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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
By Laura Hitchcock
Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean gets one of the best production it's likely to have under Richard Hochberg's deft direction at the charming Court Theatre. Though uneven and not entirely free of stereotypes and clichés, Ed Graczyk's 1982 Broadway play catches the miasma of stultifying lives in a rural Texas town still living on its brief season in the sun when Giant was filmed nearby. There's an intense theatricality to the play, heightened by Graczyk's use of flamboyant Texas character traits and flair for humor, that goes a long way toward compensating for its flaws.
The play opens at the 25th reunion of the Disciples of James Dean Fan Club in the Five & Dime whose manager, feisty Bible-banging Juanita, is a reluctant hostess. The few remaining club members include fragile Mona, the dime store clerk, who has brought her memory to life in the person of her son, JimmyDean, who she claims is the son of the star; pregnant Edna Louise and exuberant Stella Mae. Sexy Sissy, always the most voluptuous girl in town, still says, "If you've got 'em, bounce 'em." We wonder why they don't bounce until the end. (Think Valley of the Dolls.) There's also a mystery guest, the glamorous Joanne. Their secrets and sorrows alternate with scenes from 1955 in which younger versions of the principals reveal their early lives.
There's no way to write about the cast without giving away some plot points. However, since this play is so well known, thanks to Robert Altman's excellent 1982 movie version starring Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black, I'll plunge ahead.
Park Overall's Mona is the still small center of the play in a beautifully nuanced performance that brings utter realism to a delusional woman. Ginger Kinison plays Mona Then with an innocent charm that still manages to display the depths of timid clinging to small town roots that blossom into such twisted tendrils in Mona's adult life.
Overall's Mona is bracketed by a fascinating study in female sensuality in the beauteous persons of Alana Stewart as Sissy and Rebeca Holden as Joanne, who started life as Joe. Although their characters are written in less psychological depth, the contrast of these two has a contemporary fascination. Stewart, whose clear strong voice is a surprise to those who know her mostly from the screen, plays Sissy with the unaffected sensuality of a woman who's always enjoyed being a girl. Holden, as the transvestite Joe/Joanne, doesn't make the mistake of playing an exaggerated drag queen but gives her character the full-blown deliberate femininity of a joyous late bloomer. It's a triumph of casting and watching Holden and Stewart play off each other is one of the most intriguing aspects of this production.
All the smaller parts are solidly cast. Playing the ends of the economy, Deborah Offner makes her mousy perennially-pregnant waitress Edna Louise funny and lovable and Holly Jeanne's affluent Stella Mae compensates for her childlessness with shallow overbearing joie de vivre. Joel Veach plays the young Joe with a wistful beauty reminiscent of the young James Dean. Erin Ross presents Sissy Then in the untrammeled glory of her youth and vibrance. Linde Gibb plays Juanita with the grim groundedness of a survivor.
Mr. Hochberg's sense of character and staging, in particular the way he weaves 1955 with 1980, creates a palimpsest, layering a past that's always present. Burris Jackes's small-town five-and-dime with a lunch counter is as real as memory, augmented by Kathi O'Donohue's dreamtime lighting design. Shon LeBlanc designed the colorful shrewdly appropriate costumes.
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