It was a familiar sort of tale at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre on Thursday’s opening night. Girl dates boy. Boy is set to propose but girl overhears and misunderstands the situation. Hijinks ensue. And, though things inevitably turn out okay, there’s still a plot twist or two to be had. But instead of just seeing the action, we also get to hear the action that’s running through our main character’s head thanks to her five Egos.
Due to the on-the-nose title of Scott Hahn’s A Penny for Your Thoughts, you might correctly infer that the story revolves around someone named Penny. With the titular character played by a solid Leslie Day, the performer's major challenge was that, as the audience gets to hear the inner workings of Penny’s mind through her Egos’ opinions, Day was required to act out Penny’s decision-making process or pacing the room wildly – all while being absolutely silent.
I’m never one to dislike the Barn’s in-the-round style. However, while director Joe DePauw did a great job handling Penny’s silent time on stage, A Penny for Your Thoughts was clearly directed with a “front” in mind, and during more than a few scenes, “front,” here, was exactly opposite the seats I opted for. Perhaps sitting with the back of the sofa toward me was a mistake on my part, but I couldn’t have anticipated quite how frequently I wouldn’t see anyone’s facial expressions.
I imagine Hanh's script presented stage challenges, given that there are the characters who are actually there and then there are the five assorted Egos – and everyone needs a place to sit. This did leave the stage riddled with seating that was probably not intended to be a part of Penny’s apartment. The mishmash of furniture pieces definitely screams “20-something’s first apartment collection of hand-me-down stuff,” and I wish the Egos' various seating options didn’t blend in quite so well.
Speaking of those Egos, the five were quite a team of actors. There was the ditsy Buffy in charge of making Penny’s fashion decisions, and I was impressed by Laney Chandler’s performance in the role because she was impressively committed. Her character’s blatant misuse of words was, from the first moment the lights came up, the cause for the bulk of audience laughter. Chandler never dropped character that I could tell, even when discussing garbage bags with Adam, played by a charming Aidan Leahy, that delivered undoubtedly the funniest moment of the entire evening. These two performers had perfect comedic timing together … and brilliant supporting facial expressions.
On the older-and-wiser sides of the Egos was Elizabeth Hulsbrink’s Myrtle, who was definitely throwing some Natalie-from-The-Facts-of-Life vibes. While the quirky-yet-fun Myrtle was initially one of the more off-putting Egos, she honestly became more and more endearing throughout the night. Her continued conflict with Jessica (an intense Cherry Wolf) resulted in poor Penny changing her mind several times.
One time in which my chosen location in the theatre paid off in a big way was when Penny and the Egos were hiding from Penny’s boyfriend Matt, portrayed by a straightforward, straight-laced David Schaffer. The fifth and final Ego, Gertrude (the hilarious Pam Kobre), hid in a way that elicited big laughs, and it was a perfect reminder of how vital it is to see actors’ facial expressions. I was lucky to see Kobre’s.
Matt McConville was spot-on smarmy as Rick, the co-worker of Matt and Penny’s mom Janet (Lona Friedman), who spotted an opening and went for it. Rick, however, clearly didn’t think his plan through very well. Certainly, if a relationship with Penny would have worked out, she would have eventually met his sister Darla (Mimi Sweetser) and seen her car. But the plot point doesn’t so much matter, because from the moment the audience meets Rick, we plainly see that Matt is the better option for Penny, and it’s only matter of time before Penny figures that out for herself.
Rick is also entirely incapable of hiding a cell phone well, though whether this is a character flaw or a staging issue is anyone’s guess. Yet this also didn't really matter, because it was clear that the stakes just weren’t that high. In fact, if Penny had listened to part of her Egos and just talked to Matt when she overheard him, there wouldn’t have even been an Act II. Ultimately, DePauw’s comedic production was a celebration of misunderstandings, wisecracks, and the death of one rather large arachnid, and while A Penny for Your Thoughts may not change your life, it’s definitely good for a laugh and an enjoyable night out. Just maybe don’t sit behind the couch.
A Penny for Your Thoughts runs at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (600 Robinson Drive, Geneseo IL) through July 23, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)944-2244 and visiting RHPlayers.com.