Sipping juleps with the Reaper

Can't Dance, Too Wet To Plow

By Larry Gray
Directed by Barbara Pitcher
American Theater of Actors/Sargent Theater
Non-union production (closed)
Review by David Mackler

The family room of Lillian (Ruth Sherman) and Charlie's (Joe Iacona) house is furnished with a sofa, TV, and a hospital bed. Charlie won't sleep on it, though - he'd rather use the couch. He knows he'll be there soon enough -- he has cancer, and he and Lillian veer toward accepting the reality of it as easily as they deny it.

Larry Gray's Can't Dance, Too Late to Plow is full of character detail -- plot is secondary. The play is a series of interactions between friends and families, all of which add up to a picture of life in a small Louisiana town, where everyone knows everyone else. A very satisfying scene consisted of Lillian and her friend Harriet (Antoinette Gallo) talking while they cut articles and photos out of magazines and pasted them in scrapbooks.

The theme of love and life among ordinary people and how they deal with what life throws their way is the main business of the play. (Even the title is meant to have a what-can-you-do? quality about it.) A major plot point occurs when Harriet, a widow for 10 years, has a date! The play has that kind of gentle, lyrical feel to it, which is very effective, as far as it goes. Charlie was on stage for long stretches, sleeping in the hospital bed, but conversations continued in other parts of the room. Discussions about preferred flavors of yogurt were touching because of what was not being talked about; Lillian and Harriet reminisced about how years ago they used to go out dancing, and they marveled at how life goes on, whether you're paying attention or not. While this is very true to life and speaks volumes about these people, it can get somewhat repetitious dramatically.

Life does continue on, even while Charlie's condition worsens. Harriet will be getting married; Lillian rages that "All I do is sit and wait!" When Harriet and her pregnant daughter, Carmen (Melanie Robichaux) have an extended conversation about Carmen's father, it's a terrific, well-written scene, a snapshot of who they are. But the scenes become too similar, and a little wearying. The characters aren't Steel Magnolia "types," but the pace is decidedly Southern.

Director Barbara Pitcher directed not for action, but for character, and assembled a good cast that managed to quietly get to the heart of most of the scenes. (The set was functional, and had a lived-in quality to it.) The Southernness of the characters was more suggested than overtly stated with accents, but Gallo and Robichaux were fine as the mother and daughter torn between their own good fortunes and the reality of Charlie's dying; Pamela C. Harewood, as the hospice nurse who reads to Charlie from both Playboy and the Bible, projected a warmth anyone would want at his bedside, even as she recited from Ecclesiastes (a time to be born, a time to die). Iacona established Charlie very quickly as a sympathetic character, and because of this Sherman was able to shine. Her Lillian was warm, angry, accepting, irritable, and Southern-style loopy. When she told the preacher she wanted Charlie's funeral the same day as Harriet's wedding, she was reasonable and persuasive. Her wedding gift to Harriet includes a new scrapbook for her new life, and Sherman made the moment just right. Her Lillian was going to be a grieving widow, but she'll be full of life. Sometimes, though, when life is rough, when you can't dance and it's too wet to plow, you just have to keep on gettin' on.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1998 David Mackler