Life With Ferris: Fantastic Shows At The Signal Mountain Playhouse

  • Monday, June 17, 2024
  • Ferris Robinson

The Signal Mountain Playhouse’s summer production, “The Music Man,” opens Friday, June 28, and runs June 28, 29; July 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, and 20. Curtain is at 8 each night, and bring a chair if you don’t want to sit on the concrete bleachers. This theatre company is one of the coolest things about Signal Mountain, and I love the winter play as much as the summer play. I know “The Music Man” will be fantastic, and can’t wait to sit in a clearing in the woods under the canopy of green and watch the stars come out as the actors command the stage.

The winter play is indoors, and I was looking so forward to seeing “Hallelujah Girls” at the MACC this past spring. And as usual, the Signal Mountain Playhouse production did not disappoint. Directed by Michelle Ford, this play was jampacked with sharp, witty one-liners, which made for outstanding entertainment, but the underlying theme of this play went far beyond an enjoyable evening at the theatre. It’s one I want to not only remember, but take to heart.

When Sugar Lee (don’t you just love that name?) bought an abandoned church to turn in to a day spa, her friends did not approve at all. She could lose her life savings! Clucking their disapproval, they rolled their eyes and voiced their concerns to each other, but once Sugar Lee wandered on stage, they were staunch and steadfast, at least as clientele goes.

I’m roughly the same age as the characters in the play - let’s just call that over 50, okay? The point being they all assumed they were grown, as in fully grown, as in done growing. They believed they were fully formed, and whatever their lot in life was at that point, it was not changing. And they conveyed all of this with much hilarity and all manner of antics.

“Time is marching on and there’s no getting around it. Yesterday I looked down into my grocery cart and half the stuff in there said ‘For Fast Relief,’” Carlene said, played by Margaret Cooke. And Cooke’s expressions, every single one of them, were spot on and conveyed her feelings to a T, whether they were suspicious or pleased or miffed.

“Why are married women heavier than single women?” Carlene asked the gang, hand on her hip.

"Cause single women come home, see what’s in the fridge and go to bed. Married women come home, see what’s in bed and go to the fridge,” she answered.

Carlene, thrice widowed, considered advertising for a husband in the paper, and received an overwhelming response from hundreds, all with the same four words: “You can have mine!”

This play is hilarious as written, but Ford’s direction was stellar.

When Porter (Dennie Wolfgang) finally proposed to Carleen, she hesitated for a second, then hopped on board, only for Porter to realize he hadn’t run this by his mother. As Porter collected himself and the engagement ring, Carlene contorted herself in a half twist as her friends held onto her, reaching and fluttering her fingers toward the ring that had been so close a second ago. This one hilarious expression was one of the most dead-on portrayals I’ve ever seen.

Dani Clark played the character of Mavis, and as usual, was a hit. But the highlight of her performance for me was when, after a bit of a holiday from her humdrum life and taking a much-needed break from her not-so-beloved husband, she darted across the stage in her new improved and refurbished get-up. That would be an assortment of leopard jacket, stiletto heels, silver sparkly shirt, leather pants and oversized movie star sunglasses, and I don’t remember her saying a single word. She didn’t have to. She commanded that stage, and my stomach hurt from the belly laughing.

Sugar Lee referenced “tarting you up” when one character needed to dress up a little, and another one-liner referenced parenting, noting that the first 40 years are the hardest.

The nuances in this play that Ford directed are pure gold, and I want to see it all over again to make sure I didn’t miss any. I wouldn’t have noticed Sugar Lee had piled thick shaving cream on Mavis’s face and was actually shaving her if Anne Rittenberry hadn’t poked me and pointed that out. (Sugar Lee was actually using a rolling stone but I didn’t realize that until later – after I’d died laughing at the very idea.)

Janet McInturff was totally convincing as Sugar Lee all the way around, but her eyes told it all for me. After almost every line, she somehow conveyed whatever she was feeling - doubt, embarrassment, realization - with a single expression that lasted a fraction of a second.

McInturff’s daughter, Jennifer Baggett, played Bunny, the not-exactly-beloved antagonist who was set on buying the Spa-Dee-Dah building from Sugar Lee.

“Hey girlfriends,” she schmoozed every time she stepped on stage, to gals who were anything but her girlfriends.

Nathaniel Gee was great as Bobby Dewayne and Sarah Stone was perfect as Crystal.

“Sugar Lee, be realistic. We’re all over 50. At our age, our lives are pretty much what they’re going to be. Nita works for the county, I slave away at The Hair Hut and Mavis fights the urge to kill Miller. Girl, this is it. Life is like Jell-O; Once it’s set, it’s done.”

I’m well past that particular number, and, like Sugar Lee, I don’t believe that for a minute.

After being royally entertained, I loved one of the last lines in the play: “It’s never too late to become the person you are supposed to be.”

Hallelujah!

Go to smph.org for info on the upcoming play and history of the playhouse.

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.

 

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