The cast of First Baptist of Ivy Gap. Photo courtesy of Little Colonel.
First Baptist of Ivy Gap
By Ron Osborne
Directed by Sharon Sommermeyer
Review by Jane Mattingly
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Jane Mattingly. All rights reserved.
Little Colonel Players’ season closer reminded me of going through old photographs with an elderly relative as she explains each one and relives her memories, all vivid and significant to her. The mood of this piece is suitable for the Little Colonel Playhouse in that it illustrates a sweetly tight-knit community. If you’ve ever seen or performed in a show there, you know what I mean. It is an old, special place that is dear to many people’s hearts, much like the setting of this show.
First Baptist of Ivy Gap is the first play of Ron Osborne’s trilogy, set in the fictional Tennessee town of Ivy Gap, which follows a group of women within the local Baptist church community. The opening of this piece takes place when World War II is being fought, and six women have gathered to roll bandages for wounded soldiers. The group is headed up by the pastor’s wife, Edith (Shelley Marquart Reid), who is also busy planning the church’s 75th anniversary. In Act 2, it’s the church’s 100th anniversary, and the Vietnam War is raging, and we see the obvious changes as well as the parallels. There’s Mae Ellen (Christine O’Hara), the church’s fireball of an organist, who provides the soundtrack and much of the humor, and her pal Olene (Shannon Leonard), a wannabe-Hollywood bombshell. They share a dream of leaving Ivy Gap, but only one of them makes it. Judging their sinful behavior, of course, is tidy and wealthy Vera (Lisette Markham). These four have fun bouncing off one another in typical church-lady banter. Reid enacts perfectly the chatty and nosy matriarch of the group and gets adorably feistier as the show progresses. O’Hara did the best job of pushing the energy and comedic moments onstage any time they began to sink; and although I wanted more hunger from Leonard in the beginning, her character has a lovely arc overall and really comes to life in Act 2 in a fun way.
The strongest moments occur between the other two women, Luby (Erika Wardlow) and Sammy (Meghan Logue), and they establish an unspoken conflict between them that becomes an uncomfortable undercurrent in the room. Logue plays Sammy with a deep honesty, and her motivations are very clear from the minute she enters. Wardlow effectively captures the struggle to keep her faith and remain composed. The buildup to their eventual confrontation is loosely the focal point of the show, and Logue and Wardlow do a commendable job playing these difficult, emotional scenes.
I can only suspect the action picks up a bit more in Osborne’s next two installments, Showtime at First Baptist and Welcome Back to Ivy Gap, and that this piece primarily functions to cover most of the exposition. Overall, I found the script to be weak. There are many sweet moments with a dash of polite comedy, covering themes of community and forgiveness and questioning the necessity of war. Other than Luby and Sammy’s 25-year quarrel and their showdown in Act 2, there is not much else driving the plot. The play is more of a snapshot, and this production satisfies that nicely but doesn’t breathe much extra soul into it; particularly in Act 1, it seemed that some opportunities for comedy and connection were skimmed over. Act 2 made up for it, though, as if the first half just set everything up so that the audience could laugh and reminisce with the characters 25 years later. Even though the script may lack challenge, the production is warm and lovingly crafted, and it leaves one with a sense of comfort and hope.
First Baptist of Ivy Gap
May 13 – 22, 2016
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mt. Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, KY 40056
Jane Mattingly grew up on the ballet stage but got mixed up with some theatre folks along the way and hasn’t looked back. A Louisville native and former LEO Weekly contributor, Jane holds a BA in English from the University of Louisville and has acted and directed with local theatre companies such as The Bard’s Town, Finnigan Productions, The Alley Theater, and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theater. She works as a baker and enjoys square-dancing and hiking.