playwright has said if you want to cast all of the characters, you can. I chose to go that route. This way, you get to see the versatility of all the characters.
“I found this play and thought it might appeal to our mass audience. It’s something different than the Southern-fried comedies we’ve done in the past.”
Mrs. Mannerly cast members include the following:
• Jeannie Denniston of Morrilton appears as Mrs. Mannerly.
Known for her characters portrayed at the Rialto Theater in Morrilton, Dennison said the Rialto Players are taking a summer break, which allowed her a chance to seek out other community-theater groups.
“The timing is perfect,” she said, “and this play is very funny.”
Denniston said her character is fun.
“She’s also very formal, but there’s a mystery about her. There’s a point in the play where she imbibes, and we see her get a little bit looser,” Dennison said.
“Being the senior member of the cast, I’ve had to explain to all these young actors all the references to the old TV shows and movies because I watched them,” she said. “The play is set in 1967, and Jeffrey is sharing what is going on with his family at the time. I’m familiar with TV shows like The Wild, Wild West, which is referenced in the play.
Denniston is a local attorney.
• Trent Reese of Conway portrays Jeffrey.
“It’s a fun play,” Reese said. “I get to play Jeffrey, the narrator, as well as Jeffrey, the child. Playing a child is challenging.
“I have to go back and forth as the characters, which I try to do so it is not annoying. I don’t so much change my voice, but my energy level is higher when I am playing the child.
“As I take it, my character is from a family whose members are very skilled, and he feels he can’t do anything,” Reese said. “He’s always been told that he’s polite, so he thinks this manners class might be something he’s good at.”
Reese is a 2007 graduate of Conway High School and a 2013 graduate of the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater performance. He hopes to obtain a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater directing. He works part time at Barnes & Noble in Little Rock and teaches acting at Blackbird Academy in Conway.
Reese last appeared in CCAA’s production of Amateurs. He has directed several of the arts association’s recent productions, including The Odd Couple and Circle Mirror Transformation.
• Jordan Goodeye plays Charles.
“My character is a suck-up, for lack of a better word,” Goodeye said. “He’s trying to be the best in the class. He is trying to outshine Jeffrey in any way he can.
“It’s really a fun play with good writing. I’m really enjoying it.”
Originally from Canada, Goodeye is a junior at the University of Central Arkansas, where he is majoring in film and English.
“I did some acting in high school,” he said. “I’ve mostly been involved in scriptwriting and working backstage.”
• Chris Harris of Conway is Ralph.
“Ralph’s that kind of kid in every classroom that may not be the best as far as personal hygiene goes,” Harris said of his character. “You may have to tell him a time or two to get his finger out of his nose.
“It’s a real fun play.”
A graduate of Morrilton High School, Harris is self-employed. He has appeared in several CCAA productions, including Amateurs, The Odd Couple and Circle Mirror Transformation.
• Charlotte Grant of Conway plays Kim.
Grant, the 17-year-old daughter of Patrick and Carla Grant, is making her debut with CCAA.
She grew up with the local community-theater group, as both of her parents were involved in the early days of productions. Carla is in charge of stage management for Mrs. Mannerly.
Charlotte has done other theater work, including performing at Conway High School, where she is a senior.
“My character is very stubborn, very cocky,” she said. “She’s a perfectionist.
“I’m having loads of fun with the play.”
Grant said she plans to attend UCA and major in psychology.
• Rachel Loveless of Conway portrays Jamie.
“My character wants to do her own thing,” Loveless said. “She’s really independent and basically just puts up with the other students and their stupidity.
“I really like working with Ashley as a director,” Loveless said, noting that she usually works with costumes. She did, however, appear in the Late Night at the Lantern production of Rabbit Hole.
Rachel is a 2009 graduate of Conway High School and is a senior at UCA, where she is majoring in theater and English.
• Pammi Fabert of Conway is Patsy.
Carnahan describes Fabert’s character as “loud and brash.
“She’s a good-time girl who has come back to be Jeffrey’s dancing partner.”
Fabert is from Melbourne, Australia. She has been in Conway for nine years and graduated from UCA in 2008 with a degree in theater. She also has a degree in social work from a university in Australia.
She made her acting debut with CCAA in 2013 when she appeared in The Odd Couple.
Mrs. Mannerly will be presented at 7:30 p.m. July 18, 19, 25 and 26, and at 2:30 p.m. July 20 and 27.
Tickets are $12 each. Reservations are recommended.
For more information, call (501) 450-6247 or visit www.conwayarts.org.