THEATER REVIEW: “Man With A Load Of Mischief” at North Coast Rep

“Man With A Load Of Mischief” is the provocative title of a little-known musical. It’s also a song from that show, a pub in London, perhaps even a description of male behavior.

“Mischief,” based on the 1925 eponymous play by Ashley Dukes, had a successful off-Broadway run in 1966 and has since had three New York revivals. John Clifton wrote the music; Ben Tarver the book; the lyrics are a cooperative effort between the two. It plays through Sept. 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

“Mischief” takes place in a country inn “off the beaten track,” as the Innkeeper (Ron Choularton) puts it, to which a carriage accident has brought four lodgers: the Lord (Randall Dodge), the Lady (Jacquelyn Ritz) and their respective servants The Man (Robert Yacko) and The Maid (Tatiana Mac).

Set in the early 19th century, a period of anti-imperialist and feminist sentiment, the play is about mischief, pretense and the three women’s desires for lives rather different from those they lead.

But it’s not that simple. Actually the “accident” was engineered by The Lord, who wants to spend some quality time with The Lady, far away from the Prince, whose mistress she is.

As for The Lady (who’s looking for someone a bit more, shall we say, earthy), she’s thrilled to be rescued from the Prince: “Just the sound of ‘my dear’ can make me wince/ when you’d smile that smile and drop those hints/ it was all I could do to force myself to remember/ you’re the Prince.” But she’s not convinced that The Lord is a great improvement.

The Cockney Maid, aka Louise, is young, pretty, interested in career advancement, and has found through association with The Lady that “One you’ve had a little taste of pink champagne/ you just don’t settle back and drink your beer.”

Meanwhile, the Innkeeper’s Wife bemoans the lack of romance in her life: “When I was a girl I had only one plan/ To marry a handsome, romantic young man....My plans got miscarried/ Indeed I got married/ But where, for God’s sake, is romance?”

The men? The Man (aka Charles) has his eye on The Lady. The Lord takes a liking to The Maid.

Got that?

It doesn’t really matter. “Mischief” is a sweet but ultimately forgettable trifle for a summer evening, with plot twists and turns communicated in Gilbert and Sullivan style songs with simple melodies, quick rhymes and lots of repetition. Ron Councell serves as music director.

Director Rick Simas keeps the action moving and choreographer Jill Gorrie makes it fun to watch.

The cast is uniformly excellent, but two outstanding voices deserve special mention. Ritz, last seen in a brilliant performance in Intrepid’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” is a pleasure to hear and watch as The Lady. We are lucky to have lured her from Chicago to our fair city.

And the always-reliable Dodge, who looks about eight feet tall here (I’m used to seeing him from a distance at Moonlight Amphitheatre), has a terrific baritone voice to match and knows how to use it.

Choularton and Hinton make a hilarious duo as the innkeeper and his wife. Choularton is especially funny in the second act comedic description of noble dalliances, “What Style!”

Yacko is fine as The Man; Mac charming even while contending with a heavy Cockney accent as The Maid.

Marty Burnett’s set is perfect, as always, and the tech elements are fine as well, thanks to Matthew Novotny (lighting) and Nicholas Drashner (sound). Renetta Lloyd’s costumes are appropriate.

The band includes Steven Withers on piano, Nicole Cristine on cello and Matt Best on woodwinds.

“Man With A Load Of Mischief” is a better production than play. It doesn’t have a lot to say, but fine voices, engaging choreography and good direction make it an entertaining evening.

The details

“Man With A Load Of Mischief” plays through Sept. 29 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.