Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain
Novato Theater Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Jeanie's reviews of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) of The Tin Woman and Patrick's review of When Pigs Fly


Lindsay John, Jayme Catalano, Sandi V. Weldon,
and Janelle Ponte

Photo by Fred Deneau
American playwright Mark Dunn's gentle comedy of five women working together in a bank premiered in 1993, which was a long time ago in terms of the developments in feminism since then. None of the characters even have cell phones, good grief. Still, even in enlightened 2018 it's hard to find a play on stage anywhere that features a full female cast of five—we haven't progressed that much, evidently—and hearing five treble voices converse in public for two hours is still a novelty. Novato Theater Company has the good graces to deliver this rarity with an excellent cast, wrapped up in attractive production values, and lets us ponder how far women have or haven't come in the intervening decades.

No need to guess too hard on the premise: five women of varying ages and temperaments all work in the same bank in northern Mississippi—four average bank tellers (back when tellers were required and plentiful) and one head teller. We see them only in the mornings before the bank opens, in the office break room. None of the male bosses would be caught dead entering this woman's domain, so the women have it all to themselves, where they can kvetch, joke, laugh, and bond over bad coffee and stale Moon Pies.

Jenny (Lindsay John) is trying to solve a small wood interlocking puzzle to prove to her live-in boyfriend that she's as smart as he is, but she's failing and frustrated. Middle-aged co-worker Delores (Sandi V. Weldon) commiserates, but gently suggests that Jenny might be giving the beau too much credit (hint: power) by obsessing over the puzzle, while quietly brooding over the loss of her husband. They're shortly joined by Twyla (Janelle Ponte), newly separated and struggling with issues related to impending divorce and childcare, not to mention low self-esteem. Betina (Jayme Catalano), on the other hand, seems determined to bed every single guy in Mississippi and Texas, romping through life as a fun-loving party girl. Her fashion sense is described by Jenny as "cowboy hooker," but she's also smart (enough to solve the darn puzzle) and sassy.

Rounding out the cast of characters is head teller Lorene (Hande Gökbas), who wields her small bit of power like a hatchet over the other women, with varying degrees of intimidation. Most affected is timid Twyla, who hopes to confront Lorene over their lost friendship, which apparently vanished when Twyla announced her separation.

Mark Dunn's keyhole of observation seems limited to the women's relationships with men, mostly detailing common abuses like alienation of affection and affairs. There's a welcome current of warm humor throughout to mitigate the stories of crummy couplings. But the women's friendships with each other are really the central focus, and their navigation of these waters fraught with hand-holding, hugs, and hurt feelings should resonate as familiar territory for all women. Lest we feel superior in our 2018 sophistication, we need only refer to current headlines to see how women still struggle to find common footing and meaningful dialogue. Dunn at least envisions an endearing outcome for his characters—we might hope for a similar sanity to prevail in our own world.

Overall, the production does the play justice, with only minor quibbles. John, Weldon, and Catalano develop strong characterizations and adroitly time their laugh lines. They also get to flex their serious acting muscles at least once in act two, showing some strength. Gökbas has some trouble landing Lorene's character flaws, but provides a lot of the comic relief. Ponte is the right type for Twyla's timid demeanor, but has a small voice, making her hard to hear and hard to believe in the final scene as she struggles with transformation.

Director Anna Smith keeps her cast moving across a very wide stage, and no doubt helped define character. Scenic design by Michael Walraven provides a credible and suitably bland workroom, including a working snack dispenser and actual rain out the window. Catalano does a great job with a zillion props, Brigid Tillotson with lighting design, and Mia Glenn-Schuster with excellent musical commentary.

Maybe it's not earth-shattering, but these are convincing attempts at connection between disparate women. And they do it all without cell phones. It's an evening well spent with humor and heart.

Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain, through June 10, 2018, at Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Tickets $12.00-$27.00, available at www.novatotheatercompany.org or at the door just prior to performance.


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