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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘Alabama Bound’ has impact times five in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Rogue Theater

Pamela Johnson, from left, Keri Grimsley, Donna Johnson, Lola DeVillers and Jamie Buesing gather following Saturday’s performance of the Rogue Theater production of “Alabama Bound.” (Warren Gerds)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Did you ever find 20 bucks in a parking lot?

What happened Saturday night was as good as in a theatrical way.

Rogue Theater presented “Alabama Bound,” a dramatic work in five parts enacted by five women.

The performers worked against the odds.

+ Outdoors.

+ In a church parking lot, that of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

+ In front of a small audience sitting in vehicles.

+ Using a balky microphone system transmitting on a radio frequency.

+ Performing on a makeshift stage – a flatbed trailer.

+ Traffic trickling past on the nearby street.

+ A few neighborhood sounds, such as people in their yard.

And yet, one by one, the women actors took to the stage and became someone else.

No matter the disadvantages and distractions, the women stayed the course and were somebody else.

They slipped into a costume, slipped into a Southern dialect and slipped into the soul of a person with a tale to tell, sometimes harrowing.

They used a variety of voices to tell their story.

The presentation was part of Rogue Theater’s “Drive-in Theater” summer offerings – a means to continue live theater in the face of the coronavirus COVID-19.

With five solo actors, “Alabama Bound” suits the distancing requirements.

Director Stuart Champeau told the audience that playwright Charlotte Higgins waived the royalty fee because of the hard hit that live theater has taken.

What the community players did with her material is remarkable.

In “Alabama Bound,” Charlotte Higgins has a knack for telling short stories very economically. Descriptions are distilled, like a woman being “as mean as a switch” – like that of a tree branch.

These are the parts and the players:

+ “9-1-1,” with Jamie Buesing as Dixie.

An emergency services dispatcher who is a bit frivolous as she talks with colleagues, takes a 9-1-1 call from a boy whose mother is screaming. A man is after her… and then the boy.

The call ends, and Dixie quakes as goes outside for a smoke and to meet her boyfriend whose cheapness (in many ways) becomes dispensable.

+ “Hey, Old Woman,” with Lola DeVillers as Evelyn.

In a nursing home, Evelyn’s thoughts are heard. “I haven’t spoken in five years,” she informs along the way.

In a creaky voice, Evelyn describes what she sees around her, and then she adopts the voice of Mr. Adkins. He hollers at her as he recalls working in a coal mine with Evelyn’s husband and infers the husband had taken up with someone else’s wife.

+ “No Breathing Room,” with Donna Johnson as Loretta.

As Loretta sits in the kitchen with supper cooking – her mother-in-law’s favorite meal – her husband of 30 years and mother-in-law sit slack-jawed in matching recliners and smoking as they watch TV in another room. On TV is a call-in show for which the audience votes on the fate of a woman who has killed her two children – execution or life sentence.

The symbolism is Loretta’s life sentence is her consuming husband and mother-in-law. And she votes.

+ “Disease Dance,” with Keri Grimsley as Alice.

A beautician gets to go to a fancy ball. She is out of place. The ball is way out of her situation in life. A friend finds her a shiny dress – “like something you bake a turkey in” – that Alice eventually passes off to a hoity toity woman as being from Milan.

The title of this scene refers to a benefit function. The disease is lupus, which attacks the immune system. By coincidence, Alice’s mother died of lupus.

By coincidence, this scene echoes what is taking place on the coronavirus front. At the ball, Shirley MacLaine appears as the celebrity guest. She tells everyone, “We will get through this.” Sound familiar? And then Alice becomes Shirley MacLaine singing Alice’s mother’s favorite song, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

+ “Unlucky Star,” with Pamela Johnson as Dominique.

This scene is a sledgehammer. Dominque is an inmate in a prison who works in the infirmary and deals with women who were “in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man.”

Dominique has taken up with Jess, a stud who’s a real dud. This awful saga tramps through three murders, two by Jess and one by Dominique – two involving babies.

Unleashed is the soul of a woman.

With all the performers, commitment is consuming in their characterizations. The actors and director Stuart Champeau get to the pith. Saturday, the actors zoned in on who and what the women they were portraying were.

What happened was an unexpected reward, like finding 20 bucks in a parking lot.

***

Creative: Playwright – Charlotte Higgins; director Stuart Champeau;

Cast (in order of appearance)

Dixie – Jamie Buesing

Evelyn – Lola DeVillers

Loretta – Donna Johnson

Alice – Keri Grimsley

Dominque – Pamela Johnson

Remaining performance: 6 p.m. Aug 2, in the back parking lot of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 1756 Michigan St.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Info: (920) 818-0816

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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