Derek Guy, Jessica Tanselle, Kasen Meek, Erica Fields, & Charlotte Haydon. Photo: Pandora Productions
Book & lyrics by Dan Collins, music by Julianne Wick Davis
Directed by Michael Drury
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
“Home is right here with my chosen family,” a testimony that resonates throughout the current online Pandora Production of Southern Comfort. At its core, this little folk musical, based on a documentary of the same name, explores what makes a family, either by blood or by choice, and how those bonds can tighten and strain. This musical is a tender peek into the lives of five transgendered individuals in a tiny Georgia town who form “a family not by blood but by circumstance.” What follows is an evening full of loss, and more importantly, hope.
Small in scale but with a rich, beautiful score, this production is intimate and emotional. The script tackles heavy topics related to transgender rights which add a humanity component to what would be considered a family drama. Concepts of passing, “deadnaming” and transitioning are brought to the forefront. Broader topics of healthcare, bigotry and prejudice both within the small cast of characters and society as a whole bring pain to this story of familial survival.
Scout Larken is the leader of this makeshift family as Robert. Larken carries Robert’s struggles with a terminal illness and medical prejudices with stubbornness and spitfire grit. They show a softer side when matched with a love interest, Lola, played by Erica Fields. Fields and Larken play off each other endearingly as they fall in love and cope with Robert’s failing health. Fields produces a sweet and simple rendition of “I’m a Bird,” a vulnerable ballad of self-acceptance and expression. If Larken’s Robert is a patriarch of sorts of the family, Kasen Meek embodies a temperamental child and foil as Jackson. Through squabbles, disagreements, and poking fun, Meek and Larken spread the wide complicated emotional complexities of parents and children. As the emotional crux of the story, their relationship, and arguments about healthcare and what it means to be a man make for some bittersweet drama as the family faces loss.
Jessica Tanselle, Derek Jermain Guy, and Charlotte Hayden bring strong vocal performances. Throughout the show, this cast brings humor and heart to this story revolving around flashbacks of Easters and Sunday dinners that is at times awkward and reflected on with sentimentality. Erin Fitzgerald and Jessica Sharpenstein as the company band “Genderella” provide musical accompaniment.
I hope I am not setting a jinx but this production marks the end of more than a year of virtual theatre. As Covid-19 restrictions lift throughout the nation, theater companies are announcing their upcoming season. And with this production, Pandora Productions announced their new in-person season starting in the Fall. Southern Comfort is among the final video productions for this bizarre season of theater we endured as a community. This musical shows a family brought together by struggles and after the last fifteen months, it’s nice to be reminded about what truly matters in life.
Cast: Scout Larken, Kasen Meek, Erica Fields, Jessica Tanselle, Derek Jermain Guy and Charlotte Hayden
On Video On Demand June 24-29
Kate Barry earned her BA in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!