The Column Online



by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten

Allen Community Theatre

Director – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Producer – Nancy Cecco
Set Designer & Builder – Lamar Graham
Stage Manager – Janie Lane
Sound Designer – Richard Stephens, Jr.
Scene Painter – Kasey Bush
Lighting Designer – Stephen Spisak
Costumes – Lauren Madden
Tech – Cassandra Montgomery & Lizzie Lyons
Sound & Light Operator – Stephen Spisak
House Manager - Jamie Lane
Publicity – Jo Rivers-Schenck

Big Ether – Fradonna Griffin
Georgia Dean – Kim Pember
Lark – Angela Buston
Baby – Coby Cathey
Sloggett – David Lambert
Joveeta – Heather Shin
Caprice – Jenn Stephens-Stubbs
Lomax – Joe Barr
Starla – Gena Graham

Reviewed Performance: 10/8/2016

Reviewed by Ryan Maffei, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

I first came to Allen 21 years ago, back when it was mostly undeveloped farmland, interchangeable dusty roads and budding suburbs in the green-shoot stage. For an eight-year-old Yankee straight outta Bergen County, the 2000 mile hop was tantamount to traversing from the North Pole to the South. Though I’ve got a vague sense of the town’s faint individual identifiers – a gigantic marching band we’ve sent to the Rose Bowl a few times; an even more massive high school football stadium with apparently unintentional echoes of Leni Riefenstahl; an influx of dough (reportedly resented by denizens of more nameworthy boroughs) funneled into cosmopolitan shopping centers – for me, Allen remains the place where I first became introduced to Texanism. It would be hard to overstate the seismic magnitude of the shift from one geography and culture to another. Unbreathable heat, an ocean of “y’all”s, Six Flags, learning to square dance in gym, Big Tex, Frito Pie, the silly Texas Pledge (like the flag it was designed for, an elementary reduction of the original thing), the teacher with a blood connection to LeAnn Rimes, the teacher whose drawl was so heavy she pronounced “poem” “poym”… it all felt like another planet.

It wasn’t long before I grew to realize that Texas, whose trend-bucking history as an American state involves a small spell as its own damn country, prefers to think of itself as just such a thing. And that same cloistered mentality pervades Doublewide, Texas, a sweetly insubstantial production kicking off Allen Community Theatre’s sixth season. (The Allen I recall from my days as a short-stack showboat would never have found it appropriate to allocate community money to a theatre, though the schools’ drama programs were always underrated in the greater regional area.) Doublewide is a Jones-Hope-Wooten comedy, and as assembly-line laughateria material goes J-H-W are to, say, Neil Simon as Red Robin is to McDonald’s: a sort of icky shadow of the original you only hit up when you can’t get your mitts on something superior. Nevertheless, their pieces can be decent vessels in the right mitts – for instance, Leigh Wyatt Moore’s. I first saw Moore deftly stealing the show in a Plano production of another of the trio’s plays, the solid feminist dramedy The Dixie Swim Club. For Doublewide, she cedes the spotlight to a strong nonet of actors who each echo her expert mix of the deadpan and the dotty.

The play’s plot is a deliberately tangly real-estate caper, a perfect example of a Hitchcockian McGuffin – a hollow skeleton solely in service of gags with the weight and significance of a burst of chicken feathers. Small town values triumph over big city greed, with “secession” talk somehow utterly devoid of racial animus, and while a lot of the resultant fun-pokin’ at what you might call rubes’ expense might seem redneck-prejudicial on the page, the actors and the audience unite to clarify it as purely affectionate. The show opens with diminutive sex- if not septuagenarian Big Ethel (Fradonna Griffin) croaking out a rather conventional riff on correctional facilities and healthy eating, which Griffin, sort of a real-life Mama from Mama’s Family, handily transforms into comedic gold. From then on, the rest of performers further the warm, wacky fun with grace and aplomb. Coby Cathey plops a dollop of sugar on Blue Collar Comedy tropes, David Lambert beautifully inhabits a ‘sour old coot’ archetype, Swim Club utility player Jenn Stephens-Stubbs gamely broadens her attack by a factor of 600, cute and mellow Angela Buston brings a graciously understated touch of millennial, and standouts Heather Shin (second-best in show in Dixie and first-best here) and Kim Pember (a dead ringer for My Name is Earl’s Jaime Pressley) handle the necessary work of grounding the cartoons around them while still scoring a handful of goofy guffaws. Joe Barr does a nice, easy cowboy variation on a sleazy yuppie type, and Gena Graham both wins over the audience with a genial intro and barrels brazenly in for a broad-brush cameo at the end.

A couple of moments are groaners, though that’s not what you’ll hear out of the patrons, particularly some of the outdated high-heel mincing Cathey meets halfway like a champ. Elsewhere Moore’s shrewd way with physical comedy hasn’t been transmuted to her company without a little fade in the process. Still, there’s no use splitting hairs on a big plush armadillo like this production. It’s suffused with the wonderful unpretension of low aim. The only time it objectively fails is a sudden jerk into sentimentality at the tail end, when everybody breaks into a lullaby-quiet, corny-ass version of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. But even that was rendered tender by the fact that the whole crowd spontaneously sang along.

at Allen’s Community Theatre
1210 E. Main St. Ste. 300 Allen, TX 75002
Call 844-822-8849 for tickets and further information.