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There's no accounting for poor manners

Playwright and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher conjures up the world of a 10-year-old boy and his etiquette lessons taught by a comically formidable and enigmatic instructor at her School of Manners in Steubenville, Ohio. Set in 1967, Hatcher's laugh-out-loud, semi-autobiographical story introduces us to his classmates, parents, grandfather and his demanding teacher whom everyone calls Mrs. Mannerly.

No student in her 36 years of etiquette classes has achieved a perfect score, and young Hatcher sets out to be the first when he discovers her secret past. But his uproariously uncouth classmates may just keep him from succeeding.

Next Stage Repertory will present "Mrs. Mannerly" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 19-20, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, in the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., online at www.craterian.org or by calling 541-779-3000.

The theater company cast Presila Quinby in the role of Mrs. Mannerly and Adam Cuppy as Jeffrey Hatcher, his classmates, parents and the adult Jeffrey. 

"Adam's is a sort of Robin Williams-type role," says director Doug Warner. "The play is ingenuously funny because it allows the actor to shift into different characters. Adam is perfect in this role. The play lets him showcase his acting skills."

Cuppy uses such physical traits as posture, facial expressions and core physicality to jump from one character to the next. 

"There are five other students in the class," Cuppy says. "It's a roomful of children with diverse personalities. There's Ralph, who's kind of grungy, a prissy little girl named Kim, and a little boy who strives to be perfect and follow every rule. Then there's the awkward girl. They all have distinct characteristics that I use to quickly portray them. All I have to think about is that one physical variance and I can quickly get my head into one character and then the next."

In one scene, Cuppy jumps in and out of five different characters with just 10 words.

"At 10 years old, Jeffrey is a good student," Warner says. "He's a little overweight and not a great athlete. He's prone to outbursts, and his parents sent him to Mrs. Mannerly after an episode in church. But he doesn't mind. For him, it's better than playing in Little League."

For decades, Mrs. Mannerly has taught kids how to hold their knives and forks, fold their napkins and be polite — social graces that have all but disappeared from today's culture, Warner says.

"Mannerly is very strict, but she's also very human," Warner says. "She's quirky and is known for tipping a drink or two after work. With two generations between her and the young Hatcher, you can see how the Great Depression has influenced her personal style."

"Mrs. Mannerly" premiered in New York City in 2010. Critics called it the most hilarious play of the year.

Cuppy will be leaving the Rogue Valley later this year to join his wife in San Diego, where she has been accepted into a fine arts program. He's a graduate of Southern Oregon University's Theatre Arts program and he received training at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

"It's been a good run," Cuppy says.

He can see the impact that community theater has on mainstream entertainment.

"The irony is that the source of all modern entertainment comes from small, community-based programs such as Next Stage Repertory, Camelot and Randall Theatre. These are gateways for our community to build culture and gain a sense of self. By buying tickets and attending shows, patrons are contributing to humanity. If we let community theater go away, it will have a ripple effect."

Presila Quinby stars as etiquette instructor Mrs. Mannerly and Adam Cuppy as student Jeffrey Hatcher in Next Stage Repertory Company's comedy 'Mrs. Mannerly.' Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Presila Quinby stars as etiquette instructor Mrs. Mannerly and Adam Cuppy as student Jeffrey Hatcher in Next Stage Repertory Company's comedy 'Mrs. Mannerly.' Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell