By Megan Hayes
Directed by Ovi Vargas
Third Eye Repertory, 22 W. 34th St.
Equity showcase (closes June 25)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Bible-thumpers. Rednecks. Folksy aphorisms. Eccentric relatives. Despite its overreliance on Southern stereotypes and an uneven script, Opelika provides a rollickin' good time, especially for fans of broad humor.

Opelika is the Alabama hometown of stripper Bubbles Twitty (Megan Hayes), who returns after nine years away. She's got a religious sister, a silent brother, and an estranged father in Opelika-all, like Bubbles, with a closetful of skeletons.

Bubbles may be the flashier sister, but the flashier role belonged to Shelley McPherson, who portrayed her sister, Grace. She went over the top at times but brought tons of energy and conviction to a physically demanding role-skipping on tippytoes when she was happy, bouncing up and down on the sofa to get attention, chasing after her brother in exasperation, cooking and cleaning, and partaking in one heckuva catfight with Bubbles (kudos to Kevin Crawford for his fight direction).

Hayes inhabited her part more facilely-probably because she created the character, in homage to her Southern roots-and was both cute and coarse enough to fit the role of a well-meaning tramp. The rest of Opelika's cast also played their parts to the hilt, with some impressive turns by those in small roles: Kim Clay as another stripper, Dale Carman as a persistent suitor, and Bret Sill LaFontan and Brian Ach as beer-swilling good ol' boys who would be scary if they weren't so funny.

Opelika is overwritten in some places, underwritten in others. Hayes builds up too much mystery around obvious "secrets" (such as Bubbles' delicate condition) that even unsophisticated folk like these Twittys would figure out sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, secrets that would shock them are disclosed and accepted without much ado. For example, Bubbles' redneck boyfriend, Billy Paul (Gabe Berezin), barely puts down his fork when Bubbles' father confesses his homosexuality at the dinner table. Then, when Grace's own questionable relationship is revealed, all objection to it is immediately assuaged with one "We're in love," and the heretofore ultra-prudish Grace has no qualms about carrying on with her lover in front of others. (This is just one incident in a final scene that is just too pat.) Even Bubbles' busting up Billy Paul's engagement doesn't seem to generate much gossip, let alone repercussions, in this small and no doubt gossipy town.

Instead of the protracted conversations in which Carman tries to rekindle his affair with Bubbles' father (a minister who's convinced he's been cured of homosexual urges), the reverend should keep hanging up on him; then, when Carman shows up at the Twitty home and proclaims his love, it would be a true bombshell-for the family and the audience. In addition to these inconsistencies, the script leaves some loose ends: exactly what transpired between Bubbles and her last boyfriend, for instance, and whether Clay's boyfriend inflicted the bruises on her arm. In addition, such urbane references as Baryshnikov, passive-aggressiveness, and "Satan's cabana boy" would probably not come out of these people's mouths.

Keven Lock's set kept the stagehands busy, as the stage had to transform from a home to an office to a strip club. All locales were fully realized with well-chosen furniture and accessories.

(Also featuring Cullen Wheeler, David Frydrychowski, and Charlie Hofheimer. Costumes, Daryl Stone. Lighting, Herrick Goldman.)
Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri