Girl talk

Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

By Ed Graczyk
Directed by Gail Weed and James L. Eaton
Woman Seeking...
Center Stage NY
48 W. 21st St. (841-0326)
Equity showcase (closes April 9)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Woman Seeking... says its goal is "to provide an arena for women in the theater to practice their craft," and the decision to revive Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean shows the company means it. Eight actresses get to let loose in this celebration of womanhood in all its vulnerable/loyal/exuberant/catty/voluptuous/nurturing/resilient glory.

On one level Come Back to the 5 & Dime is a standard reunion tale, with secrets disclosed, tables turned (figuratively) and souls bared. Most of the characters are types we've seen in plenty of other stories. But the play, written two decades ago, touches on several issues that are even hotter-button today-homophobia, body image, the hypocrisy of religious conservatives-and its choicest moments are genuinely touching. A poor production would make the formulaic and manipulative nature of the script unforgivable; a solid production like this one overcomes it.

Come Back to the 5 & Dime takes place at a 1975 reunion of the "Disciples of James Dean" fan club of McCarthy, Texas, a small town near where Dean's film Giant was shot. The action intermittently flashes back to September 30, 1955-the day Dean died in a car accident and the day that one club member, Mona, announced she had been impregnated by the movie star while working as an extra on Giant. The truth about her son's paternity is obvious to the audience before it is confirmed late in the play, but more surprising revelations involve Mona's former co-workers at the 5 & Dime: Sissy, a fun-loving sexpot who married the local alpha male; Joe, Mona's onetime best friend who was tormented for his supposed effeminacy; and Juanita, the God-fearing store owner.

Annie McGovern seemed born to play the role of Sissy. Looking like a redheaded Dolly Parton, she was a bundle of Southern spice and sass, and she owned the most poignant moment in the play. Nancy Delaney and Ange Berneau were well-cast as Juanita and Mona, respectively. As the teenage Mona and Sissy, Christine Mosere and Barbara Helms matched their older counterparts in looks and personality. Chelsea Silverman, portraying another reunitee, was too austere-her character seemed to have lost all her small-town color and mannerisms in the intervening years. Sonja Stuart was fun in an underdeveloped role. Her character, Stella May, is now married to a rich oilman, but she's neither described nor depicted as a teen so we can't appreciate from whence she came. Ditto for Ana Jacome's Edna Louise, whose character is developed only in the present: pregnant for the seventh time and slow-witted (is that why she had no Texas accent?). A last-minute squabble between Stella and Edna comes out of nowhere and is resolved simplistically.

The set, by Kimo James was a marvel of minutiae-shelves of tchotchkes and dime-store merchandise plus lots of party decorations, kitschy household items and, of course, James Dean pinups. James also designed the lighting, which includes a superb final effect: nearly simultaneous fadeouts on 1975 and 1955.

(Also featuring Chris Yeatts)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri