What: Play by Kelley Kingston-Strayer, directed by Gina Stickley, presented by Little Fish Theatre
Where: Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro
When: Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through September 10, extra performances Sunday, August 28 at 7 p.m., Thursday, September 8 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25, $22 for seniors and students
Information: (310) 512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org
Two and one-half stars
By John Farrell
Can There be anywhere in contemporary America where, among literate adults who claim to be up-to-date on current events, the word “Gay” only means happy or carefree?
That place is in Kentucky, where “A Southern Exposure,” a comedy of bright intentions and serious sentiment, is mostly set. “A Southern Exposure” opened at the Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, where it will run though September 10, with a fine cast, especially Kalie Quinones, who has been in several other Little Fish productions of late and sparkles like a jewel in this one, starring as Callie Belle Hurt, the young and independent granddaughter of Hattie Belle Hurt (Geraldine Fuentes, brought in at the last minute to replace the ailing Jo-Black Jacob.) She is independent, yes, but just as much a part, and an observer of, the old-fashioned ways of her grandmother who raised her and her two aunts, Ida-Mae (Linda June Larson) and Mattie (Cindy Shields.)
The foursome have a long history together. Hattie Belle was forced to raise her granddaughter as her own child when Callie Belle's parents were killed in a car wreck so long ago she doesn't remember then. Ida-Mae has had a part in her life, too, and in Mattie's, a lovely lady who suffers a little from dementia but is always cheerful.
Still, there are a few questions raised by playwright Kelley Kingston-Thayer's award-winning play, which she developed from her own short story, that don't seem quite right. Maybe the three older members of the family really don't know what Gay means, but it is hard to imagine a family so dedicated to education for the daughter of the family also never having met a Jew, or a vegetarian, for that matter.
Ignore these things, though, and you have a play that presents a problem that many parents (and even grandparents) have to face: a young woman who falls in love and wants to move from the friendly comforts of a small town to the excitement (and employment opportunities) of a big city.
The problem is, they aren't really very compelling problems. Yes, Hattie Belle wants her granddaughter to stay with her and not move to New York. Yes, Callie Belle screw up her first romance, but she finds a good job and a real joy in New York City, and is more in touch with her family back home than many young women would be. But all the action, even the ending of the play, is more soap opera than substance: attractive, comic characters engaged in by-play and some deep thought, but a conflict, such as it is, that is emotionally compelling only because you care for the characters, not because you are surprised or challenged by what finally happens.
Still, there is plenty of charm in this play, for all its weaknesses. Fuentes, who took over the role of Hattie Belle with only six days notice, is fine as the grandmother and, though she carried a script with her opening night, she didn't seem to much need it. Larson's Ida-Mae is a calming force in the frequently comic storm of the family life, and Shield’s Mattie is as funny as all get out in her Wonder Woman outfit, and her simplicity is anything but stupid. Quinones is beautiful and funny and patient: you don't wonder at her New York success and are glad she has had such good parents, all three older woman giving her something of themselves.
“A Southern Exposure” isn't a great play, but it is charming, and director Gina Stickley manages to create a very successful production, even in the small Little Fish space. Go to see a light-weight play filled with great acting, but not much plot. Go to see Quinones in a part she dominates. But don't go expecting Tennessee Williams.
John Farrell is a Long Beach theater reviewer. More of his work can be found at www.byjohnfarrell.com