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Southern Comforts

a Play
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Kathleen Clark

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 2640

SHOWING : February 06, 2008 - February 23, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A New Jersey widower meets a Tennessee widow to discover that love is as compelling, complex and powerful at the end of life as it is in the beginning. "Southern Comforts" would suggest that this snowy old widower, charmed back to life by the merry widow with the honeyed accent, is the sole beneficiary of this merger. In fact, what's most delightful, even sneakily sexy, about this December-December romance is that it clearly spreads comfort in both directions.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Charming Tennessee widow Amanda Cross Jill Jane Clements
New Jersey widower/curmudgeon Gus Klingm Steve Coulter
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REVIEWS

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Traditions and Formulas
by Dedalus
Sunday, February 24, 2008
5.0
In Kathleen Clark’s “Southern Comforts,” an aging widower and an aging widow find that age and experience don’t make whirlwind romance any easier. Although this play is built on the bones of a classic romantic comedy formula, it is nonetheless filled with surprise and humor and a kicker of an ending. I loved everything about it.

Gus Klingman has settled into a comfortable widowhood following a less-than-happy marriage. He is so hide-bound in his traditions, anything that clutters his New Jersey home (the house he was born in), is counted as an invasion. Bare walls and sparse furnishing are his accepted companions, and he is happy with them.

Like a bull in a china shop, Tennessee matron Amanda Cross storms into his life, and, faster than you can say “This is the Day I have to Change My Storm Windows,” the two are in love and married.

Clear-eyed about the accommodations that need to be made when two such different (and head-strong) people choose to join their lives, the play is also clear-eyed about the surprises that quickly turn up, the situations “I never really thought about,” the things taken for granted that can’t (or shouldn’t) be taken for granted.

And the surprises come when we second-guess the characters’ motives and responses, only to find our assumptions were as wrong as the characters’ own assumptions about each other.

What moves this production a few notches higher than the standard Romantic Comedy is the conviction brought to the characters by the actors, Steve Coulter and Jill Jane Clements, as well as the well-wrighted characters given us by playwright Clark. These are characters who strike us as real from the start, whose romance seems not only real, but necessary, and whose second-act journey seems anything but the formulaic conflict a cursory outline would lead you to believe. And the resolution comes not through a series of snarky one-liners or playwright contrivances, but out of realistic actions taken and honest decisions made by the characters.

If I’ve made this sound like a “serious” piece about serious subjects, it’s not. It’s a very funny play about characters we grow to love. Sometimes, this traditional formula can blind even experienced theatre-goers to a play’s virtues – the AJC, for example, wrote this show off as mere entertainment without any deep meaning (even complaining that Mr. Coulter looked too young for his role – a comment Ms. Clements should have found insulting, since the two appeared to me to be the same age). I thought the play resonated with honest observations about relationships, aging, “letting go,” and growing up even as you grow older. These are important subjects, which, to be honest, are usually avoided by most Romantic Comedies. Here, they’re faced head-on with surprising (and moving) results.

On a technical level, the set starts out as a bare-walled mausoleum, a house with high cathedral ceilings and empty spaces. During intermission, the characters come on and, in a nice bit of staging, direct the “moving men” to fill it with Amanda’s “stuff.” It’s a nice piece of business that quickly changes Gus’s Widower digs into a warm home that, paradoxically, still reflects both characters. Was it my imagination, or was the second act lighting actually warmer than the first act?

Yes, this is a traditional play, even formulaic. It centered on a couple who were living out traditional, almost stereotypical roles (Jersey Curmudgeon who speaks more in grunts than in words, Southern Life-Force whose emotional reactions have more in common with pinballs than with Jersey Curmudgeons). But, through a combination of well-written dialog, organically derived conflict, and honest performance, Theatrical Outfit has delivered a production that moved me to both laughter and tears.

And that’s a tradition I can get behind.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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