ANNA MARIA – Philosophical boundaries are a constant struggle for a philosophy professor who thinks he knows the obvious difference between right and wrong in Cliffhanger, the Island Players’ season opener.
Rick Kopp is a convincing Professor Henry Lowenthal, whose hero is Socrates, a source of inspiration for him, and a key player in how the plot unfolds. The professor’s wavering moral compass draws laughs from an audience that never knows what he’ll do next.
The professor’s wife, Polly, played by Cathy Hansel-Edgerton, also brings plenty of laughs as she is all about solving the problems at hand with little regard to what Socrates may think of her. Polly simply wants to keep her husband out of jail and their long-term relationship intact regardless of what direction her moral compass may be pointing. Her character is essential to how the plot unfolds, and this Island Players veteran gets the job done.
A visit from rival colleague Edith Wilshire, played by Sue Belvo – who nails her small but important role – unleashes a series of events that challenges the professor to rethink his lifelong ethical ideals, which he not only works hard to impress upon his students but exercise in his own personal life.
The story hinges on a not-so-slightly obnoxious spoiled rich kid, Melvin, played by Colin Brady, who is over the top, and written to be purposely annoying. Brady does an excellent job delivering every line convincingly, but his desire to get a failing grade changed by the professor makes him a constant source of moral struggle for the Lowenthals, who will do anything to make him go away while simultaneously dealing with a local police detective played by Island Players newcomer, Sam DiGiammarino.
Director Mike Lusk does a great job pulling the comedic moments out of his characters in a play that is not strictly a comedy. Stage manager Jeanne Walther and the entire crew do an equally good job of setting the scene and bringing the audience into the show. Lusk went onstage before the Sept. 16 show and dedicated the performance to Jack Abene, who had been the backstage manager and an integral part of the Island Players for more than 25 years. Jack passed away at the age of 91 the morning of the performance.
Cliffhanger runs through Sept. 25, followed by I Ought to be in Pictures (Nov. 3-13), The Odd Couple (Jan. 12-29), The 39 Steps (March 9-26) and How the Other Half Loves (May 4-14). Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office at 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria or by calling 941-778-5755. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.