Staged ‘Divorce’ ends happily for audience

Published 5:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

“Divorce Southern Style” is the perfect way to wrap upBrookhaven Little Theatre’s 2004-2005 season. This fast-paced,delightful comedy by little-known playwright Jennifer Jarrett willhave you laughing to the end.

BLT veteran Susan Dunaway heads up a stellar cast under theexpert direction of James Minter and Carole Bennett.

The plot centers around divorcée Eleanor Bander, once awell-to-do Southern lady, now running low on funds to support herlavish lifestyle. She decides that reconciliation with herex-husband, Walter, who has made a fortune since their divorce 15years earlier, is the solution to her financial woes.

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With help from neighbor and boozy novelist, Elma Blue Williams,Eleanor lures Walter back with an ever-so-slightly-exaggerated taleof their daughter’s imminent marriage, hinting that it is a”have-to” event. In reality, daughter Elizabeth has just gottenengaged – for the fifth time – to the ever-hopeful VinceSigmon.

Walter does, indeed, come to Charlotte from New York,accompanied by his current girlfriend, Gretchen Hiller, who justhappens to be Eleanor’s old rival from high school. To add to themayhem, Dr. Frederick Abernathy a wacky optometrist is thrown intothe mix and tries to become romantically involved with both Eleanorand Elma Blue.

Take one part Lucille Ball, one part Vivien Leigh, add a dollopof Maureen O’Hara for good measure and you’ve got Dunaway as thefire-haired, fire-tempered Eleanor. With perfect comedic timing,Dunaway brings Eleanor to life, expertly manipulating family,friends and foes alike, only to discover that getting just what onewants isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Playing Ethel to Dunaway’s Lucy, Sue Minter certainly works herown magic in the part of Elma Blue. Minter is brilliant asEleanor’s best friend and fellow divorcée, wholeheartedly joiningin Eleanor’s schemes.

Ashley Dunaway Jackson, like Eleanor’s daughter Elizabeth,proves that she certainly has her mother’s genes. Ashley shines asthe mercurial and fickle Elizabeth who, like her mother, wants tohave her cake and eat it, too, showing that the apple reallydoesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Brad Smith is delightful as Elizabeth’s ever-patient,on-again-off-again fiancé Vince. With his boyish charm and goodlooks, one finds oneself wanting to step into the action and tellElizabeth not to let this one get away.

“We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout” – thissong could have been written for Eleanor and Walter. Like ElizabethTaylor and Richard Burton, this is a love-hate relationship, onlycustom-made in the South.

Mike Said is wonderful as Walter, easily holding his own withDunaway’s Eleanor. Flowing easily from concerned father toimpassioned lover, Said’s Walter doesn’t take long to figure outEleanor’s schemes, and seems to quite enjoy himself as twobeautiful women vie for his attentions.

Speaking of which, Heather Thurgood is once again the ultimatefemme fatale. Thurgood is the quintessential “other woman” asGretchen, gleefully enjoying the discomfiture of high school rivalEleanor and later bristling with indignation, making one wonder ifWalter has ever heard what they say about a “woman scorned.”

Last, but not least, Darwin Stiles is hysterical as the lovelornDr. Abernathy, bouncing between Eleanor and Elma Blue, who somehowalways manage to be just beyond his grasp.

Directing and producing team James Minter and Bennett are theproud “parents” of this gem of a show. Like true parental types,Minter and Bennett show that directors are experts incommunication, manipulation, organization and configuration.

As if directing were not enough, Minter also wears the hat ofset designer. And what a beautiful set it is, too – I am so lovin’the yellow! As the first thing we see, the set is quite impressive- kudos to the construction crew: James Minter, Bennett, Smith, JanKincaid, Sue Minter and Walker Minter.

And now to toot the horn of those working “behind the scenes,”whose job it is to make sure you never know they are there. Believeme, if the light technician and stage manager aren’t doing a goodjob, it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. Lighting goessmooth as silk in the expert hands of Kathleen See, and backstage,Jan “What-Would-We-Do-Without-You” Kincaid manages once again to bein all the right places at just the right times.

Congratulations to cast and crew of “Divorce Southern Style.”You have a fine show. Thank you for making the final production ofBLT’s 2004-2005 season a must-see.

Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday night at 7:30p.m. at the Haven Theatre. Don’t miss it.