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New London Little Theatre Review: 'Opal's Million Dollar Duck' is genuine

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Heidi Ahmann, as Rosie, right, rehearses a scene with Carrie VanderBeek, from left, as Queenie, Alex Burdorf, as Desmond, and Michelle Gralish, as Opal.

Genuine. "Real genuine" is how Opal Kronkie adoringly describes nearly everyone and everything.

Genuine is also just the word to depict the talent of the cast and crew who deliver "Opal's Million Dollar Duck" to the Little Theatre stage in New London.

Under the skillful direction of accomplished theater veteran Jan Buzzeo, the actors bring to life the story of two community theater stars, Desmond and Queenie, who, while searching through Opal's Antique Junque Shop for props and costumes, stumble across a painting of a mallard duck they believe to be one missing from the local museum and worth a handsome reward.

The devious pair need to muster up their best acting skills to charm the shop's owner and keeper of treasures, Opal Kronkie, to acquire the coveted duck painting, which Opal has her heart already set on gifting to her best friend Rosie for her birthday.

When the lights rise, the audience is immediately immersed in Opal's shop that doubles as her home, a collector's dream, packed full of boxes and boas, trinkets and treasures, courtesy of Trevor Eckhoff's set design. After a few moments of taking in the immense hoard and tapping their toes to the music, patrons meet Opal Kronkie, played by Michelle Gralish, as she returns from her latest round of dumpster diving with more interesting items to add to her stash.

Gralish authentically delivers a hearty dose of charisma and unassuming humor. She effectively engages the audience and makes it impossible not to love her humble, yet proud, personality.

When Opal's best friend Rosie Montelfaco (Heidi Ahmann) bursts through Opal's front door to ensure Opal is indeed alive, despite what her cards told her, it is quickly evident that Ahmann's quirky, eccentric and boisterous portrayal perfectly complements that of Gralish. It is during this duo's first onstage interaction when Opal decides that her latest find, the mallard painting, would be the perfect gift for her best friend Rosie.

Of special note, the painting used during this show is original artwork painted by local artists Jean Trumbo and Kristin Allen.

A wrench is thrown into Opal's gift-giving plans when Desmond and Queenie (Alex Burdorf and Carrie VanderBeek, respectively) show up to buy theater props, but ultimately only desire the precious duck painting.

Burdorf and VanderBeek effectively set up another interesting juxtaposition for the audience between their sly characters and the honest Opal. As antics ensue, the audience will certainly be captivated by the antagonists' seemingly little effect on conning the loveable Opal.

Behind any strong theater production is a strong stage manager. This production is lucky to have Allen Clark as both stage manager and assistant director, learning the directing ropes from Jan Buzzeo; the scenes are seamless. Rounding out the accomplished crew is Pauline Prawl on props, lighting technicians Alan Mangen, RJ Gralish and Eric Harp, and costume designer Shannon Gort-Eckhoff.

Although "Opal's Million Dollar Duck" is indeed a lighthearted comedy loaded with laughs, deeper truths become evident through Gralish's straightforward and honest delivery of Opal's monologues directed right to the audience.

The keen observer will extract that Opal has not just a hoard of treasures, but also a mass of pearls of wisdom about life, ranging from the perils of people-pleasing to finding happiness to life and even death.

Whether interested in these messages hidden in plain sight or simply looking for a playful entertainment escape, "Opal's Million Dollar Duck" is sure to please.

Come out and support the local talent this community is so fortunate to have at one of the remaining performances, tonight through Saturday at 7 pm at the Little Theatre in New London. Tickets are available at the door for $15 for adults and $8 for children.

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