'Janey Makes a Play': Film Review

Courtesy of Callahan Creative/Toy Gun Films
A modest but likable bit of small-town Americana.

The 90-year-old ringleader of a community theater mounts her 18th production.

More Norman Rockwell than Waiting for Guffman, Jared Callahan's Janey Makes a Play observes the efforts of a small-town community theater where an unpretentious attitude toward creativity reigns. Producing homespun works by 90-year-old playwright/director Janey Callahan-Chin (Jared's grandmother, perhaps?), the No Small Thing Productions shingle is a labor of love whose inclusiveness and tenacity has endeared the retired preschool teacher to neighbors in Rio Vista, Calif. Though the film has a likely audience only slightly larger than those of Janey's plays, viewers who do see it should respond just as warmly to her as townsfolk do.

After a quick introduction to his star and a few members of her regular company, Callahan spends a good deal of time on the history of this town of under 8,000, which we're told was home to many millionaires in its heyday. Town historian Phil Pezzaglia is used to being approached by Janey for material, as many of her plays — which get cute names like Dastardly Deeds at the Derby, or, Something Fishy's Going On — take inspiration from local lore.

In addition to the irrepressible star, we chat with earnest cast and crew ranging from high school to late middle-age. The former, kids who have little to do in what is portrayed as a pretty dull town, clearly relish the chance to imagine what it would be like to perform for a living; the latter, we learn, are sometimes victims of a tough economy who are grateful to be of use while looking for paying jobs.

Loosely following the months leading up to Janey's latest play, Callahan builds to the day or two before opening night. Anxiety builds during dress rehearsals where nobody seems to have learned his lines and the prospect of an absolute flop is not unthinkable. We'll give you three chances to guess how things go once the curtain actually rises.

Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Production company: Toy Gun Films
Director-screenwriter: Jared Callahan
Producers: Jared Callahan, Brent Ryan Green
Director of photography: Bryan Bangerter
Editor: Brad Kester
Composer: Joel P. West

Not rated, 80 minutes