Grove’s ‘5 & Dime’ worth a visit

Don Maslowski

Friday, June 25, 2004 – Weighted with working film and television actors, director Richard Hochberg makes full use of their talents in a finely textured interpretation of Ed Graczyk’s “Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” at the Grove Theatre in Upland.

Dean, an anomaly who achieved surreal legendary status with a scant three films spanning his entire Hollywood career of just 16 months, was killed on a lonely stretch of winding California highway just days after wrapping up the filming of ‘‘Giant.” This story tells about a fictional group of diehard Dean fans who have gathered for a reunion on Sept. 30, 1975, exactly 20 years after the tragic death of their hero.

The more we get to know these people congregating in little McCarthy, Texas, the more we care about them. We care about them because we like them, not because of their faults, but in spite of them. We like them as we do the person we see each morning in the mirror, not perfect, not faultless, but determined to put on our best face and present the world with what we have come to believe it wants of us. Perception is everything. Honesty is the price we pay.

For Juanita (Linde Hood), that means remembering her deceased husband as she chooses for him to have been. For Mona (Jean Carol), the only one of the old gang who stayed around, it’s all about her son, Jimmy Dean. Story has it that when James Dean was working on location for his final film just outside of Midland, the two of them got together for one night of bliss.

Sissy (Alana Stewart) arrives, loud and brash as ever, remembered mostly for her anatomical endowments that entered a room before she did.

The gregariously condescending Stella (Holly Jeanne) and Edna (Amberly Chamberlain), known for having more babies than smarts, are the only other ones to show up for the festivities.

Well, that’s not quite true. Joanne (Rebecca Holden) arrives as well, and though she remembers everyone, no one can quite place her.

All, then, is in place for a day of remembering, of recollecting things, places, events and people. Funny, isn’t it, how time fades the harsh colors of reality into lovely, rose-tinted hues? If only it could be so.

But, of course, it can’t. Truth, inevitably, must come out, frauds exposed, feelings hurt, old friendships forever altered and new ones forged. This is life, as you and I and they live it.

The story is told in flashback sequences. Here we see Mona and Sissy in 1955, full of life and hope and promise, enamored of their idol. We see Joe (Joel Veach) too, who loved Mona, perhaps in spite of his personal demons, perhaps because of them.

This duality of characters can be a tricky thing to get just right on stage. We see the then and now of these people we’ve gotten to know, sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes each subliminally acknowledging the other, resulting in theater that’s actually theatrical.

With impressive performances all around, the play belongs to Carol and, later, to Holden. Carol imbues Mona with a palpably disturbing yet innocent Blanche Dubois persona. Holden impeccably gives the play its necessary antagonistic catalyst as cool-as-a-cucumber Joanne, through whom truths must inevitably be acknowledged.

Noteworthy too is Agatha Nowicki’s and Erin Ross’ ability to capture the essence of Carol’s and Stewart’s Mona and Sissy, or perhaps, vice versa. Either way, it’s on the money. For her part, Stewart captures that part that lives within each of us that yearns to be a little bit raunchy, but just can’t — or won’t — come out to play.  Representing the mores of the Southern bible belt, Hood is picture perfect as Juanita, the dutiful constant in a changing world. Jeanne and Chamberlain, too, offer up completely full characters we know well. Veach’s portrayal of a young man hurting from the inside out is more filled with anger than pathos, making the payoff a bit less than it could have been, but nonetheless moving.

A great set (Fank Dickson), perceptive directing and acting and a profound script all come together to make possible our return to our own personal McCarthy, Texas, a meaningful one in ways we might never have imagined. It’s a nice place to visit as long as we don’t choose to live there.

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Rebecca Holden (8)




Rebecca Holden (9)