Thursday, 24 September 2009

Come back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean – Gatehouse Theatre, London

Come back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Writer: Ed Graczyk
Director: John Plews
Reviewer: Alex Millar

As soon as Juanita (a strong Jenny Marlowe) enters through the light swing door of this impressive 5 & Dime set, you are struck by the absence of what came before. She appears to be going through the motions of running her establishment, like a heart that beats out of necessity; she cleans, speaks on the phone and waits for the arrival of ‘The disciples of Jimmy Dean’.

It is 1975, (20 years since the actor’s death) and the ‘disciples’ are meeting at her establishment to commemorate not only his life, but their own. The ‘action’ is split between 1955 (post filming of his final movie ‘Giant’) stage left and the 1975 reunion (stage right), occasionally this can get a little muddled and clumsy, but for the most part is an effective device in showing the claustrophobia of small town McCarthy Texas, where this energetic cast are trapped or returning to.
The atmosphere is thick, not as thick a Tennessee Williams play for example but bear in mind that the most life affirming stories are of sex in the local grave yard and you have a rough idea how this reunion is going to go. You have the Belle of the ball in the character of Sissy (an ebullient Julie Rose Smith and slightly gauche Catherine Nix-Collins) who can’t keep from mentioning/grabbing her chest, laughing wildly or drinking, but due to the subtle performances of both actresses’ she becomes a small hero in this painful display.

Other staples are the deluded Mona (a solid Adrienne Matzen and skilfully sweet Fiona Drummond), who despite leaving McCarthy to get a college education, returns tout suite because of her asthma and drops the bomb shell that she is carrying the bastard child of one James Dean.

As the picture of Christ stares down at our protagonists, this clunky plot device is brought to the fore; they are here to worship and adore, not to face life in any way shape or form. Juanita (Marlowe) is constantly trying to drag their thoughts back to their upbringing, back to the bible, but these youngsters won’t hear of it. Her religion is of course a screen for her own repression and counter weighted by the other themes of Oil riches, embodied by the effervescent Stella May (a woefully under directed Kathryn Georghiou) and fame; be it local or otherwise.

This is quite a dull and obvious play, twists can be seen a mile off, and sometimes you are left wondering whether that was on purpose, but fortunately the cast keep your attention wrapped. With the afore mentioned Sissy and Mona being aided and abetted by Joe (a beguiling Josh Boyd Rochford), Joanne (an amusing Eleanor Boyce) and finally by the spectacle of trailer trash innocence that is Edna Louise (a wonderfully expressive and empathetic Coren Fitzgerald).

There are no small parts here and no small actors either, you do however feel that with a few brave directorial decisions this fairly unremarkable piece could have matched its remarkable set and cast.

Photos by Alex Rumford
Runs until Sat 18th October
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