Emotions run high on Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Mainstage with their season opener “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” which boasts a femaledriven cast of eight women and one man who give it their all, though on opening night they hadn’t quite settled into the rhythm of an ensemble and some of the staging felt stiff.
Ed Graczyk’s messy 1976 memory play emulates such playwrights as William Inge and Tennessee Williams (though without the brilliance) and their damaged characters who grapple with issues of identity, sexual or otherwise. Essentially about unremarkable people who cling to illusions of the past and resist change, it’s a sort of religious allegory that is confrontational and offensive, twisted and crudely funny.
The place is the Kressmont nickel and dime emporium in the oppressive small town of McCarthy, Texas. The time is September 30, 1975, the twentieth anniversary of the death of James Dean, and five childhood friends have come together in reunion to commemorate the day. They were all members of their own high school fan club, and they call themselves the “Disciples of James Dean.” The time is also September 30, 1955 and various other days mixed in, through flashbacks which give characters’ backstories. Surprises are had and revelations are made.
Mona is the long suffering, most devoted fan of James Dean. She fancies herself his chosen one since she appeared in his movie “Giant,” supposedly spent an evening with him, and after his death gave birth to his “child” Jimmy Dean. She has a psyche so fragile that it seems something horrible must have happened to her in the past. The subtly nuanced expressions of actress Kim Glover give the dowdy Mona the interior life she needs to become, in her mind, the Madonna figure she yearns to be. Her performance has an uncanny resemblance to young film star Shelley Winters and carries an underlying sense of sadness and regret.
Where Mona is uptight and repressed, her best friend Sissy is outgoing and carefree. The sexpot of the town, she’s flirty and proudly shows off her shapely bosom for all to see. “If ya got ‘em, bounce ‘em,” she exclaims, seeming shallow at first. And though actress Diane King poses with hand on hip and chest thrust out just a tad too much, she also emphasizes Sissy’s common sense and concern as much as her vivacity and sass.
Joanne is the mysterious outsider who shows up in her yellow sportscar and crashes the party much to everyone’s chagrin. She is symbolic of irony, which actress Marlena Shapiro communicates without ado when she sadly tells Mona “I chose you,” and she effortlessly exudes elegance and wealth without haughtiness.
Stella May is brash and boisterous with a wicked sense of humor, and actress Gillen Brey flings her many oneliners with delight, carrying much of the show’s humor. She hurls insults at everyone including her kindhearted best friend, calling her “dumb.” Endearing actress Bonnie Belle captures gentle soul Edna Louise by giving the most understated, natural performance of the bunch. And oldfashioned, proper shopkeeper Juanita gets a likable treatment from actress Cassie McGuire.
Director E. Wayne Worley has assembled a wellthoughtout cast. Mona, Sissy, and Joanne of “now” physically match their “then” counterparts of flashback, and Worley creates a few lovely stage pictures with them sitting side by side. And while the “then” actors (Matthew Antonizick as Joe, Jennifer Whitney as Mona, and Sydney Peca Story as Sissy) do fine in their parts, there is a misfire with their wigs styled by Betty SullivanCleary. Probably essential and possibly meant to define the characters as idealized memories, the brunette pieces in particular look unnatural and overdone, so much so that they distract from performances. The effect, unfortunately, is cartoonish.
Ron Lindblom’s colorful dime store set with green, checkerboard floor feels livedin and is meticulously detailed, decorated by Bette Kennedy with many vintage props, the kind of kitschy knickknacks and such you might see in a store of this type. It is questionable, however, whether a video rental section was even a possibility in 1975. Ginny Adams’ lighting is pristine as ever with parched warmth for the hot, presentday scenes and surreal moonlight for the past, Glover’s “then” and “now” period costumes echo each other nicely, and Sandy Stein’s sound gives us the nostalgic tunes of the time including the McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely.”
Considering its many quirks, “Jimmy Dean” is a challenging show to present. Kudos to LVLT for giving it a respectable go.