by Jillian Carter
If the opening night audience is the barometer, the Beatrice Community Players production of Southern Comforts is sure to be a smash hit. The audience was engaged and laughing from start to finish. A woman behind me couldn’t stop herself from repeating funny lines and gasping when barbs were sent flying onstage. While this might sound annoying, since it’s not exactly good audience etiquette, it actually enhanced my experience. She was clearly enjoying herself, so I had to as well!
Southern Comforts is the story of Gus and Amanda, who find love late in life, and have to deal with the complications and compromises that come along. We follow them from their first meeting to… well, no spoilers here. Judy Anderson plays Amanda to perfection, having mastered a lovely lilting southern accent and the strong but vulnerable openness that carries the show. Amanda states early on, “The older I get, the more I know what I want and don’t want,” which resonated in my 36-year-old heart as well as it would for anyone older. That quote is really the crux of the whole show.
Gary Thompson brings Gus to the stage as a formidable foe/partner for Amanda. His facial expressions were hilarious, as was his seemingly oblivious straight man persona. From his posture to his hand gestures, Thompson’s whole body screamed of cantankerousness, and I wholeheartedly believed him when he declared, “Men don’t change.” Thankfully that proves to be false, because I was really rooting for Gus and Amanda by the end, for both success with their storm windows and their romance.
While the pacing slowed at times, the show was saved by some real zingers that brought me right back into the action. While Southern Comforts is billed as a light-hearted comedy, my favorite moments were when Gus and Amanda had to deal with more serious issues, like their deceased spouses and the after-effects of wartime military service. These moments were more moving given that I had just been laughing my butt off moments before. The segues between semi-bawdy comedy and real emotional depth were handled masterfully by guest director Trevor Kern. It is no easy feat to direct a two-person cast, but Kern was able to keep the cast active and intriguing. Kudos to someone who had never before directed adults!
Other notable contributions come from the production crew. Brandon Clark’s lights and sound management was effective and natural, aided by the theatre’s wonderful acoustics, charming music choices, and the design leadership of Jamie Ulmer. Ulmer’s scenic design was astounding. Having never been to the Community Players Theatre before, I would never have known that it is actually a black box theatre.
Since this was my first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised by the theatre itself. Like most Lincoln-ites, I don’t generally travel for live theatre, unless I’m going to Omaha or Chicago. However, the 42-minute trip to Beatrice may become a regular occurrence for this theatre-lover. First of all, parking is easy, and I didn’t see one pothole while driving through the town! The seats are super comfy, and there was definitely more leg space than I am used to. I mentioned how good the acoustics are, but that coupled with the design of the theatre means that there is not a bad seat in the house. This 200-seat theatre is designed for comfort, and I think it is well worth the drive. I’ll be back!
(On a side note: As a producer, I would like to have been able to pick up the Beatrice audience and take them with me to every opening night performance. They were that great!)
If you go: Southern Comforts is performed at the Community Players Theatre at 412 Ella Street in Beatrice. Remaining performances are April 6, 12, and 13 at 7:30 pm, and April 7 and 14 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are available online and at the box office.
Jillian Carter is a mother of four, a collaborative artist with Angels Theatre Company, a community theater columnist for Lincoln Journal Star’s Ground Zero, and the managing editor of Appearing Locally.
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