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February 6, 2001

JJP's Jimmy Dean Strong on Character

A Review by Pat Pinson

Beware of reunions -- especially in a drought-ridden, small west Texas town which has brief moments of faded glory. Six women return to the place where they grew up and played bit parts in the classic film, "Giant," starring James Dean.

The Joe Jefferson Players presented Ed Graczyk’s play with the unlikely title, "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" Jan 26 - Feb. 4. This is a play of intense stereotypes who burst into real people at the end. Director Tom Gray calls it an exorcism - and surely the lies and fantasies of unrealized dreams create some strange characters.

The play is one piece of continuous action from beginning to end and even though there are flashbacks in time, the set is the same. It has not changed in twenty, or even fifty years, nor is it likely to change in the near future.

The women are a varied lot -- the conservative upstanding proprietor of the 5 and Dime/corner drugstore; the fast living and loving, trashy talking flirt; the crass Texas-oil queen used to having her own way; the slightly spacey, very dowdy, goody two-shoes who is pregnant with her seventh child; the svelte, quiet tall woman; and the nervous mother of Jimmy Dean who lives in the past. Put that bunch together for a while and watch them evaporate -- or better, explode. Nobody comes out unscathed and the loss of pretense is a real catharsis for them and a real surprise for the audience.

The cast included both veterans and relative newcomers who all generally played well. Nancy Lenoir (Juanita) and Allyson McNeill (Sissy) did some fine acting making them keys to the whole production. Paula Broadwater’s Stella Mae was also strong and almost a continuation of her earlier powerful performance as Patsy Cline. Angelique Turk Christensen as Mona seemed to lack some of her usual sparkle and underplay the first act but she turned it around in the second. The connection between Joe and Joanna (Sam Watkins and Megan Lam) was the greatest stretch for the imagination -- some of that was intentional but there was not a quite convincing connection from the shy schoolboy to the "presence" of this stoic woman. Some of Joe's important lines which helped explain his enigmatic appearances in Act I were lost, but he certainly looked the part.

This was a play on multiple levels of time and symbolism adroitly handled by Director Tom Grey -- the use of the McGuire Sisters music throughout, the enigmatic appearances in the mirror, the ever-absent Jimmy Dean who evolved from "slow" to fast (in his get-away car), the ceiling fan that didn't work, the Last Supper picture above the mirror (an event which also shaped lives), the storm which threatens and passes over. This play also has great lines -- "standing outside of an inside joke," "Long live the dead!" "We quit praying for the Chinese because it didn't seem to be doing them much good" -- and it had an intriguing weave of past and present.

The flashbacks became such an integral part of the play that at one point all 9 characters were on stage and interwove their lines as well as their twenty-year separation. Here, young Sissy (Whitney Upton) was especially convincing, blending into and out of the older version of Sissy.

"Jimmy Dean" builds one surprise after another to its end -- a show well worth seeing.


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