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Ed Burguiere as Mr. Roberts (left), Steve Tommey as Doc and Ed Dill as Ensign Pulver perform during a recent production of "Mister Roberts."

'Mister Roberts' brings honor to stage
By KAREN SHADE World Scene Writer

Let's not blame it on "The Lion King," but merely attribute it as a causal factor -- it's becoming difficult to find a parking space near the Tulsa Performing Arts center. But don't let that deter you from seeing another PAC show, "Mister Roberts," in the PAC's downstairs gem-of-a-play-space, the John H. Williams Theatre.

Although the two shows appear to have little in common -- a high-budget, contemporary spectacle-musical froth with animals, and a comedy-drama about a lieutenant stuck between a wily crew and their zealot captain on a floating naval rust trap in the Pacific -- together they yield a double shot of duty and of individuals rising to the occasion.

"Mister Roberts" may not bring in the throngs of crowds Disney's musical monarch will, but it plainly speaks to a sense of honor as defined by the era of the "greatest generation." It also happens to be darn funny.

Set at the end of World War II, Doug Roberts (Ed Burguiere) is a lieutenant aboard a U.S. Navy cargo ship whose crew is permanently on suspension, or may as well be. They never get leave from their vessel or any slack from their detestable imp of a captain (Don Miller, who also directs). Roberts is less a liaison between the captain and the men as he is sympathizer for the crews' muted grievances against the tyrant.

The captain forces the crew to stay in full uniforms as they load and unload cargo under the sweltering tropical sun, and is unreasonable in many other ways. Roberts tries to make life more bearable by allowing the men small privileges, while he personally bears the brunt of the captain's fury.

Roberts is a peaceful man. Burguiere calms the waters that set Roberts apart from the crew and captain most clearly in an opening scene in which he quietly, casually strolls the deck at sunrise, no doubt wishing for a transfer off the cargo boat onto something sailing straight into the battle zone. Mister Roberts sincerely wants to fight for his country and prove his worth in combat.

The good lieutenant, however, is reminded where his present duties lie when he successfully arranges an opportunity for the men to have a much-needed ship leave. The captain, out of his own insecurities, thwarts the plan and only agrees to allow the crew some time off if Roberts will stop his own plans to transfer to a destroyer.

Roberts agrees to the captain's demands, and the decision begins to put distance between himself and the men he stood up for.

"Mister Roberts," as stated earlier, is not all drama (although it is central). Roberts isn't a saint, and Burguiere does a fine job showing that. There's also a great scene, about how to concoct (unadvisably) an emergency half-bottle of red-label "scotch" from alcohol, cola and some other surprising ingredients. Ed Dill as the fool Pulver and Steve Tommey as the wise Doc, along with Burguiere, pull that scene together extremely well.

Theatre Tulsa struggled to find enough actors to cast "Mister Roberts." But Miller and Theatre Tulsa have done a nice job of reassigning a few lines and editing the piece to make it manageable for the cast of 11.

The cast, which includes Christopher Bowels, Casey Fanning, Daniel Fugatt, Todd Hanlin, Bill Kaiser, Sarah Spence and Lee Studerus, provides some good support, but Friday occasionally seemed hesitant in the space. By this weekend's second-half run, the cast should be over most of that. Also, watch for a little scene-stealer to make a quick guest appearance.

Regardless of which PAC theater you end up in next weekend, you'll get a nice lesson in the honor of performing your roles in life with perseverance and tenacity. But if you go to the Williams Theater, you'll also get a slappy little faux whiskey recipe and a lot of laughs out of it.

Karen Shade 581-8334



8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Second Street and Cincinnati Avenue

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