Review: Off-Broadstreet Theatre – SOUTHERN COMFORTS

August 30, 2010

The Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell, NJ has been a part of the regional theatre family for the past twenty-six years.  It was the first dessert theatre in New Jersey, and its fare generally leans towards the lighter side of the spectrum.  One such play is currently on stage through October 2.  SOUTHERN COMFORTS by New Jersey playwright Kathleen Clark is an enjoyable two-hander that is a bit above the usual slight comedies one generally expects in regional theatres.  The evening also boasts a splendid performance by local actress Lois Carr.

Aging is an unavoidable aspect of life; aging alone is not, but it is often a difficult choice.  SOUTHERN COMFORTS is the story of a widow and widower who meet by accident and work through their various difficulties in the hopes that they might have a future together.  Into the sparse Victorian home of Gus Klingman (Dennis McGeady) in Morris County, NJ sweeps an irrepressible Tennessee grandmother named Amanda Cross (Carr).  Gus’ life is a spare as his home.  Gus and his wife never seemed to get along in their 45 year marriage, and he never brought himself to ask why.  He has an estranged son who may stay away from him for the same reason his wife moved into a separate bedroom: Gus is a difficult man who is sedentary and set in his ways.

Where Gus would never let his wife into his world, Amanda was shut out of her husband’s.  Both men brought the terrors of the war back with them, but Amanda’s husband could not cope with nor talk about his.  He was killed in a car accident, and Amanda has made herself believe that it was an accident, but the audience is lead to believe otherwise.  Amanda who loves to travel now spends her time driving from her home in Tennessee to her daughter’s family in New Jersey.  She loves to travel; besides the war, Gus has never really left his home town.  He and his wife lived in the house next door to this one until his childhood home became available, and they moved into the house where the evening takes place.  He sees no need to travel; he has everything he needs.

There is something about the energy Amanda exudes that awakens something in Gus.  At first, he resists, but he cannot help succumbing to his feelings for her.  However, it is not all smooth going.  Amanda brings her furniture into Gus’ house along with all of her books with which she cannot live.  Gus feels trapped and rebels.  Amanda sees change as a necessary part of living; Gus abhors change, and the difficulties begin.

Clark’s dialogue is telling; she must have known these people.  There is a naturalism to the dialogue that makes these people easily recognizable, and the difficult Gus is understandable and even likeable. 

McGeady has a difficult task with Gus because he could be immediately disliked.  His performance on opening night was a bit wooden and cautious, but he may loosen up enough to find some levels to Gus that will keep him human and still be the curmudgeon he has become.  Carr, on the other hand, is simply charming from her first entrance throughout the evening.  Her accent is consistent and spot on, and she has found many nuances to this woman whom Gus compares to “a good cup of coffee” because she keeps him “awake.”  McGeady does loosen up a bit when the conversation turns to sex, a topic with which he apparently thought he was through.  Carr’s contortions as Amanda tries to broach this difficult subject are wonderful.

The evening is a relatively short one coming in at about 100 minutes with an intermission, but it’s 100 minutes spent with two charming people for whom one really wants the best.  This doesn’t happen often in theatre today.

SOUTHERN COMFORT runs weekends through Oct. 2. Friday and Saturday evenings doors open at 7 p.m. for dessert, with curtain at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees feature dessert at 1:30 p.m. with curtain at 2:30 p.m. Admission Friday and Sunday is $27.50, Saturday is $29.50 and there is a senior rate of $25 available on Sundays only. Admission includes dessert and show. For reservations contact the Off- Broadstreet Theatre at 5 South Greenwood Ave., PO Box 359, Hopewell, NJ, 609-466-2766. Visit online at www.off-broadstreet.com.

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