Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wetumpka Depot: "Seeing Stars in Dixie"

Thanks to director Kim Mason's firm hand and the truthful performances of an ensemble cast, Ron Osborne's comedy Seeing Stars in Dixie rises a bit above the familiar and formulaic elements of this Southern-themed play now on offer at the Wetumpka Depot.

It is 1957 in Natchez, MS where a Hollywood crew is "on location" to film Raintree County, with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint as its chief stars; and the word is that one person from the local community will audition for a small role. Bring on the competition.

Set in a "tea room"run by Clemmie [Teri Thompson], where curiously no one ever pays for the tea-cookies-donuts consumed regularly on the premises and no bills are presented to the customers (do they all have running accounts there?), once the battle lines are drawn there's little more than a resolution to follow.

Clemmie has always dreamed of leaving a legacy -- a kind of immortality -- by being captured on film for eternity, thereby giving meaning to what she perceives as an insignificant life. But socially influential Marjorie [Elizabeth Bowles] claims the role in the film belongs to her and will do most anything to ensure it for herself. With the assistance of wannabee weather-girl Jo Beth [Erika Wilson] and newspaper columnist Tootie [Wanda Brantley] who wields some influence of her own, Clemmie transforms from a wallflower to a Cinderella under their tutelage. And with the unassuming support of Teddy Glease [Stephen Dubberley] -- the only man in this women's world who prefers art & music to football & barbeque -- everyone faces up to their own failed dreams while learning a few things about true friendship.

As a true ensemble, there is no one person on the Depot stage who dominates our attention or demands our approval [though we might have our own preferences]: Ms. Bowles' haughty depiction of Marjorie is someone we love to hate; Ms. Wilson's insecurity as Jo Beth is both engaging and disarmingly familiar to many; Ms. Thompson's awkwardness shifts convincingly to show a person becoming more at home with herself and her relationships; Ms. Brantley's Tootie exudes confidence and a refreshing brashness; and Mr. Dubberley's understated portrayal of Glease allows this talented actor to suggest so much by reactions and responses (and not a lot of actual dialogue) that he emerges as perhaps the most complex of them all.

In a little under two hours, these characters with all their eccentricities on show providing plenty of laughs also create a few scenes of heartfelt truth as they strip away their protective veneers and honestly face up to their individual shortcomings and strengths. And we come away with a better understanding of the nature of true friendship.