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‘Southern Comforts’ smooth as peach bourbon

By |2018-01-15T16:39:09-05:00May 20th, 2010|Entertainment|

By D. A. Blackburn

A funny feeling descended on me Saturday night, after taking in the opening performance of Tipping Point Theatre’s “Southern Comforts.” The production I’d witnessed was nearly flawless, but somehow, I couldn’t find within me the feeling of satisfaction that good theater owes its audiences. It wasn’t until later, when my fiance asked how the show was, that this unusual reaction took form. My reply: “It was cute, but it didn’t move me.”
For the record, I believe that “cute” is an adjective that should never be used in reference to a play — just puppies, babies and my fiance’s footwear purchases.

Kathleen Clark’s “Southern Comforts” is about as straightforward a romantic comedy as there is. Its plot is of the generic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl comes back, happiness ensues” variety. There’s just one deviation — boy and girl are widower and widow respectively. And to this end, the challenges their relationship faces are particular to their position in life. Can he still perform sexually? Can two set-in-their-own-ways people cohabitate? Will their kids accept the relationship? Where will each be buried: with their respective exes, or with the other?
Clark’s script is less than clever in this respect, but it does yield some genuinely funny moments. And the Tipping Point has done much to give the work a strong production.
For starters, they’ve cast Thomas D. Mahard and Ruth Crawford as the play’s central couple, Gus and Amanda. Both are seasoned, respected veterans of stage and screen, both locally and nationally, and it’s hard to imagine a better pairing for this December-December romance. They perform with a fine chemistry, and both show good comedic sensibilities, even when dealing with the subtlest humor in the play. Mahard makes a fine warm-hearted curmudgeon. And Crawford, likewise, is in fine form as the quintessential proud Southern woman.
In the director’s chair, Joseph Albright makes good use of both his performers and his space. His touch makes on-stage interactions feel entirely natural, and he’s done nicely with regard to pacing. “Southern Comforts” unfolds with a sure grace of timing.
The company has also done well in using Dennis G. Crawley as set designer. His substantial build is very attractive, and excellently functional as is required by the script. And though the production’s one significant set change is not overly clever, it’s executed very nicely. At intermission, as Amanda is moving into Gus’ house, stagehands in movers’ uniforms arrive to bring in a truck-load of furniture.
Joel Klain’s sound design and Ruth Nardecchia’s lighting work together seamlessly to create a perfect on-stage thunder storm — both executed with flair and creativity.
The result of all this is a production with the high level of polish that patrons have come to expect over Tipping Point’s four-year history — a production that looks and sounds fantastic.
But while the company has done a fine job, there’s simply no getting around the script. Clark covers very little ground, and at that, none of it is new. The work is charming, but it doesn’t stir the soul. The characters are likable, but they feel like cliche stock personas. It is a play that embodies the phrase “form without substance.” And in the end, this production is very much like its namesake liquor: smooth, sweet, but not particularly potent.

‘Southern Comforts’
Tipping Point Theatre, 361 E Cady St, Northville. Thursday-Sunday through June 13. $23-$27. 248-347-0003.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.