Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Red Door: "Mama Won't Fly"

Mama Won't Fly, the latest installment of quirky Southern comedies from Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, is making the rounds of community theatres this year, most recently at the Red Door Theatre in Union Springs.

With a large cast of veteran and neophyte actors at her disposal, director Kim Mason draws the most from even the cameo roles, sustains the action through the play's slower sections, and offers some side-splitting moments in her arsenal of comic invention.

This is a road-trip comedy, where three women -- mother Norleen [Janet Wilkerson], daughter Savannah [Elizabeth Roughton] and soon-to-be daughter-in law Hayley [Valerie Jackson Sandlin] -- drive (because Mama won't fly) from Birmingham, AL to Santa Monica, CA for Hayley's wedding to Norleen's son Walker; and with numerous adventures along the way, they learn a great deal about one another.

There is a lot of predictable eccentric behavior in this trio and in the relatives, hotel managers, truck drivers, showgirls, bartenders, policemen, and brassiere museum guide they encounter along the way. It is through the seemingly ordinary incidents that draw the women together and heal old wounds that we come to know and care for each of them in turn.

Ms. Sandlin's self-proclaimed "bad luck Haley" -- sincerity personified -- is immediately sympathetic, and her self-effacing manner makes us warm to her predicament of facing the mother-in-law she has never met while spending days and nights on the road in ever increasing anxiety of getting to the church on time. -- Ms. Roughton, as the daughter with marriage issues who is intent on reviving a past relationship with Spud Farley [William Harper, in a guise reminiscent of Harvey Korman from The Carol Burnett Show], and who has always had a strained relationship with her mother, draws our sympathy.

But it is Ms. Wilkerson's tell-it-like-it is rendition of a strong-willed matriarch that takes top honors here. Ms. Wilkerson has an uncanny ability to deliver her lines with dead-pan efficiency and spot-on comic timing -- things that threaten to corpse the other characters sharing the stage. Even the glib, cliche-driven dialogue she sometimes speaks is given with absolute confidence...gleaning well deserved laughs.

Ms. Mason directs with a sure hand. She knows that audiences will recognize these oddball characters, and allows her actors to enjoy the ride across the country with them.