The Nashville theater scene is loaded with talented actresses, and two local companies are currently mounting Southern-themed scripts featuring all-female casts.
Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre's Dixie Swim Club provides the stronger ensemble work, which thrives under the direction of well-known comic actor Bobby Wyckoff. The play, authored by Dearly Beloved creators Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, is set at a North Carolina beach house, where five women — once members of the same college swim team — meet every summer over the course of 30 years. They engage intimately on love, marriage, careers and the vicissitudes of life, swapping personal stories and getting laughs along the way. (Think Same Time, Next Year, sisterhood style.)
There's Dinah, the high-powered Atlanta lawyer (Rebekah Durham); oft-divorced and man-crazy Lexi (Kim Nygren); pregnant ex-nun Jeri (Vicki White); crusty, domestically troubled Vernadette (Kelly Lapczynski); and the caring, ultra-organized Sheree (Holly Butler), who plays mother hen.
Wyckoff's in-the-square staging ensures a lively pace, and his actresses work the waggish give-and-take — and their dewy accents — efficiently and sometimes very affectingly.
At Boiler Room Theatre, meanwhile, Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias offers an all-too-familiar serving of Southern creamed corn, with its Louisiana beauty-shop setting and endless one-liners delivered by a cast of six ladies whose friendship is tested through both comic and tragic events.
The three newcomers to BRT's intimate stage include Keri Pisapia and Lynn Yates, both of whom have been seen around town in other venues, and have done voiceovers and commercials. Their work here is sufficient to the basic task, though Pisapia (as Truvy the hairdresser) is stuck sporting a bad wig, and Yates' characterization as the play's grumpy old busybody, Ouiser, lacks color. Better is Cassie Hamilton, who as the much younger hair stylist Annelle — granted, a simpler role — delivers a fresh reading.
Also on board are Lori Bargas (unimpressive as the ill-fated Shelby, a role played famously by Julia Roberts in the 1989 film version) and veteran Linda Speir, who is well-cast as Clairee (yet another mother-hen figure) and does the role justice.
Sporting a better wig is Kay Ayers — and as Shelby's mother M'Lynn, she capably recites the play's culminating emotional speech, graciously steering clear of sappiness and energizing Harling's schmaltz with brave feeling.
Lisa Gillespie directs — or, more accurately stated, directs traffic — and her ladies navigate their way through the wisecracks and heartbreak with competence but less inspiration. The show finishes up its four-week run this weekend.
Jim Reyland's play Stand has received a lot of attention due to its efforts to unite the greater Nashville area in the fight against homelessness. Of course, good intentions don't always translate into good art. Fortunately for local theatergoers, Reyland's fine script, drawn from personal experience, is up to his noble goal, further proving that timeworn shibboleth, "Write what you know."
Reyland has crafted a fair amount of serious works over the years, but this play clearly represents something closer to his heart. His terse and credible dialogue, poignant and speckled with surprising humor, tells the story of the homeless Johnny and businessman Mark, who become friends and together take a redemptive personal journey.
Barry Scott and Chip Arnold, veteran actors with high local standing, give virtuoso performances under the careful direction of David Compton. Scott's Johnny is simplehearted but sincere, and like many homeless people clearly suffers the ravages of longtime despair and addiction. Arnold's Mark is defeated in his own way, but he has resources to help his new friend, and his character's uncommon efforts as Good Samaritan are relayed with a good deal of heart.
In addition to raising money for a good cause, Reyland's play is a significant theatrical success as well.
Stand will be staged Thursday, Sept. 6, through Saturday at Lipscomb University's Shamblin Theatre. Performances continue through Nov. 10 at a variety of locations; check writersstage.com for a schedule.
Blackbird Theater recently added a third play to its 2012-13 season: David Mamet's Oleanna, in early June. The Blackbird schedule already includes Red (Oct. 4-20) and Amadeus (March 7–23).
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