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Good Ol' Girls

This revue of songs and stories about Southern women is only fair-to-middlin'. logo
Lauren Kennedy, Sally Mayes, Teri Ralston, Gina Stewart,
and Liza Vann in Good Ol' Girls
(© Carol Rosegg)
Good Ol' Girls, the new revue at the Black Box Theatre at Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center, feels like what might have happened if several people got together to turn Steel Magnolias into a musical. The result is a fair to middlin' tuner that is engaging enough, but vanishes -- to quote from the show -- like fog on the mountain the second you leave the theater.

The 90-minute show is comprised of monologues and vignettes that Paul Ferguson has mined from stories by reputable authors Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, which are interspersed with country ditties by Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman. To get across this somewhat melancholy tribute to women doing the best they can with what they've got along the Appalachian trail, director Randal Myler rustled up Broadway veterans Teri Ralston, Lauren Kennedy, Sally Mayes, the less well-known Liza Vann, and hot guitarist Gina Stewart, who cites the Grand Ole Opry in her bio as well as CBGB.

Performing in front of a large scrim depicting a map of North and South Carolina parts with towns like Charlotte and Albermarle -- which melts away at one point to reveal the hard-working four-person band -- the cast members rearrange chairs and a bench as they cover the lives women endure from childhood to old age. They take turns talking and singing about adolescent expectations that don't come to fruition, misguided sex education, mistakes made as young women, troubled marriages, that ol'-time religion, goin'-wild days, intolerance, ambivalent relationships with family members, dying, and death.

Considering the venerable source of the material, much of what's discussed emerges as little more than a conglomeration of cliches about women from a very specific social stratum. The effect may garner sympathy for its universality from some women in the audience, but the maudlin pallor that settles on the proceedings stifles anything truly illuminating. Meanwhile, men attending may wonder why when discussed at all, they're depicted as not worth much other than heartache or an intermittently satisfying roll in the hay.

The five cast members, wearing costume designer Michael Bevins' notions of country casual, are forthright, but they, too, have trouble avoiding the cute-bathos trap. Even the usually terrific Mayes occasionally sentimentalizes her outpourings, as in a passage she has as a beautician seeing to her deceased mother. The ensemble fares best on the vocals, since (with the exception of the acceptable Stewart), these game gals are packing Red-Bull power in their lungs.

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