Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wetumpka Depot: "First Baptist at Ivy Gap"

Now in its 31st season, the Wetumpka Depot Players are currently offering Ron Osborne's comedy, First Baptist at Ivy Gap, and playing to sold-out audiences.

Set in the church's fellowship hall (on a realistic reproduction of a period rural interior), at first in 1945 and in Act II in 1970, its talented ensemble of six women -- their strengths and their issues -- is familiar to us all: Wanda [Edith Ellington], the feisty preacher's wife and compassionate comfort-giver, Luby [Sherida Black], the anxious widow whose son is serving in World War II, Olene [Kami Scarborough], who flaunts her dreams of becoming a Hollywood star, Mae Ellen [Merelee Robinson], the church's renegade organist who also wants to escape small-town life, Sammy [Jen Tuck] the community's outsider, and Vera [Valari Lagrone Radford], the rich and influential snob.

Though they try to put aside their differences to serve the Lord while rolling surgical dressings for the Red Cross, it is clear from the start that these Christian women all like to gossip, and "love hearing things that shouldn't be said". Yet, some of their unspoken secrets and yearnings threaten this small group's unity.

In Act II, another war is going on, and their lives have changed in many ways: Sammy's oldest son is serving in Viet Nam, Luby has become a recluse since her son died in World War II, Olene in her return for the church's 100th anniversary almost scandalizes the women with her career "success", Edith, Mae Ellen, and Vera remain -- but all six of them have softened with age and experience, though their individual personalities remain intact.

Director Carol Heier guides her cast gently through the simple plot, and makes the most of its slight material. Osborne revisits many of his themes about the strengths that women give to one another [seen recently in a production of his play Wise Women at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs] -- and is reminiscent of the Depot's production of The Dixie Swim Club.

First Baptist of Ivy Gap is a familiar and predictable piece that nonetheless shows how forgiveness and simple values and friendship -- and time -- can heal even deep wounds and misunderstandings.