Sunday, September 23, 2018

Wetumpka Depot: "Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"

When the 'Disciples of James Dean' meet in a small Texas emporium in 1975 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their film idol's tragic death, their reunion takes several unexpected turns. -- They reminisce about their teenage years, often romanticizing the past as people are wont to do, and along the way are confronted by truths they would prefer to be kept secret.

Ed Graczyk's 1976 play Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean opened on Thursday for a three-week run at the Wetumpka Depot. There are roles for both the "then" and "now" of some of the characters, with a number of scenes when they are on stage at the same time; not as confusing as it may seem. Director Tom Salter emphasizes its "you can't go home again" theme in a series of scenes set in 1955 and 1975, seamlessly suggesting the time changes with lighting shifts; Costume designer Carol Heier dresses them in complimentary costumes that suit their characters; and Kristy Meanor's detailed period set shows how time has not changed the Kressmont Five and Dime, much like the characters haven't changed much in the intervening years.

Juanita [Janie Allred] still runs the Five and Dime with an autocratic hand that doesn't tolerate crude language or alcohol; Sissy [Leslie Blackwell] still flaunts her bosoms; now wealthy Stella May [Cindy Smith] continues to ridicule the shy and ever-pregnant Edna Louise [Venna Everett], who it turns out is the most normal and happiest member of the bunch; and Mona [Chantel Oakley] continues her fantasy that James Dean fathered her illegitimate child during the film-shoot at "Reata", now just a shell-in-ruin of a film set for "Giant", Dean's last movie on which she was an "extra".

The "Jimmy Dean" of the title is Mona's son, named for his alleged father; though he never appears in stage, Mona is obsessed with protecting him at all costs -- from the instant celebrity status she foisted on him in his infancy, to the current time when she claims he is retarded and needs her to look after him.

When we meet these characters in the past, it becomes clear how the past informs their present natures, especially as Sissy "Then" [Lauren Norris] and Mona "Then" [Skylar Frye] exhibit so many of the mannerisms and attitudes of their "present" selves depicted by Ms. Blackwell and Ms. Oakley.

The plot hinges on an assault on Joe [Reese Lynch], the only boy admitted to the "Disciples" fan-club, whose sexual identity causes a crisis in all their lives. -- And the arrival of the enigmatic Joanne [Marcella Willis] only adds fuel to the fire that the women are facing. Each has at least one secret that time and faulty memory complicate, and which will be revealed by the end of the play.

Much of the success of Mr. Salter's production is in the fine ensemble work of his actors. Their combined efforts make the plot contrivances more palatable as they in habit their roles with such sensitivity that we feel comfortable with them on their individual and group journeys to discovery and acceptance.