The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 8:00pm
Post Street Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Chip Tolentino   Aaron J. Albano
Leaf Coneybear   Stanley Bahorek
Olive Ostrovsky   Jenni Barber
Douglas Panch   Jim Cashman
William Barfee   Jared Gertner
Mitch Mahoney   James Monroe Iglehart
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre   Sara Inbar
Marcy Park   Greta Lee
Rona Lisa Peretti   Betsy Wolfe


Second of what I'm expecting will be several visits to Spelling Bee. This time, I went to an evening show, which I expected would have a larger, more enthusiastic audience -- and I wasn't let down. Almost all of the center orchestra section was filled, the mezzanine was about half full, and it seemed as if all of the rush tickets were sold.

And what a huge difference it made. With more people laughing and cheering, it really brought the energy up and made the performance seem to have a little more punch. There were huge reactions to things like:

Speaking of, it seems that Douglas Panch accepts any spelling of "balmacaan" because I know both spellers last week and this time spelled it differently, and both were deemed correct. It seems that it is a way to make the speller seem surprisingly lucky in getting that word and is to then get eliminated on LSD.

It also seemed as if Jared Gertner had friends or family in the audience because they cheered very loudly when he spelled correctly and did some solo bits.

My sister and I also sat on the other side of the theatre this time (house left/stage right), which obstructed our view of the spellers sitting on the bleachers, but afforded us good view of Rona Lisa and Panch. Watching Betsy Wolfe was particularly entertaining because of some of the facial expressions she had, particularly when she put on a very strict air to warn the spellers from misbehaving. I'm not entirely sure if this is how it works, but I think she thinks up the random facts about the volunteer spellers on the spot, and it was fun watching her look their way for a few moments, get a good idea, and then jot it down. There were times when she really amused herself by what she was thinking up, and she had to keep from breaking.

That said, it seemed as if she was kind of just using generic funny things to say about the volunteer spellers. Maybe they weren't as interesting or quirky as the group from last week, or maybe last week was unusually witty, but some of the "facts" she said weren't particularly original. Like for one guy, she said, "Mr. Small's fly is down. Just kidding!" It got a decent reaction, but it felt like she could have done better. But with the same guy, she did say something to the effect of, "This is Mr. Small's first spelling bee, but we're expecting BIG things from Small." Ha ha. For another speller who wore a tropical shirt, she said, "His parents went on a two-week vacation to Hawaii and all he got was this shirt!"

(Okay, I won't give any more away.)

Since Jenni Barber was out last week, this was my first time seeing her. She has a somewhat different approach to Olive's character -- she plays up the geekiness more than Elsa Carmona did, but somehow still keeps it rather subtle. A lot of it was in the way she stood (clutching the sides of her pink overalls tightly in her fists) and moving around very tensely in a timid, uncertain sort of way. A lot of it also came through in her voice, putting strong emphasis on words/phrases like "indented border". Somehow, though, I think Elsa's description of the silent "what" was a lot funnier, perhaps because she accentuated the irony of it more. But Jenni is an excellent actress -- it really did look like she had tears in her eyes during "The I Love You Song", and it just about broke my heart. It was also very sweet between her and Barfee, particularly toward the end when they fell for each other. It was so cute.

Also, having only seen two shows, I don't know how often word definitions/sentences are changed, but this show's definition of "Mexicans" had the audience exploding with laughter: "a plural for an American slang term for anyone from Mexico, South America, Portugal, Spain ..." We all thought it was so wrong, but still so very funny.

I also have to mention that Stanley Bahorek (Leaf Coneybear) was so much funnier on this side of the theatre because you get the end of his trance-like state each time he spells, where he's completely cross-eyed and then shakes himself out of it, and then looking as if he had no idea what had come over him.

Aaron Albano was also rather vicious with his tossing of candy. When he first said, "Screw it! Free candy!", he literally pelted this girl and her mother with some hard candies, and the only reason I don't think he hurt them was because the candy hit their Playbill first, making a loud smacking sound. (Again, I didn't get any candy or snacks.)