When Amanda and Gus first meet, the word, “mismatched,”' seems appropriate. She's a gabby Southern belle. He's a taciturn New Jerseyite. She loves to travel. His view on that topic: “I never found a place worth the trouble it takes to get there.”
But these widowed senior citizens find common ground, and each other, in Southern Comforts. Kathleen Clark's poignant and incisive romantic comedy, once a vehicle for Hal Holbrook and his wife, the late Dixie Carter, is currently treated to a first-rate staging by One Thirty Productions at the Bath House Cultural Center. The players, Gene Raye Price and John S. Davies, are audience favorites throughout the region. So is the director, B.J. Cleveland. The team does not disappoint.
Davies possesses amazing reactive skills, and he employs them with subtlety that is wonderfully effective in the intimate performance space at the Bath House Cultural Center on the banks of White Rock Lake. His Gus evolves gradually, reluctantly, from brooding loner to tentative out-reacher. Gus doesn't always get it right, though. Thinking to toss an endearment Amanda's way, he says: “You're like a good cup of coffee. You keep me awake.”
As written, Amanda is more than a trifle manipulative. The trick, then, is to avoid portraying her as a scheming snare-setter. Price succeeds in softening the character, making Amanda just pushy enough, but not annoyingly aggressive. As Gus struggles to defuse an Amanda hissy fit, Price drawls: “The person telling you to calm down is usually the reason you're not calm.”
These two click marvelously. In the opening performance of the run, a window screen was accidently left behind during set change. No worries. Price and Davies ad-libbed the problem away:
“My goodness, what's this thing doing here? Think I'll move it.”
“Yeah, get rid of it.”
Speaking of the set, scenic designer Marty Van Kleeck provides a functional and eye-pleasing version of Chez Gus, a sparsely furnished New Jersey abode. Sparsely furnished, that is, until Amanda moves in with van loads of stuff. As the stage crew makes these additions, Price supervises and assists, in character.
A nice touch—one of many.