'5 and Dime' Has the Goods

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ed Graczyk's "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," at Theatre District, is one of those hybrid plays that were popular in the '70s.

The main character, Mona, speaks in a sort of ersatz-Tennessee Williams, while the other in habitants of the West Texas town of McCarthy do not. She's been living a Williams-style lie most of her life, about a night she supposedly spent with James Dean while she was an extra in "Giant."

The play is a Southern belle-bonding tale but also describes the decadence of rural Southern thinking. It's a comedy, but some tragic events run through its fabric.

"Jimmy Dean" is not an easy play to pull off, but, with a couple of exceptions, director Mario Lescot makes it work very well.

Taking place both in the present (1975) and in 1955 (during the filming of "Giant"), the play's scenes flash between periods, and Lescot starts out dimming the lights for the flashbacks. Later, when the switch is made more frequently, he abandons the gimmick, and the audience's ease with the form indicates he could cut the dimming from the start.

Lescot also has allowed Marnelle Ross, as Mona (Now) to limit her performance almost to one-note, which is fretting. Ross has many more shadings and colorings available and should use them. Shannon Hunt as Mona (Then) has those extra tones and balances them well.

Kathleen Kaefer and Jessica Learned (as Sissy Now and Sissy Then) are much more a cut of the same cloth, brassy, very funny and ultimately touching as the big-bosomed wild one who had little else to offer.

Susan E. Taylor, as no-class Stella Mae, whose husband hit it rich in oil, and Deborah Kissinger, as dumb-but-fertile Edna Louise, who is happily on her way to her seventh child, play their characters at both ages, and considering the fact that neither one has grown with the years, it works fine. Jo Black-Jacob also plays dime-store owner Juanita in both eras with a good understanding of Juanita's Bible Belt hypocrisy.

Joanne, the mysterious lady who shows up in time for Mona's party marking the 20th anniversary of James Dean's death, is unrecognized at first, and Della Lisi captures the character's sense of impending doom explicitly. Joanne was, however, a member of the club and even lip-synced a number at a school dance with Mona and Sissy. Of course, she is dramatically different now than back then; her transformation is revealed by Joe, a role played with underlying torment by Joseph Dain.

It's a good company, well molded by Lescot into the quirky, very theatrical and ultimately hopeful world of Graczyk's play.

* "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," Theatre District, 2930 Bristol St., Suite C-106, Costa Mesa. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends March 23. $15. (714) 435-4043. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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Marnelle Ross: Mona (Now)

Jo Black-Jacob: Juanita

Kathleen Kaefer: Sissy (Now)

Susan E. Taylor: Stella Mae

Deborah Kissinger: Edna Louise

Della Lisi: Joanne

Joseph Dain: Joe

Jessica Learned: Sissy (Then)

Shannon Hunt: Mona (Then)

A Theatre District production of Ed Graczyk's drama. Directed by Mario Lescot. Produced by Bonnie Vise. Lighting design: David Jacobi, David B. Contreras. Stage manager: Sharon Evans.

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