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‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ at RLT is a riot

By Bob Conrad

Half the battle is showing up. That quote is attributed to the famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking but another version of the statement is attributed to the beleaguered playwright Woody Allen from 1977.

Google appears conflicted on the matter. The sentiment remains alive and well, however. 

The Reno Little Theater’s latest production, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” advances the concept in its own way.

“Just being here is winning,” one of the actors explains about showing up to the fictional spelling bee for high-schoolers on the East Coast. 

Adult actors play adolescents attending a highly competitive event that touches on modern, but also timeless, teen narratives: parental and peer pressure, insecurities, boners, dysfunctional family dynamics, politics, self doubt, winning and losing, and being “good enough” – or not.

The local actors seamlessly perform song and dance to tell the tale of competing in what, for them, is the “championship of a lifetime” but in reality is a portrayal of what youth have to go through in ordinary American life.  

It’s like a reality show but with a deeper context about what it means to be young and in a competition where there is only one ultimate winner.

The characters are complex and diverse, each with their own interests and baggage. 

Hilarious standouts are Ryan Costello as Leaf Coneybear (and his puppet), Ryan Kelly as William Barfée (who is incessantly miffed at the chronic mispronunciations of his name), Bernadette Garcia as Marcy Park and Georgia McKnight as Olive Ostrovksy, who nearly makes the entire audience cry at one point.

A handful of audience members get called onto stage to partake in the spelling bee – they too can’t help but join in the hilarity.

A “floating Jesus apparatus” also makes an appearance, which had the audience in stitches.

“Laughter and heart are abundant in this production and we are so very honored to share this world with you,” Director Stacey Spain says in the play’s program. 

It was one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen. Expect to laugh your ass off.

Details

Directed by: Stacey Spain

Dates:

  • Evening show dates: July 28, 29, 30, Aug. 4, 5, 6 at 7:30 p.m.
  • Matinee show dates: July 31, Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.
  • Post-show talkback: Sunday, July 31

Tickets:

  • Regular: $30 per person
  • Senior: $25 per person
  • Student: $15 per person

The show runs two-plus hours and has an intermission. It is recommended for ages 13 and over with parental guidance.

Cast

  • Tobie Barton as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre
  • Cori Cooper as Rona Lisa Peretti
  • Ryan Costello as Leaf Coneybear
  • John Frederick as Douglas Panch
  • Bernadette Garcia as Marcy Park
  • Edison Garcia as Mitch Mahoney
  • Ryan Kelly as William Barfée
  • Georgia McKnight as Olive Ostrovksy
  • Jared Lively as Chip Tolentino

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