Tina Jo Wallace, Heather Paige Folsom, and Melissa Combs. photo: DDP

Dearly Beloved

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten
Directed by Lee Buckholz

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2021, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

With the pandemic finally petering out, it’s nice to be getting back to normal. Whether it’s finally getting to go to the movies, your favorite restaurants, and bars, hanging with your friends, or just basking in the knowledge of being vaccinated and walking around outside without a mask, the sense of relief is palpable.

Derby Dinner Playhouse is also getting back to their normal vibe, reopening their buffet and serving up another visit to one of their favorite destinations, the southern-fried, down-home town of Fayro Texas, catching up with the Futrelle sisters and their assorted family obfuscations. This is a road well-traveled by the Playhouse, along with a lot of other local theater groups, as we’ve seen these characters and their hilarious trials and tribulations played out in other plays, such as Christmas Bells, Southern Hospitality, and The Dixie Swim Club. 

In the current production, Dearly Beloved, our Fayro favorites are gathering for a wedding, and of course, nothing is going as planned. We learn that the Futrelle Sisters used to tour the revival circuit as an almost-famous gospel group. They consist of Twink (an extremely well-cast Heather Paige Fulsom), desperate to marry her long-term boyfriend; Frankie (Tina Jo Wallace), about to have a mental breakdown and with a habit of having conversations with her deceased mother; and Honey Raye (a hilarious Melissa Combs), newly returned to town and constantly fanning her hot flashes. The three have been estranged due to Honey Raye’s breaking up the group some years ago.

They are planning a wedding for Frankie’s daughter Tina Jo (Brittany Carricato Cox, expertly playing two distinct characters, as she also appears as the twin sister Gina Jo). Chaos ensues, due to Honey Raye’s plans to do a Gone With the Wind-styled wedding on a shoestring budget, a flower shop owner/wedding planner (who is also the town’s bus dispatcher, played to hysterical comedic perfection by the always reliable Rita Thomas), and, most critically, a runaway bride and groom.

All of these characters are brought to vibrant life, with some additional support by a delightful J.R. Stuart as the gung-ho deputy John-Curtis, Blake Graham as the lovably in-over-his-head minister/UPS driver, Cary Wiger as the father-of-the-bride (with a secret), and Lem Jackson as the over-medicated love of Twink’s life. Mandi Elkins Hutchins shines in her two roles: cigarette-and-coffee-voiced town mystic Nelda Lou, and especially as the so-nasty-you-know-she’ll-get-hers mother of the groom Patsy Price. But by far the most memorable performance goes to Matthew Brennan as the wagon-dragging, eternally upbeat, and perhaps not-all-there Raynerd. His comic timing with the character is impeccable, every one of his punch lines gets the right beat.

Other than a few awkward moments of blocking to set up some physical comedy bits that don’t quite work, the show is a raucous good time and just what we need at this moment in history. Great for a date night!

Dearly Beloved

May – June 27, 2021

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director, and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006 and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.