|Jessica Reed, Shelly Heesacker, and Tanja Crouch. Photo by Theatre in the Grove.|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Theatre in the Grove’s latest offering, Mama Won’t Fly, is one in a series of Southern-themed farces by the prolific writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooter – the third of their shows that we have seen on Washington County stages in the past few years. Like the others, it’s a family-friendly, audience-pleasing bit of pure entertainment, but unlike 2013’s Dixie Swim Club this show lacks any significant themes – it’s just a whole bunch of funny lines and physical comedy wrapped around a slim plot.
In a nutshell: Savannah Honeycutt has promised her brother that she’ll deliver their mom, Norleen Sprunt, to Santa Monica Beach in time for his wedding four days hence. Unfortunately, they have to drive all the way from Alabama stuck in mama’s vintage Buick because mama won’t fly. For Savannah, this promises to be the road trip from hell – cooped up with her meddling, match-making mother for thousands of miles. Things get more complicated with the unexpected arrival of bride-to-be Hayley Quinn, who hopes to become a true Sprunt by bonding with her new relations on the trip. Stage weapons, Texas troopers, car thieves, a hopped-up truck driver, an alcoholic ex-stage manager, a cross-dressing former fiancé, and an unbelievable assortment of odd relatives introduce every imaginable I Love Lucy-type complication along the way and, predictably, all’s well that ends well.
The three lead characters are ably supported by six extraordinarily versatile, if occasionally over-the-top, actors who fill a mind-numbing 22 parts. David Cabassa’s high point is his inexplicably Hispanic portrayal of Officer Dugger, brighter than Barney Fife but still no Andy Taylor. Donald Cleland is simply mahvelous as the unexpectedly fetching Spud. Patti Speight literally and figuratively sparkles as a Vegas showgirl/wedding officiant (“do you want the $40 or the $60 wedding?”). However, it is Anne Kennedy (as the light-fingered alcoholic ex-stage manager) who gets the best line of the evening: “rehab is for quitters!” Not to be outdone, the stagehand (Tom Robinson on opening weekend) is hilarious, if silent, as he carries out his many duties.
If the leads were played like the supporting cast, the show would be a train wreck instead of an enjoyable farce – but Directors Jeanna Van Dyke and Susan Dieter-Robinson had the good sense to rein in these key characters. Jessica Reed (“Savannah”), Shelly Heesacker (“Norleen”), and Tanja Crouch (“Hayley”) play their roles seriously, no matter how absurd the situation. Reed’s ability to keep a straight face while wearing the ugliest dress on Earth leaves the laughs where they belong – in the audience. Heesacker manages to stop just short of being unforgivably overbearing, so that her character’s sympathetic portrayal at the end is somewhat believable. Quinn is hapless, clumsy, goofy, but consistently endearing – the most lovable character in the show by a mile!
Mama Won’t Fly is good fun precisely because of the lack of any pretense of deep themes or great art – a great way to spend a few hours immersed in silly theater, laughing along with folks who are there for nothing more than a good time.
Theatre in the Grove’s production of Mama Won’t Fly runs through June 13th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:30.