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THEATER REVIEW

Dolly worship in a diner

This Southern-fried 'Journey' dishes up fresh, heartfelt humor with a country twang.

September 21, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

A coat of many colors of wit covers "Journey to Dollywood" at the Matrix Theatre. Writer-actress Jessie McCormack's quirky dramedy about a hapless Dolly Parton acolyte and her thwarted dreams finds a bit of magic in a simple little smile.

Meet disillusioned Jolene (McCormack), whose Dolly worship dates from childhood. Jolene -- named by her now-dying mother for the song -- works in a Southern diner (beautifully realized by designer Keith Mitchell), from which she yearns to fly away.

Enter enervated Josh (Henry Gummer), whose car breaks down in this poor man's town en route to Manhattan. This ticks off multitasking, Brooklyn-born Manny (Erik Van Wyck), Jolene's boss/fiancé, who once thought he was only travelin' through. Cici (Melissa Greenspan), Jolene's flaky co-worker, certainly wants more than working 9 to 5. Meanwhile, Jolene, smelling a potential new boyfriend, starts making plans to leave.

Further description would blunt the freshness that author McCormack finds by mixing heartfelt soap opera with culture-clash comedy.

Director Rod McLachlin's engaging staging neatly exploits the imaginative flashbacks and stylized song cues (kudos to Kimberly Negrete's lighting, Sharell Martin's costumes and Steve Altman's sound).

McCormack, who suggests a batter-dipped Allison Janney, is a find, and her colleagues are wonderful. Gummer toes a steadily tightening line between empathetic and appalled with remarkable control. Van Wyck keeps Manny's troubled past peeking through the swagger, while Greenspan brings ace timing and genuine feeling to two-faced Cici.

Some seams need ironing. Occasional exposed motivation requires a rethink, the odd too-precious zinger can go, and the narrative would benefit from more ambiguity about Josh's intentions.

Still, you needn't worship a certain country superstar, whose voice-over participation is worth admission, to appreciate the ample populist appeal of this endearingly spiky fable.

--

'Journey to Dollywood'

Where: Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

Ends: Oct. 27

Price: $20

Contact: (323) 960-4418 or www.plays411.com/dollywood

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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