Off-Broadstreet Theater opens the new season with a classic, “Peg O’ My Heart” by J. Hartley Manners. Though the title is probably familiar to most people as the name of the song, the 1912 play was written well before there was one. In fact, the song was the winner in a contest set up to help promote the play and has remained a familiar title. The play, too, had been a strikingly popular in its day. In its first nine years there were more than 11,000 performances. Then it was reworked in silent and sound movie versions, a novel, a musical, and in numerous revivals. Lately, though, it has slipped from public consciousness.
Since performances are rare these days, a brief reminder about the plot might be helpful. The action takes place in the living room of Regal Villa, Mrs. Chichester’s comfortable home in Scarborough, England. Also living in Regal Villa are her two grown children, the affable but vacuous Alaric and his shy and timid younger sister, Ethel.
As the play opens, Alaric discovers from the newspaper that the bank that holds most of the family’s money has failed. How is the family to cope with this disaster? Finding a way provides the motivation for much of what follows.
The Peg of the title is a relative of the Chichesters, a poor but spirited Irish girl who lives in New York. Though she does not know this, she becomes an heiress when her uncle, whom she has never met, dies. She is summoned to England, where she is to live with the Chichesters, who of course see her as their financial salvation. But Peg has inherited her Irish father’s rebellious streak, and the stage is set for conflict and fun.
Leading the cast is Peg, played by Tess Ammerman, familiar to OBT’s regulars from “There’s a Burglar in My Bed” and “The Wildest.” Kathy Garofano (OBT’s”The Glass Menagerie” and “Much Ado”) appears as Mrs. Chichester. John Bergeron, featured in at least eight OBT productions, takes on the role of Alaric. And Alexis Newbauer — who she made her debut with the company in “There’s a Burglar in My Bed” — returns for her second show as Ethel.
Making his first Off-Broadstreet main stage appearance is Ken Ammerman, who does a striking job as Jarvis, the butler. Jarvis is on stage a good bit of the time. He says almost nothing but manages to convey a great deal by subdued changes to his facial expression. Surpassing John Bergeron for frequency of appearances at OBT is Barry Abramowitz, a veteran of many productions (he lists seven as his favorites). Here he has the role of Christopher Brent, described as a womanizing cad. Jerry Smith and Robert Risch fill out the cast, respectively playing a solicitor and Peg’s romantic interest, Jerry.
Well almost fill out: the role of Peg’s dog is well handled by Porter Thick (identified by the director, Bob Thick, as “my dog” or his wife’s, “Julie’s dog,” depending on how well he’s behaving). The dog captivated many in the audience and was important to the development of the plot, but to the disappointment of many in the audience, did not get to take a curtain call.
The set is, no surprise, a handsome one, and the credit goes once again to Bob Thick. Two aspects of it give the impression of having been intended as teasers to stir up the audience’s curiosity. One of the decorations in the living room is a full suit of armor, and many in the audience continued to wonder when one of the characters might don it. The set also includes a piano which, unlike the armor, is indeed used after intermission, though some in the audience are bound to notice that the sound of the piano comes from the other side of the stage.
An audience looking for deep thought or thought-provoking issues will not find them in “Peg O’ My Heart.” What people will find, though, is a clever plot, clever lines well delivered, and a handsome visual component.
Peg O’ My Heart, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, May 11, Friday and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Desserts served an hour before show, $29.50 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.