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Dartmouth Players Presents: "Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean"

Although I had heard the word grouping “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Deannumerous times, I had never seen a production of the Ed Graczyk play until today. Sitting inside the Dartmouth Players’ theatre minutes before the “curtain went up,” based on title alone, I was expecting a light comedy reminiscent of Happy Days.

I quickly learned my assumptions were wrong and for the first 10 or so minutes my mind wandered away from the Texan five-and-dime scene before me. This is no fault of the actors or the script, as it is no easy task to immediately engage an audience with a dialogue-intensive script

As it turns out there was no need for a flashy sock hop scene or a James Dean look-a-like speeding across the stage in a Porsche Super Speedster. After an initial period of distraction, my focus became wholly engrossed in the performance and before I knew it, it was intermission! For the first time in quite a while, a longer than average play (two-and-a-half hours) flew by, where I had felt more like an immersed guest, rather than an audience member separated by the “fourth wall”.

 This satisfying theatrical experience was due to a combination of Graczyk’s script and the Dartmouth Players’ interpretation of it. The reunion of the “Disciples of James Dean,” 20 years after his death, proved both boldly hilarious and profoundly emotional, so much so that I found myself laughing (even when others were not) and yet mirroring the tears of those literally present on stage.

Mona’s (played by Lynne Sampson) solemn obsession with the “father of her child” and Juanita’s (played by Debbie Williams) God-fearing convictions were ideally balanced with the comically boisterous Sissy (played by Leslie Milne) and the equally funny, even more boisterous Stella (played by Katherine Tufts, whose vocal chords miraculously appeared not to be damaged…yet). A particularly poignant monologue—perhaps the most moving of the production—was delivered by Valerie MacKenzie as Joanne; and, each morsel of Edna’s (played by Kelly Doney Morrison) entertaining, self-deprecating delivery was craved and savoured.

One slick element of the production was how the company created a smooth transition between 1955 and 1975 by creatively adjusting the lights and a simple ceiling fan. Annika Borg, Hillary Windsor and Jakob Creighton, playing the younger versions of “The Disciples,” also effectively enabled this time travel cohesion, delivering their lines with just the right timing. I would have liked the apparitions of a certain “ghost” to have appeared just as cleverly—perhaps with some simple technical manoeuvring to create a more ethereal ambiance—but this is a minor critique.

Leaving the theatre, I was grateful that the production turned out much differently than I expected—a piece filled with faux pas (it may have been considered somewhat controversial when Graczyk first released his script), twists and 20-old secrets finally revealed. ~ MB

You still have time to see Dartmouth Players’ “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” this Wednesday through Saturday (April 24-27) at 8PM!

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