SPRING HILL — As holiday chaos reigns in many households, it seems a good time to produce the warm, family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen. It runs Thursday to Dec. 20 at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse.
Based on a true story, the play is about the Gilbreth family, a large one — a dozen children, plus parents — even by 1920s standards, when the events take place.
Patriarch Frank Gilbreth (Chris Hubner, Eddie in Born Yesterday) is a famous efficiency expert who frequently tries out his time-saving, energy-saving techniques on his family. He's a strict disciplinarian with little patience for inefficiencies or disorder.
His wife, and mother to this brood, is Lillian Moller Gilbreth (Jennifer Vilardi, Joan in A Few Good Men), a respected psychologist who through gentle methods is able to keep order in the family much more consistently than her more rigid husband.
The kids go along with their father's charting and measuring, until the older ones begin to reach their teen years and his constant experimenting with them embarrasses them in front of the opposite sexes. Anne (Danielle DePaul, Peter Pan, Jr.), the eldest daughter, is particularly chagrined at his antics, particularly in front of her very special friend Larry (Greg Sylvia), and it's this father-daughter conflict that is the center of the story.
The story is told in retrospect by the second-oldest daughter, Ernestine (Rebecca Ostroski) and the oldest son, Frank (Chay Nott, Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird) after they reach their adult years.
The younger kids are more concerned about getting a dog or just playing than about what their father is doing. Dan (Louis Romeo, Lion in Dorothy in Wonderland) is most persistent about the dog, though his brother Fred (Lorenzo Guarino, Tin Man in Dorothy) vociferously supports him.
The kids are coddled by Mrs. Fitzgerald (Barbara Santoro), the longtime housekeeper who is totally devoted to the family. The kids are vexed by Miss Brill (Savannah Smith, Queen of Hearts in Dorothy), a teacher who hates kids — and the kids have no love for her.
The family is nurtured by Dr. Burton (Monte Doty, Barber in Born Yesterday), a plain, outspoken family doctor. He's around as it becomes clear that Gilbreth is preparing his children for his imminent death, an event that is deftly handled by playwright Sherman Sergel, making the play suitable for all ages.
The title of the biographical novel came when the whole Gilbreth bunch was sitting in a car waiting for a stoplight to change, and the people in a car next to them were gawking at all the people and activity in the Gilbreth car. Papa Gilbreth stared them down. "Well, they come cheaper by the dozen, you know," he said.
The book was made into a movie in 1950 starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy as Frank and Lillian. It was made into a play that same year and has been a favorite in community and regional theater since. A 2003 movie by the same name, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the book or the 1950 movie.