BWW Review: COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre
If I had read up on this play before I saw COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre, I may not have been thrown for a such a loop. Based on the title, I was expecting a light hearted romp back to the time of upswept hairstyles and root beer floats at the local soda fountain. What I found instead was a complex story line spanning two time periods-1955 and 1975-and a close knit group of friends with secrets.
It is September 30, 1975 and the Disciples of Jimmy Dean are gathering to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his untimely death in a car crash. Juanita (Katie Ploetz), proprietor of the Five and Dime in McCarthy, Texas awaits Mona (Emma Kate Brown), who arrives on a bus that she claims took four hours versus the two it actually did. Fun loving Sissy (Alex Geidner-Kirby), snobbish Stella May (Kendall Rhodes), and sweetly simple Edna Louise (Amanda King) round out the members of the club. A well-dressed stranger walks into the Five and Dime and lingers. She has a purpose for being there, but she's not quick to tell. Still, there's something familiar about this customer named Joanne (Makenzie Pedersen).
The play takes us back to 20 years earlier and the same group of friends. Younger versions of Mona (Anna Hahn), Sissy (Paloma Power), Stella May (Hannah Tewes), and Edna Louise (Selena Steinkamp) and their friend Joe (Dustin Reckling) are interweaved throughout the story. At times both versions of a character appear on stage together. The effect in enlightening.
We begin to see truths about these people. What happened the night Mona was cast as an extra in Jimmy Dean's movie, Giant? Is Mona's son Jimmy Dean named after the movie star for a reason? Whatever happened to Lester, the boy that tormented Joe in their youth who grew up to be Sissy's husband? Who is this stranger Joanne? Is sharp-tongued Stella happy now that she's wealthy? What does Juanita really believe and does God answer prayer?
The script is intriguing. The actors are remarkable. This production is like a spider web that draws you in and holds you captive.
Playwright Ed Graczyk has crafted a brilliant piece of writing. He uses the facade of Reata in Marfa, Texas (ranch home in the movie Giant) as a metaphor for all that is false. He contrasts and questions faith in God with faith in Jimmy Dean as Mona's "savior." He addresses hope where there is none, such as Sissy's intention to join the Ice Capades having never ice skated before, or praying for rain in the drought stricken town. He attributes Mona's asthma attacks to a convenient escape from truth. The characters are called to voice and examine their ingrained feelings about gender and beauty and intelligence. There is much to digest in the story, but particularly in the characters themselves.
Jay Scott Chipman directs this wonderful cast with dialect coaching from Joan Korte. The results are people who come to life and build in intensity and dimension as the story progresses. Against a finely detailed set designed by Rebecca Armstrong with lighting by Lily Craig, the effect draws you into their small Texan town. It is an intimate environment that feels like peering through a window.
Joe says at one point, "Mona, I need you to help me decide just who the hell I am." Come back to the Five and Dime to find out. You may find out something about yourself along the way.
COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN runs one more weekend. November 15-17 at 7:30 pm and November 18 at 2:00 at the Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre Studio located on 48th Street in Lincoln.