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Does ‘Father Know Best’? 
Waukesha Civic’s  comedy on ‘50s family situations holds the answer


By: JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

June 7, 2018


From left, Julia Rady as Kathy Anderson, Thomas Van Gilder as Jim Anderson, Jim Stahl as Mr. Brinkworth and Alec Anderson-Conlon as Bud Anderson in the Waukesha Civic Theatre’s production of “Father Knows Best.”
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA - I don’t know how young people will relate to “Father Knows Best,” a popular TV show in the 1950s, featuring the Anderson family, because times have changed so much from its time frame, but there will always be families and their inevitable conflicts and concerns, and surely some families where father thinks he always knows best and tries to keep a tight control over his children. I imagine that model still exists and probably always will.

The play opens with the father, Jim Anderson, returning from work, stressed out about a pending sale of insurance to a large company. The mother, Margaret,  is stressed out about a washing machine that won’t work and some garden club duties, the three children are uptight about their social life, pending dates, and the demands of teams and school. Typical semi-chaos reigns.

How to unite these diverse components into a harmonious whole - that is ever the challenge.

The oldest daughter, Betty, is awaiting a dance-date with Ralph, who happens to be the son of Mr. Brinkworth, the gentleman who owns the big company Jim Anderson hopes to do business with. Jim doesn’t want his teen daughter to go out with Ralph until he has a chance to get to know him, so he suggests they dance at home, a suggestion that does not thrill Betty or Ralph, for that matter, for he feels unfairly scrutinized.

His son, Bud, wants to go to basketball  practice, and little Kathy plans to attend a sleepover at her friend Patty’s house. Both are relegated to stay home so father can keep a watchful eye on them. He has become paranoid about stories he reads in the paper about errant children, and he hopes to protect his little darlings from all worldly evil. Thus, the major groundings.

Stemming from that unrealistic premise, chaos ensues, as might be expected when the reins are too constricting. There is also some humor contributed in cameo roles - the flamboyant garden ladies (Carol Renee Gray-Harden, Ann Marie Moss  and Leah Sawnor), the inept repairman (Joe Nettesheim), and the cops (Tony Reese and Lindsey Willicombe). Also the commercials between acts are very amusing.

Jim Anderson is well-depicted by the brusque Thomas Van Gilder. His domineering manner is softened a bit when he realizes he doesn’t always know best.  Jacqueline Gosz does a good job in the role of the wise, patient wife and mother. We like her and can sympathize with her difficult job as mediator.

The children, played by Shannon Zoglan as the feisty, independent Betty, Alec Anderson-Conlon as whiny Bud, who always feels put upon, and Julia Rady as father’s little pet Kathy all delineate their roles nicely. Ralph, Betty’s date, is also well-rendered by Lee Johnston II. Lauren Spencer as Patty, Kathy’s friend, makes her noisy presence felt as well.

Jim Stahl credibly executes his self-important role as Mr. Brinkley.  Both he and Jim Anderson are brought down a peg as the challenges of parenthood supersedes all else in their lives, including their business deals. We enjoy watching the too-self-important be humbled.

All together well-produced by Director David Scott, costume designers Joanne Cunningham and Sharon Sohner, and scenic designer Evan Crain.  It was fun to look back at an old family comedy, one quite different from “All in the Family,” but still enjoyable in its own way.

AT A GLANCE
“Father Knows Best”

The comedy runs through June 17 at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St., Waukesha. Call 262-547-0708 or visit www.waukeshacivictheatre.org.