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Southern Comforts

CATEGORY :
by Kathleen Clark

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 3258

SHOWING : January 08, 2009 - January 25, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

He's a widower from New Jersey. She’s a widow from Tennessee. Cupid has a wonderful sense of humor.

GET Artistic Director Bob Farley directed the area premiere of this nationally acclaimed romantic comedy in a SOLD OUT run at downtown Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit. Now this wonderful new romantic comedy for the chronologically gifted makes its way to the GET stage. See the contemporary story of a snowy old New Jersey widower who meets a honey-accented Tennessee widow only to discover that romance and love are as compelling, powerful, and complex at the end of life as they are the first time around.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Amanda Cross Jill Jane Clements
Gus Klingman Steve Coulter
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Making Accomodations
by Dedalus
Thursday, January 22, 2009
4.0
Last month, I fell all over myself praising traditional Holiday Shows remounted for the umptieth time. The main theme of my comments was that it takes a boatload of talent to make an oft-produced-and-seen show seem so fresh and new.

Now, comes Georgia Ensemble’s restaging of Kathleen Clark’s “Southern Comforts,” a romantic comedy featuring septuagenarians taking a second stab at happiness. Last year, this same cast and director knocked my socks off at Theatrical Outfit with this play. Now, however, while this new production is still funny and moving, a few seams show.

Before getting into what changed in the move to Roswell, let me copy and paste my plot synopsis from the Theatrical Outfit Version:

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.

The biggest accommodation made in this restaging is the trading of the intimacy of the Theatrical Outfit venue for the more traditional proscenium auditorium of Georgia Ensemble. This time, I was more aware of the actors “projecting to the back of the house,” rather than the more personal “sharing” I experienced downtown. Ms. Clements, in particular, seems more declamatory than necessary, and her Southern twang comes across as artificial (though I suspect it’s very real). Mr. Coulter, on the other hand, has a tendency to fall back on inarticulate pauses and grunts – something that was a nice character choice when we could see “behind his eyes,” but which now, from the back of the house, seem like line flubs.

Another point – even though the playing area seems pretty much the same, because of the distance created by the proscenium and auditorium, I was very aware of how static some of the first act blocking became. Necessarily so, I suppose, because of the constraints of being a two-character piece, it nevertheless added another layer of “remove.” It was like the difference between watching a conversation from inside a room and watching it through the window from across the street. It transformed us from participants to voyeurs.

I suppose this is the best evidence ever that acting in intimate venues and larger auditoriums require very different skill sets. Or, it’s evidence that seeing the same actors in the same roles in two such different venues can lead to unrealistic expectations in audiences, that there were no choices that could have been made by these two that could have created the needed transition (or accommodation).

All this being said, this is still a very well-written, well-acted piece. Its production values remain high, and I again enjoyed the “in-character” redress of the set during intermission. These are still characters I grow to love, and I still left the show feeling that rosy glow that’s the surest sign of having spent the evening in the company of folks I liked, who I wish I could know better. Accommodation complaints aside, they were characters I could let myself believe facing choices I could let myself care about. And, judging from the reactions of the audience around me, I was not alone in this enjoyment.

Still, after re-reading my comments above, I daresay you’ll enjoy this play a lot more if you missed it last year.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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