A Southern Exposure

Written by Kelly Kingston-Strayer
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

A Southern Exposure is part of a family of American theatre seemingly born from Steel Magnolias: the Dixie-fried situation comedy. While its chief virtue may be the addition of worthwhile roles for women, it also relies on a distinct formula of sharp-tongued comedy leading into tragedy and pathos. This script, set mostly in Kentucky, delivers the goods efficiently enough; but it is the exemplary work of the cast of this Bunbury Theatre production that makes it work…

The central relationship between Hattie (Diane Strez-Thurmond) and her grand-daughter, Callie Belle (Abica Dubay), is the heart of the story. Hattie raised Callie Belle from an infant after her parents died in an accident, creating a parental bond challenged by tension resulting from both the wide generational gap and the fact that these ladies are opinionated and not afraid to express themselves. This also holds true for Hattie’s two sisters, the irascible Ida Mae (Della Brown) and the simple-minded Mattie (Alice Chiles). Conflicts arise from Callie Mae’s decision to move to New York City and her involvement with a Jewish man.

A slender comic scenario shifts uneasily into more serious matters of heartbreak and mortality, yet the marvelous quartet of actors handle the tonal shifts with care and feeling. Diane Stretz-Thurmond brings restraint to Hattie that nicely contrasts against the broader comedy of the sisters and the comparative immaturity and emotionalism of Abica Dubay’s vividly rendered Callie Belle. Ms. Dubay is a native Kentuckian working in L.A., and her charismatic work here, characterized by a fierce but languid sensuality, can only give us hope of her further return to local stages.  

Della Brown’s Ida Mae is a tart presence to whom falls the luck of the lines: almost everything she says is pointed and funny. Alice Chiles’ Mattie also has humorous dialogue, but it is the non-verbal moments, perfectly timed slow reactions and several memorable entrances in a variety of wigs and costumes, that have the greatest impact. It was an object lesson in how to hold the stage while seeming to do very little.

So the performance makes the most of the material and, in fact, to some extent expands and enlarges the situation with the result that the emotional relationship with the audience lands with great alacrity. Director Juergen K. Tossman sets the right pace and guides the cast with a sure hand, so that the playing is disciplined but still allowed to push the boundaries when appropriate. This sub-genre of Southern situation comedy is often harshly met in New York, but seems designed to play well in the heartland, where audiences are perhaps more receptive to stories and characters that are familiar reflections of their own lives and families. A Southern Exposure should enjoy such a warm reception during its run at Bunbury.

A Southern Exposure

April 13-29, 2012

Bunbury Theatre
at the Henry Clay
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY
(502) 585-5306