by BART GREENBERG**** Anatola Parish is evidently located somewhere on the road between the steel magnolias of Chinquapin and the residents of Greater Tuna. Phil Geoffrey Bond’s new play, Small Town Confessions, currently being presented as part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival, illuminates the interesting and very eccentric denizens of this small, very unexciting town. [As in other festivals, there are only a few performances; the last two are this weekend, August 12-13.]
Our hostess for our visit around town is JoBeth Maybelline, the down-to-earth manicurist who knows the secrets of everyone in town, and is clearly a distant relative of Truvy Jones, with strong opinions on the shades of red polish and the offensive trend toward glitter. Her opposite is queen of society, Doris Kitteridge, who rules the town with an iron fist. She also has a secret past with JoBeth. As these two tent poles of society (and the show), the delicious Sally Mayes and the admirably restrained Sharon McNight give performances worthy of Broadway gold.
In our stroll around the parish, we also encounter: good old boy Sam Smith (charmingly laid back George Kimmel) who tells us of his encounter with an UFO that ran on whipped cream; Roger Wilkins (played with wit and quiet desperation by the playwright), a flaming outcast who lives on a possibly true boyhood encounter with Diana Ross; and Juliet Monsignor (an underplaying Alice Ripley) who is busy planning her newest wedding after multiple husbands and children to her internet match, otherwise known as Satan. Also, we are introduced to Mrs. Betsey Ratcliff (a tremendously effective Kelli Rabke) who has surrendered dreams of a singing career for a more realistic marriage and motherhood; and the youthful William Curtis Jr., (the enthusiastic Tyler Whitaker) who still has his dreams of Broadway stardom in Wicked.
Between Bond’s writing and the actors’ skills (directed with unfussy details by Stephen Nachamie), these characters remain vivid and believable and always interesting. Unfortunately, the last two citizens we meet, a drugged-out psychotic (Jeff Tuohy), who claims encounters with both Jesus and aliens (a return to those whipped cream-powered intergalactic aircraft), and a none too stable young woman who briefly becomes the face of Disney (Daisy Eagan) are treated with a bit too much condescension and seem just too strange to read as believable. It may be we meet them too late in the show.
The major flaw in a most enjoyable program is that the many characters don’t tie together in any way beyond their address. Each refers to various off-stage characters, and on rare occasions some of the same families and individuals are referenced. But if Bond could find a way to tie them together more closely, and we had some better sense of the geography of the town, it might give the overall work some extra punch and power.
Mention should also be made of the excellent projection designs by Jason Courson which helps us to know where we are and whom we are with.
Small Town Confessions has two more performances: Saturday August 12 at 3:30 pm and Monday, August 14 at 7:30 pm. Tickets may be purchased in advance for $25 or at the door for $30. See www.broadwayboundfestival.com for more info. Performances at The Theater at 14th St. Y, 344 East 14th St., NY 1000.