Saturday, December 4, 2010

Red Door: "Wise Women"

It is getting close to Christmas in 1944. World War II is raging in Europe. And in Knoxville, TN, over-protective single mom Florence [Susie Priori Turner] keeps a close eye on her teenaged daughter Rose [Haley Greathouse] who is a dreamy-eyed fan of Frank Sinatra and wants to go to a local concert featuring her idol.

To make ends meet, and as part of the War Effort (and unknown to Rose and much to her disdain), Florence agrees to have two boarders come to live with them temporarily: the outspokenly enthusiastic Jiggs [Anna Perry] and the shy Sarah Ruth [Eve Harmon] who is dominated by her preacher father, and who will share Rose's room.

The 2003 "Southern Playwrights Competition" winner that debuted at Virginia's Barter Theatre in 2004, Ron Osborne's Wise Women is now in the capable hands of Artistic Director Fiona Macleod at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs.

On a detailed "homey" set placed at an angle to provide interest and space on the Red Door's small stage, Ms. Macleod sensitively guides her ensemble cast through what could become mere sentimentality into a touchingly recognizable story of the various women's journeys as they accept one another and themselves, emerging more aware and trustful. Each has at least one secret; each somehow mistrusts either herself or others. And each one's story makes us think and care about them.

As each of these women opens up to others, telling stories of their backgrounds and experiences, we learn that talking through our problems helps. -- Florence has created an ideal picture of Rose's father, one that we learn is untrue but which remains a secret from Rose. Rose herself learns that an innocent relationship with a Marine named Howard [Travin Wilkerson] does not have to be hidden from her mother, and Florence understands that she must allow her daughter to experience things for herself.

Sarah Ruth, though embarrassed in competing for the "Miss Bombshell" title, understands that doing so enabled her to step out on her own and relax the control of her father. And Jiggs is relieved to know that the false bravado she exhibits, charming though it might be, is unnecessary, and even the callous Donnie [Joseph Crawford] can't provide the love she so wants.

The plot unfolds in a series of short scenes, some serious and some humorous, keeping us involved in the lives of the characters. -- So many recognizable traits are treated with conviction by the actors appearing in the roles that they emerge as credible individuals, even though the language & references to the time-period might render some of it nostalgic.

Chief among the characterizations is Anna Perry's portrayal of Jiggs. Exhibiting confidence and providing subtle understanding of the dialogue's shifts from pathos to humor, detailed movement and gesture, and full committment to character relationships, Ms. Perry is a model of a truthful portrayal of a person we come to care about.

Wise Women -- set as it is during the Christmas season -- encourages all of us to find the true meaning of Christmas in our hearts.