Monday, January 19, 2015

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean at Olympia Little Theatre

Jodie Chapin, Jack Seiner and Brittany Wilcox.

I have always thought Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was one of the neatest play titles ever. It’s like quirky poetry in my head. When first performed in 1976 it was more than quirky, it was revolutionary. The use of flashbacks with characters at different ages 20 years apart appearing on stage simultaneously was certainly radical, as was the inclusion of a transgender character. The film version by Robert Altman was astounding when I saw it in the early 1980s. Now, some 40 years later, it doesn’t seem so radical. I left the theater with mixed reactions and I am still sorting those out a bit.
Dean’s last film, Giant, was filmed near the town of McCarthy, Texas, where Mona (Erin Quinn Valcho), Sissy (Nicole Balducci Pate) and their friends formed a fan club called "Disciples of James Dean” in 1955. Twenty years later they gather for their annual reunion at the Kressmont Five-and-Dime. A familiar-looking stranger arrives and forces them to reexamine their fondest memories and their current relationships.
Erin Quinn Valcho, Kendra Malm and Nicole Balducci Pate. Photos by Jess Thomas
The script by Ed Graczyk is admirably inventive and well structured. In the complicated set-up in the first act Graczyk’s script manages to get traverse necessary exposition that could easily be boring by dropping intriguing hints here and there. James Dean is long since dead, yet they keep referring to a very much alive person named Jimmy Dean (not to be confused with the country singer of the same name), who is either the dead actor’s ghost or someone named after him. There are hints that this Jimmy Dean may be James Dean’s son. And then a young man keeps showing up just outside a screen door and then running off. Could this be James Dean’s son or his ghost? He even appears with a bloody face about the time the women mention the car wreck that took Dean’s life.
I loved Paul Malmberg’s set, even down to the sloppily painted green door and window frames. The set is the rundown diner, which is not so much true to the 1950s but timelessly cheap, with — in 1975 — cut-out magazine ads from 1955 and James Dean photos and movie posters taped to the walls.
The acting was uneven. Valcho was suitably nervous and sad as the adult Mona, who increasingly throughout the play seems on the verge of a mental collapse, and Brittany Wilcox does a yeoman’s job of portraying the teenage Mona.
Both Pate as the middle-age Sissy and Jodie Chapin as the young Sissy were over the top, which troubled me because they came across as trying too hard to be outlandish, but that was the nature of the character they played.
Diana Purvine seemed natural as the older proprietor of the diner, Juanita. She regretfully did stumble over some lines opening night. Hopefully she’s got them down pat for future performances.
Malm turned in an excellent performance overall, but her mannerisms seemed stuffy or like she was struggling to seem confident, and I could not tell if that was true to the character or not.
Assistant director John Pratt warned the audience in his curtain speech that the flashbacks could be confusing. They were not except for the briefest of moments and then it became clear what was going on. When characters from 1955 and from 1975 were on stage together one group froze while the other group spoke. That was very well done, and I particularly liked it that only Mona, Sissy and Joe (Jack Steiner) were played by two actors each, while Stella May (Margaret Morris) and Edna Louise (Jean Kivi-Thomas) interacted with their friends in both time periods. This was challenging, but it worked thanks to good blocking and timing by director Kathryn Beall.
Note: In the lobby after the show I spoke with fellow theater critic Christian Carvajal and actor Kendra Malm. We speculated as to whether or not it was the first time sex reassignment was discussed in a play. None of us knew the answer, but I suspect Malm was right when she said it was probably the first time it was taken seriously in a play. I have since searched for the answer online and the closest to an answer I could come was to find a list of transgender films starting with The Christine Jorgensen Story and Myra Breckenridge, both in 1970.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 1
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14 ($2 student discount), available at Yenney Music Company, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., (360) 943-7500 or
INFORMATION: (360) 786-9484,


Anonymous said...

Photos were taken by Jess Thomas

Alec Clayton said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for the correction on photo attribution, but the photos were sent to me from Olympia Little Theatre without photo credits and I cannot correct the attribution on the word of "Anonymous." I will contact the OLT representative who sent me the photos before making any change.

Alec Clayton said...

Thanks again. I just corrected the photo credit.