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Stage Light

'Jimmy Dean' a Simple Tale Trying for More

February 08, 2001|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For those of us who avoid reunions and for those of us who wish we had, Ed Graczyk's drama "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" reminds us why bringing old friends back together can be a bad idea.

When it is the 20th anniversary reunion of The Disciples of James Dean in the dusty town of McCarthy, Texas, things can quickly go sour.

The Ark Theatre Company's revival under director Andrew Crusse at the Whitefire Theatre contains too much idol worship of the sort practiced in this beaten-down corner of the Lone Star State, built on sand and sure to collapse.

The idol is Dean, the idolizer is Mona (Amanda Thomas), convinced two decades after the nearby filming of "Giant" that she made love with the star and had his child. She is also convinced that her son, whom she named Jimmy Dean, is "a moron." Not so, says Juanita (Kristin Caruso, alternating with Carol Mack), the pious five-and-dime-store owner.

The play's setting, which the female Disciples turn into a drinking establishment before the action is over, is a Eugene O'Neill-style arena where people face the truth through the bottom of a glass. It gives the play the feel of a museum piece, in which conflict is created through that old theatrical warhorse the Revelation of Hidden Secrets.

The big secret here belongs to Mona's almost-boyfriend from her past, Joe (AJ Wedding), who is the real father of Jimmy. This night, Joe returns as sleek, sophisticated JoAnne (Marchele Mallari). Sex change operations are uncommon in McCarthy, and the man-turned-woman is at first seen as a freak, especially by Juanita and Mona.

JoAnne is more accepted by rowdy Stella May (Kristina Haddad), her much-abused beauty shop assistant Edna Louise (Stephanie Strand) and Mona's best friend, Sissy (Lisa Weddle), who has her own revelations.

Graczyk's story requires a lot of onstage flashbacks involving the younger Mona, Sissy and Joe (Alisa Liles, Courtney Kneupper and Wedding), and Crusse struggles with the staging of the time shifts.

This is a simple tale of the folly of idol worship that the writing strains to expand into something more involved.

The performance that feels most rooted in the Texas dirt belongs to Caruso, whose Juanita is sure of her own beliefs and unsure of what's developing in front of her eyes. Thomas works much too hard at displaying Mona's already contrived eccentricities and neuroses, while Weddle nicely embodies Sissy's flighty temperament. Mallari plays things mysteriously at first, but oddly slips into a Texas accent in Act II.

BE THERE

"Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Tonight-Friday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; Wednesday and Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; Feb. 18, 3 p.m.; Feb. 22-23, 8 p.m.; Feb. 25, 7 p.m.; Feb. 28, 8 p.m.; March 3, 8 p.m.; March 4, 3 p.m. Ends March 4. $10-$18. (323) 969-1707. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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