You just can't keep good Southern women down.
Set in the small town of Eden Falls, Ga., “The Hallelujah Girls” focuses on five friends as they decide they're not going to let their lives slip away from them following the death of a loved one. Sugar Lee (Jinny Harris) opens a day spa (SPA-DEE-DAH) in an abandoned old church where the quintet spends most of their time.
But Sugar Lee's definitely got her hands full just keeping her friends in good spirits, much less trying to a business. Mavis (Judy Griffin) wants fake her death to try and get out of her stagnant marriage. Carlene (Darla Fisher) is convinced she'll never find love again having buried three husbands (thus earning her the nickname “The Black Widow”). Nita (Linda Parker), meanwhile, is an emotional mess as she tries to deal with her lazy, do-nothing son and his probation office. And then there's Crystal (Diane Gatewood), a quirky little number who insists on wearing costumes for every occasion and changes the lyrics of Christmas carols into chipper advertisement jingles for the spa.
Pile on the return of Sugar Lee's ex-boyfriend, Bobby (Rodd Wayne), and the relentless determination of rival Bunny (Sharon Troxell) who will stop at nothing to rip the spa property away from her and there's no shortage of comedy and tension (romantic and otherwise) to go around.
That is, ultimately, the show's greatest strength. I may not ever really be able to fully understand or appreciate the specific perspective of these women, but they're drawn in such a way that it feels familiar and real.
What's interesting, though, is the way Jones, Hope and Wooten manage to revel in the Southern-ness of these characters and the setting and even poke fun at it on occasion without ever being mean about it or delving into stereotypes. (Well, maybe just a little bit of the latter with the “villain” of the story.) This is how you know the playwrights are from the South and have a deep, abiding love for it and its inhabitants.
The challenge with any play of this sort when you have characters who have known one another for such a considerably long time is ensuring there is a sense of history, a unique bond between them. Director Sean Holliday does an admirable job of bringing these ladies together and it's clear they're all having a good time just being on-stage with each other.
The real standout, for me, was Troxell as Bunny. Passive aggressive insults thinly shrouded by patronizing concerns are something of artform for Southern women and that seems to be Bunny's specialty. Troxell grasps onto this with a firm grip and really lets it rip every time she saunters onto the stage.
I may not be able to fully attach myself to these characters, but it's still a story told with heart and a sense of humor.
“The Hallelujah Girls” begins at 7:30 tonight at Tyler Civic Theatre Center. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for students. For more information and additional performance dates, call 903-592-0561 or visit www.tylercivictheatre.com.