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Fair And Tender Ladies

a Play
by Lee Smith (adapted from novel)

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 304

SHOWING : May 15, 2002 - June 23, 2002



A remarkable Southern Appalachian mountain woman, Ivy Rowe, recounts her vibrant life laced with music and memory. Some equally sturdy ladies assist in telling of life in a time and place where hardship and heartache lived side by side with beauty and love.

stage manager Julia Burke
Maudy/Beulah/Geneva Ginger Poole
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Do I Hum the Lights?
by Dedalus
Monday, June 3, 2002
Theatre in the Square's production of "Fair and Tender Ladies" is filled with good acting and is staged on an effective set with the best lighting I've seen this year. So, why didn't I like it any more?

The musical is essentially a one-woman show, chronicling the life of Ivy Rowe (Elizabeth McCommon), a Virginia mountain woman. Two actresses (Jennifer Akin and Ginger Poole) support her by playing some of the other women in Ivy's life. The two actresses are superb. They play three characters each, and all their characters are fully realized and believable. Ms. McCommon is also wonderful. She "relives" her memories for us, and we believe it when she is a young girl, a teenager, or a newly-married mother.

The set is a break-away of Ivy's childhood home, with the front porch being the focus of her life and the center of activity. It is lit (by designer Ken Yunker)in a palette of primary blues and yellows, with a cyclorama adding emotional underscoring and beautiful skyscapes of a sort difficult to find in large theatres, let alone one as small as Theatre in the Square.

My problems with the piece lie with the script and the music. The script concentrates on the tragedies of Ivy's life and, with one exception, gives scant attention to the joys. This is especially evident when Act II opens with her talking about "Oakley," a character I had no memory of hearing about in Act I. We eventually learn that Oakley is Ivy's husband. Apparently, her wedding wasn't a great enough tragedy for her to share with us (though she makes no bones about sharing an extra-marital liaison with a "Honey Man"). Later, a great deal is made about the death of a child, a child who only received a passing mention after she was born. Was there no event in this girl's life that would have given her passing some resonance for us?

The problem with this approach is that sadness in a vacuum is just that -- sadness. It is easy to ignore, when it is someone else's. But, when it is contrasted with moments of joy, then it becomes universal. Then the audience has a stake in it, and it becomes tragic, piercing, and impossible to ignore.

My other problem was with the music. I just did not like it. My knowledge of Appalachian Music is limited, so I cannot and will not judge it on that basis. I will judge it, though, based on two factors. First. I cannot recall a single musical moment less than 24 hours after seeing the play. Second, I could not understand too many of the lyrics. The singers seemed to be more concerned with style over clarity. And, in a play where the music carried this amount plot burden, this was a major problem. My one definite conclusion is that these particular songs performed by these particular singers are not my cup of tea.

So, I supposed I've answered my original question. Although the elements were there for a wonderful evening in the theatre, I did like it because the music left me scratching my head, and the script provided no contrasts for the tragedies in Ivy's life. In the final analysis, I just didn't care about anything that happened to her.

--- Brad Rudy (


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