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COMMANDING THE STAGE: ‘Good Ol’ Girls’ is a Petticoat Junction worth a stopover

TheatreNOW and Paul Ferguson have come together to craft an engrossing evening of theatre with performances, songs and food that will move, satiate, and most importantly, entertain a viewer.

Arts

TheatreNOW continues with its “Season of the Southern Woman” with Paul Ferguson’s “Good Ol’ Girls”; a fun and insightful look at generational changes within the South’s matriarchy. Presented in an ever-flowing stream of monologues and vignettes weaving into folk songs, the show never once slows in pace.

The songs and skits match each other so perfectly and bring unexpected emotional punches. Right when the good ol’ girls have audiences’ sides splitting in laughter, they seize their hearts and hold them. The band has toes tapping, as the audience jams out to tunes by acclaimed Nashville songwriters Marshall Chapman and Matraca Berg.

Stepping into the theater, the audience is met with a plain set design, which takes the ever-morphing stage of TheatreNOW and gives it a grandiose feel like the Grand Ole Opry. Seven chairs in front of the bandstand give a perfect style to house the Good Ol’ Girls. A hand-knitted afghan blanket—the type draped over every Southern grandma’s couch—is hung above the band. It offers the only hint of color to the stage, but it is not the only bright element to shine in this show. We get into the swing of things when music director Linda Markas enters, clapping her hands, asking if everyone is having a good time as her band files in behind her. Then out come the Good Ol’ Girls.

The cast, consisting of Sydney Smith Martin, Bianca Shaw, Beth Corvino, Katie Joy Anderson, Lynnette O’Callaghan, Penelope Grover and Andrea Powell, are so well assembled by writer/director Ferguson. There are no roles as with a traditional play; each actress ducks and weaves through time and situations taking on different roles.  Sometimes a character is shown at the beginning, middle and end of her life. Each actress grabs hold of her portions of the production and owns it with such life and love, it transcends the Southern woman stereotype—the overall point of the show. Beth Corvino brings humor to all her segments and gives a hilarious rising energy to a rundown of the tier system churches of the South fall into.

The play brilliantly stages conversations. At one point, Sydney Smith Martin and Penelope Grover embody the same role (one as the physical body and the others as her fiery thoughts) of an elder woman who has been sent to a rest home by her family. Grover brings a salty spite to the aged character who has outlived everyone she loves, and Smith Martin (who is staged to remain behind Grover like a pissed off Jiminy Cricket) acts as the woman’s still youthful but unheard thoughts.

The struggles and sadness of this are palpable.

I must admit, with the third act, I did start to think the show may have jumped the proverbial shark; regressing back to easy jokes of Southern women. How wrong I was. Andrea Powell wows during a monologue as Alice, a small town’s best beautician, who makes everyone look their best … even the dead. Pantomiming applying makeup to her deceased mother in her casket, the beautician must power through her own tears to do her very best professional work, and it is truly moving. It shows a tortured strength so purely and encapsulates what the show is trying to get across: Against any odds, a good ol’ girl will stand strong.

The show is a well-divided ensemble piece with no leading role, but Sydney Smith Martin certainly takes charge of the production—commanding the stage the moment she walks onto it and holding it in her possession until she exits. Eyes are drawn to her; she is always “in the moment,” as actors are prone to say. Delivering a beautiful monologue about the humors, horrors and heartbreaks of childbirth, it’s outstanding work all around.

The live band is top-notch, led by Linda Markas at the piano and made up of Will Walter (drums), Brandon Bales (guitar) and Jack Warfield (bass). They serve up one awesome original folk song after the next, with Brandon Bales absolutely owning a solo during “Late Night with the Blues.” The whole production features stunning voices to carry the songs, with the real stand-out being Bianca Shaw. She’s a shrine throughout the whole show, but she takes and dominates the stage with “Booze in your Blood.”

Always creating an evening that is a joy to all the senses, TheatreNOW’s Chef Denise Gordon whips up a great three-course dinner, leading off with an amazing pasta salad (I cleaned my plate), served with a house-made Italian dressing, and hints of vinegar and sliced green olives. My sampler plate, featuring elements from all the entrées offered, arrive with low-country risotto-n-grit cakes—light, fluffy and something I would work into my normal meal rotation. The “Flounder-In-A-Bag” is baked flounder in a parchment bag, with potatoes, corn kernels, bacon, collards, and sweet onion. While the flounder and its mixings are good, the bag aspect tends to be a bit messy. The mild Texas beef chili comes with fresh pickled jalapeño peppers, sour cream and cornmeal biscuits, and tastes savory and bold, with the meat perfectly seasoned. All three options are delicious, and the portion sizes are on point.

TheatreNOW has brought Paul Ferguson’s lovely examination of Southern mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, and even that crazy lady who lives down on the corner to the Wilmington stage, in a simple yet stunning fashion. It’s a show that should be seen and felt by all. Served with an out-of-this-world meal by Chef Denise Gordon, it makes for a great night out. Playing out like “Steel Magnolias” by the way of “A Prairie Home Companion,” audiences will have a good ol’ time with the good ol’ girls.

DETAILS:
Good Ol’ Girls
May 11-June 2
Fri. and Sat., seating at 6 p.m.; show at 7 p.m.
Tickets $20-$48 (latter includes 3-course dinner)
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th St.
www.theatrewilmington.com

 

C0rrection: We regret the error in the print version that notes Jack Warfield as the soloist in “Late Night With the Blues.”

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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