Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Red Door: "A Southern Exposure"

Only around for a few years, Kelley Kingston-Strayer's A Southern Exposure is on the boards at the Red Door theatre in Union Springs with director Tom Salter at the helm of this four-character comedy-drama.

One of many such popular cottage-industry plays about feisty, eccentric, and stalwart Southern women, this one takes place in the small town Kentucky kitchen of Hattie Belle Hurt [Beth Egan], whose granddaughter Britney [Sarah Smith] announces to her and two doting maiden Aunts -- Mattie [Belinda Barto] and Ida Mae [Betty Hubbard] -- that she is heading to New York with her Brooklyn-born Jewish boyfriend...a shocker to them all. Britney expects a marriage proposal, but as Hattie Belle correctly intuits (since he has never been introduced to the family, and that their cultural differences matter a lot) the relationship is doomed from the start.

Here is a rather standard situation about generational differences: a rebellious college-bound girl at odds with her overly protective grandma who raised her. As in real life, families often avoid confrontations or talk around important issues. People we love are frequently the hardest to open up to. -- And as in real life, communication improves once Britney moves to New York; their phone conversations are more relaxed and forthright than when they are face to face.

Britney's fantasy of a better life in glamorous New York City never becomes all she wants it to be, so when Hattie Belle's auto accident brings Britney back to Kentucky, their family bond gets more secure, and it isn't long before she realizes that "homegrown is best" for all involved. -- When Hattie Belle is diagnosed with terminal cancer, their conflict resolves in a touching scene with openness and honesty, and without recriminations. -- Both Ms. Egan and Ms. Smith are convincing in their journeys from combatants to trusting partners; we sense a fine connection between them.

There is a lot of good-natured humor scattered throughout the play's two acts, both between Hattie Belle and Britney, and with the inclusion of the two aunts. Ms. Hubbard inhabits Ida Mae's practical wisdom with an outspoken directness in this production's most comfortably credible portrayal; card-shark that she is, she offers her niece some sage advice with genuine touches of affection. Ms. Barto's Mattie, a gloriously over-the-top depiction of absent-minded dementia, has some tender and assured moments of lucidity. (Her assortment of wigs and costumes to suit seasonal holidays and events are witty and handled with aplomb.)

By the end, we are left with three resilient women we feel will survive.