note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Paul Alix
Costume Design by Judith Mucci
Lighting Design by Artie Leger
Sound Design by Glen W. Kane
Properties by Darrick Jackson, Patty Lieber
Stage Manager Sarah Kary
Produced by Susan Harrington & Diana L. Kane
Mona (then)....Courtney O'Donnell
Sissy (then)...............Jessica Morrill
Stella May.........Brynnalee Aronson
Edna Louise.....Laurie "Fish" Fisher
Unlike every other art form, theater has a necessary role for the audience to play. On its opening night, Ed Graczyk's sprawling, complicated play "Come Back to The 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" was ill-served by the sparse strew of people scattered throughout the big Footlight Club theatre. The shocks and surprises in this play about the past, about twenty years lived with lies and self-deceptions, only rarely received the delighted giggles and guffaws of amazed recognition its many surprises deserved. Everyone on stage and back stage --- in particular Director Bill Doscher --- had done weeks of hard work that came across the footlights; but played before such a small and respectful audience, it might just as well have been one more dress rehearsal. It wasn't the quality of that audience, but its size, that kept the play from its potential.
And it's not an easy play, either to see or to do. It's set in a little dead-end town in Texas hasn't had a drop of rain in three blessed years, and the only thing good about it was it had been close enough to the location-shooting of James Dean's last movie "Giant" so that some of it's teen-agers had a shot at being extras in its crowd-scenes. 'Course, that was twenty years ago, but the fan-club "The Disciples of James Dean" have decided to hold a reunion on September 30th 1975 to commemorate the evening the radio told them a highway accident had ended the life of the only piece of fame they'd ever come in contact with. The then and the now of these people's lives intersect in the little notions-shop their fan-club president still works in, just as the effects of film-fantasyland on the American psyche of 1950 eventually come to terms with reality.
The play presented Doscher and his cast with several problems. Accents, for instance. While it's true that I wouldn't know an East Texan from a southern North Carolinian, it is true that the rhythms an melodies of the south are necessary to the feelings of small-town interbreeding, hollow gentility and irrelevant class consciousness that are the subtexts for so many plays set below Mason/Dixon. This cast played the rhythms, used that flair of language and let-it-all-hang-out boisterousness that let sense triumph over verisimilitude --- and anyway, my tin ear was mighty impressed.
Then there were physical restraints: three of these characters are often on stage with their twenty-year-younger selves, but in only one case do the bodies really match. Apparently Doscher chose to go with talent over body-type, and then worked to smooth the differences right out of existence.
The show is written for a kind of real-time realism, and designer Paul Alix and a huge crew (24 are named!)worked to bring to the Footlight stage a fly-specked strip-mall 5 & Dime from which all hopes were siphoned off by an Interstate that chose the next county and left these people nothing but a three-year drought and the twisted memories of what they dreamed they were at the end of high-school.
Now that's a lot of freight for even this good community theatre to carry. First there's all that subtle exposition that gives so much necessary background in quick interchanges, all the while setting the scene and planting all the memory-bombs that keep popping in the audience's faces as every character gets the mask it thought was its face torn off in public. Many of the details are eyebrow-popping, as is the vivid gusto with which they're revealed --- the South does have a reputation for surprising sexuality, don't it? --- so that the proper response is a unison roar of unbelieving laughter.
Try getting that from twenty people seated in little islands among a hundred empty seats!
My heart breaks for a cast giving this hard with so little response --- they can have no idea what works and what doesn't if that one vital member of the cast is not playing its role. The objective is to make a whole room-full of people share the same reactions every moment of the performance; this is a theatre, not a screening-room. Do your best, and take your lumps and your bravos. But empty seats don't cry, or laugh.
Luckily, and this cast boasts several seasoned community theater "professionals", there's always tomorrow night's performance. And, should you care to read for a role in its audience, this show will have four of them.