This Mouse Has Moxie: A Little Country That Could

Haldane Drama presents The Mouse That Roared

By Alison Rooney

There’s a nation where the economy has slumped. Revenues from their main export have been undercut by cheaply-made imitations from abroad. Their entreaties to the government of this foreign land go unheeded, and the once-proud country is slipping into destitution.

No, the Haldane Drama department is not doing a slice-of-life play about Greece or Spain or any number of present-day countries (the U.S. included), but instead enacting the very topical — and very funny — tale of The Mouse That Roared.

It first came to life in 1955 in the form of a six-part Saturday Evening Post serialized novel written by Leonard Wibberley, then became a popular book derived from the articles, and was followed by a film version, released in 1959 and starring Peter Sellers in multiple roles, and finally, this play, adapted by Christopher Sergel, first produced in 1963.

Director Martha Mechalakos, who read the book and saw the film in preparation for working on the production, said that each version differs from the others slightly, with a more traditional romantic subplot added, naturally, for the movie. She urged her cast to read the book as well, feeling that “whenever a play is based on a literary source, you should go back and read it. It adds to your knowledge of the characters — you can incorporate it subconsciously.”

Ultimately, the somewhat zany story remains the same: A tiny (fictionalized) European duchy, Grand Fenwick, is so nestled in both the past and the Alps that its main weapon is still the longbow. Its economy wholly dependent on Pinot Grand Fenwick wine, chaos ensues when, in big, bad old California, a vintner puts out a cheaply manufactured copy of the wine, causing Grand Fenwick’s sales to plummet and placing the tiny nation on the brink of bankruptcy, with nary a Euro on hand to save them.

Cast members Isabella Convertino, left, Gareth Gore and Simon Close in rehearsal. Photo by Maggie Benmour

After protests to the U.S. are repeatedly ignored, the powers that be in Grand Fenwick decide that the best course of action would be to declare war on the U.S. Secure in their knowledge that they would not have a chance at winning this war, their covert plan is to lose and then benefit from U.S. sympathy and already demonstrated reparations, rebuilding with help from their former enemy, as Germany did following World War II.

Comic mayhem ensues when the duchy appoints a field marshall, who is unaware of the plan beneath the attack. The tiny army armed with mere bows and arrows arrives in New York City and finds it deserted because of a citywide disaster drill. The “band of archers,” under the leadership of their still-in-the-dark field marshall, stumble upon a secret U.S. government lab after getting mixed up with a phalanx of anti-Q-bomb protestors who see the Fenwick-ians dressed in centuries-old armor and presume them to be men from Mars.

After unintentionally capturing a Q-bomb — a potentially world-destroying “mother of all nuclear weapons” device — and the professor who invented it, the — spoiler alert — archers win the battle. They return with both to Grand Fenwick, only to find out that they weren’t supposed to win the war.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense suddenly realizes that the U.S. and Grand Fenwick have been at war for two months and that no one in the U.S. was aware of it. Grand Fenwick now finds itself as a tiny superpower, with ability to control the destiny of the world. Handily it turns out to be a peace-loving duchy with a wise young female leader and a safer world prevails.

Cast members Tyler Mell, left, Kiran Kalantri and Matt Marino in rehearsal. Photo by Maggie Benmour

One of the reasons Mechalakos chose The Mouse That Roared was its continued relevance today, in a cat-and-mouse world, where questions as to who has the capability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction still mean that a handful of countries hold all the power while others are at their mercy. Mechalakos said that holding rehearsals during the months before a presidential election made the process all the more interesting and was part of her decision to do a politically themed play this year.

Of course, the other big reason she chose it is that it is, above all, a comedic satire, with rich roles for many young performers. Aping Sellers’ turn in the movie, senior Matt Marino performs more than one role, in his case the gung-ho field marshall and also the U.S. president.

The challenge has been fun for him: “I spent the summer working as house staff at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, where I watched them put on The 39 Steps, a madcap comedy featuring 100 characters played by five actors. Seeing this, I knew I had to try to emulate it, at least slightly, so I talked to Mrs. Mechalakos about maybe trying something like that. When I found I was playing two characters, I was excited, but a little nervous. There’s a certain challenge in creating a character that has many layers in their own right, but doing it with two characters is a completely different experience. It’s been a lot of work, but I know it will have been worth it.”

The cast includes Matt Marino, Isabella Convertino, Simon Close, Gareth Gore, Kiran Kalantri, Aidan Gallagher, Kady Neill, Emma Kimmel, Tyler Mell, Alison Duncan, Tess Foster, Alisen Casey, Rebecca Yodice, McKenzie Flagler, Clayton Smith, Remi Smith, Luke Cleary, Alec Lane, Corey Zouzias, Dante Nastasi, Jack Revkin, Chris Bohl, Ashley Cooper, Michael Bentkowski, Gianna Galazzo, Elena LaBreche, Sophia Yechnyak, Catherine Drotar and Freya Gallagher, with some roles mysteriously unfilled as of this writing, though previous Haldane drama productions indicate there might be a teacher or administrator waiting in the wings for theatrical glory.

Eric Rizzi is stage manager, heading a crew consisting of Mary Callaghan, Maya Curto, Kelin Petkus, Leandra Rice and Aaron Seymour. Sound, video and light technicians are Wylie McDonald, Liam MacNamara, Andy Mechalakos and Jason Kane-Seitz.

The technical director is Frank Caccetta; sound by Damian McDonald; video by Jim Mechalakos; lighting by Tyler Mell. Lisa Sheffer is handling the programs and advertising; Seamus Carroll the properties; and Joel Goss serves as theatrical consultant.

The Mouse That Roared will be performed at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 1. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students and seniors. Reservations can be made by phoning Haldane at 845-265-9254, Ext. 111.

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