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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Barter Theatre's 'Southern Fried Nuptials' cooked the way you like it

From left are Andrew Hampton Livingston (Carter Canfield) and Carrie Smith Lewis (Harlene Frye) appearing in Barter Theatre's Southern Fried Nuptials/Photo by Justin Slone

You wouldn't go to this expecting Shakespeare, would you?

No, you come to find fried southern comfort and silliness for a fun time at the theatre tonight, and that's what you get, and more at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, about 20 miles north of the Tennessee-Virginia line.

Naturally, Southern Fried Nuptials is about a weddin' going wrong.

Get ready for a surprise with a twist of lemon.

The slow start is soon forgotten once the guffaws begin, with lines like: "A wife waits until after a weddin' to tell a husband how he feels." 

Or, "your past is standing in the living room," to echo the night's refrain: "What's past is past."(We wish.)

Harlene Frye (played by Carrie Smith Lewis) is the bride-to-be who speaks a mite too fast (which a microphone would help translate for the audience), with a mite too much of an affected Southern accent, trained by none other than her "brother," Dew Drop (Zacchaeus Kimbrell), who pulls double duty as the dialect coach for the play.

Atticus Van Leer (Justin Tyler Lewis) is Harlene's fiance and the best actor on stage, if one has to choose a "best," for he delivers one of the most convincing, wide-eyed performances of the production. 

Harlene's mom, Dorothy (Tricia Matthews) does all right, but the show stealer without a doubt, who makes the audience "howl" every time she comes on stage is the director, Mary Lucy Bivins, also performing dual roles as the unwelcome substitute wedding planner, Ozella Meeks (but "meeks," she ain't). 

Ozella's booming voice carries well throughout the theatre, and her bright yellow garment (by Karen Brewster) marks her like a canary in the woods:   "Where are my manners?" she says, answering a question:  "I must have left them in my pocketbook."

Holly Williams is the bride's sister, Sammy Jo LeFette, another Nuptials standout with her ability, sassiness,  and presentation. 

Says Sammy Jo to husband, Beecham (Sean Maximo Campos):  "I know I must be depressed because I am talking to you about it." 

The second show stealer, another "odd-ball" (aren't they all?  So unlike us) is Fairy June Cooper (love these Mississippi names) riotously portrayed by Kate Denson who grows on you as time passes, like waiting for a firecracker to explode, and you know it's gonna, you just don't know when and exactly what will come out.  Costume Designer Brewster dresses Fairy June exactly like one would expect. 
From left are Kate Denson (Fairy June Cooper), Paris Bradstreet (Martha Ann Fox), and Zacchaeus Kimbrell (Dew Drop) appearing in Barter Theatre's Southern Fried Nuptials/Photo by Justin Slone

Carter Canfield (Andrew Hampton Livingston) is the antagonist, the epitome of the handsome cowboy come to town with an "aw shucks, m'am, I aim to please" personality, that you just want to jump up on stage and smack him around some, he makes you so mad.

Other cast members are Paris Bradstreet who is Martha Ann Fox, Dorothy's business partner, and Michael Poisson as Vester Pickens (the names!), paramour-in-waiting for Dorothy, both whose performances match the Barter troupe's professionalism, reputation, and attractiveness, which get better and better.

The solo set (by William J. Buck) is filled with almost too many props which can detract from the dialogue: wedding gifts on the side board, family photos on the walls, furniture, an upstairs to the left, a kitchen entrance to the right.  (D.C.'s contemporary minimalist theatre sets for sad and depressing content contrast with shows like delightful Nuptials.)

Andrew Morehouse, the lighting designer, illuminates the stage so that not one wrinkle is spared, expanding his talents outside to Buck's well-crafted front porch, "hedges" and a slamming screen door (nice sound by Miles Polaski).

In the show I saw, Dew Drop experienced a costume malfunction when he left the stage for the kitchen and returned a few minutes later wearing a different outfit which suggested a new scene, but it was not (if the other actors don't leave and change, and no one remarks or improvises on his change).

Minutes later, Dewey went back to the kitchen (a "safe harbor" for one or more of the characters off and on all night) and reappeared on stage in his original gear, which always looked like pajama bottoms (trending), increasing intended (?) confusion. 

Mr. Kimbrell's age did not seem to fit his character for he is far beyond the implied 11 or 12 years which Dewey's role and apparel suggest. 

It seems to me that a little bit of Mississippi fried music would have complemented the presentation which was thoroughly entertaining without it. (Huh?)

Cindi A. Raebel is stage manager.

The play was written by Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler whose website says they work out of the Southeastern U.S. on commission, generally writing comedies.

What:  Southern Fried Nuptials

When: Now through August 8, 2015

Where: Barter Theatre, 127 West Main Street, Abingdon, Virginia 24210. From Washington, drive out I66 West and down I81, about 5.5 hours if you don't stop to eat.

Tickets: Start at $34 with discounts for seniors, AAA, military, students, and groups.  Call 276-628-3991 or purchase tickets at the box office or on the Web.

Other Barter performances: The Barter runs simultaneous plays, and you may also want to see Marvelous Wonderettes, Mary Poppins, Keep on the Sunny Side, The Understudy, and for the children, Rapunzel or The Jungle Book, depending upon the calendar.

For more information: 276-628-3991

Accommodations: Prices in Abingdon range from plain to fancy. There's the lovely, quaint "fab 50s" motel on the hill at Exit 19, the Alpine, with old-fashioned but newly modernized huge rooms, and lawn chairs outside each door for guests to use for gazing at the peaceful hills and farmlands. Mountain air arrives in rooms via open windows. If it's fancier digs you prefer (and ghosts), check out "The Martha" (as in "Washington"), across the street from the Barter. Built in 1832 for a general's residence, it became a woman's college until it was overtaken by the Great Depression, which started a few years before the Barter opened.

"The Martha" is one of several places in Abingdon with theatre packages.

About  Abingdon: A beautiful town with stately trees, hanging baskets and big, old homes to admire, Abingdon was founded in 1776, and, according to Wikipedia, was likely named after Martha Washington's ancestral home in Oxfordshire, England. The U.S. version has a variety of good places to eat, see, browse, and visit, including a gentle nearby mountain trail, the Virginia Creeper, which is an easy walk or bike (with plentiful rentals available) all the way down.

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