By Jocelyn McMahon
FOUR OLD BROADS, by Leslie Kimbell, is a perfect kickoff to Mountain Community Theater’s 37th season. With an almost all female cast (all but one actor is a woman), the script is a refreshing counter to the unfortunate, yet truthful, stereotype that there are limited, and sometimes unappealing, roles for older actresses. Instead, Four Old Broads features bold, witty, and fun women, each with a complete backstory, who fit the classification of “senior.” Kimbell’s geriatric humor hits on touchy themes of aging, friendship, health and love, and addresses them in an uproariously hysterical manner that will make you laugh until your sides are sore (or your back or whatever else seems to be bothering you this week).
Directed by seasoned theater expert Kathie Kratochvil, this production brings MCT veterans and new faces alike to the stage with an authentic cast that brings to life a collection of wacky, but (mostly) amiable, characters that are either residents or staff of Magnolia Place Assisted Living set somewhere in Georgia.
Our journey begins with lights up on Beatrice Shelton, played by zany Jane Chahbandour, as she decides she needs a vacation—but NOT another trip up to Helen, Georgia, to see that “precious little German village for the umpteenth time.” Scouting a travel catalogue she lands on the perfect opportunity: A Sassy Single Seniors Cruise through the Caribbean.
Beatrice, we quickly learn, is a former Burlesque dancer who has had a few rendezvous over the years that she is certainly not ashamed to brag about, begs her friend and fellow member of Magnolia Home, Eaddy Mae Clayton (played by well-offsetting comedic partner Janene Forsyth) to join her on the cruise. A devout Baptist, Eaddy is usually either praying or gossiping, and constantly prefacing her sentences with “I’m not trying to get in your personal business, but…” before prying away. Although Beatrice and Eaddy Mae couldn’t seem more different on the outside, they have a deep friendship that is honest, sometimes to a fault. With great stage chemistry, Forsyth and Chahbandour capture the humor of the hilarious duo and deliver the comedic roasts written in the script with perfect timing.
I’m not exactly sure why, but soon the ladies decide they need a third member to embark on their getaway and set out to find a friend to join them on the cruise. Perfect timing for the newest member of the senior community, the sweet and well-received Imogene Fletcher (an ideal fit for the subtle, yet charming Wendy Edmonds). She quickly agrees to join them on the vacation, and thus becomes the missing piece to the Charlie’s Angels triad, later referenced in the show.
Despite the usual hindrances of aging, everything seems to be dandy, until, one day, Imogene blanks out completely with symptoms of temporary memory loss. Soon Imogene’s memory lapses become more and more frequent. Fearing that the new and despised nurse, Pat Jones (the more than convincing Rebecca Adams) will send her to the other ward, aka “The Dark Side,” Imogene’s friends cover for her in a rather heroic manner. Beatrice also notices something fishy with all the medication changes, and quickly begins a scheme to determine if Nurse Pat is at the bottom of Imogene’s sudden dementia. Of course, a mystery wouldn’t be complete without a couple of sidekicks, and so the angels begin their investigation.
Along the way we get to meet many other eccentric characters of the assisted living community.
There is Maude Jenkins (Kulani Kamaha’o), the funeral planning soap opera junkie, who hasn’t brushed her hair in the last year. After MUCH persuasion the angels finally decide to take her on the singles cruise with them and when Maude decides to enter the Miss Magnolia Place beauty pageant the ladies choose to help her out, providing her dance lessons as well as a little—uh, large—makeover. Kamaha’o is hilarious as the deliberately exaggerated Maude; her sense of physical humor and comedic timing she’s got down to a T (Maude will be played by Marjorie Young at performances March 29-31).
There is also the hip-swinging Casanova, Sam Smith (played by the always delightful Jackson Wolffe), a former Elvis Impersonator who has a certain charm with the ladies, even if he also has a pacemaker and suffers from erectile dysfunction. Sam and Imogene quickly fall into love-struck naïve romance, that proves to be actually quite sincere. Wolffe and Edmonds play the cliché romance well, not taking anything too seriously, and addressing the humorous hurdles of dating, aging and memory loss. We also get to appreciate likeable caring nurse Ruby Sue Bennett who is played by Mary Ann LoBalbo. She might appear a bit dowdy and meek, but Ruby Sue has quite a few surprises to unveil in the final act. (Sorry, you’ll have to see it to find out.)
But the show-stopping performance of the night was Rebecca Adams as the sinister nurse Pat Jones. Though Adams has just returned to the stage from a long hiatus, her performance was powerful and authentic, each ruthless line making me sit up a little straighter in my seat. This is clearly not her first time playing the villain, and wow! she does it well.
An impressive aspect of Four Old Broads I thought of on leaving the theater is the amount of physicality required for a show written primarily about seniors. From carting around oxygen tanks full-show and enacting near fainting, to hopping over and jumping on couches, to tap-dancing and full-gyrating Elvis impersonations, the cast seemed unfazed and was agile and spritely with their physical comedy.
One of my favorite moments is when the three angels (Beatrice, Eaddy Mae and Imogene) sneak out in the middle of the night to investigate what is suspected to be going on in Nurse Pat’s medical kit. Crawling on hands and knees in full army cameo, complete with fake foliage headpieces, the absurdity of the moment is priceless, and left the audience in a fit of hysterical laughter.
Overall Four Old Broads is amusing and flies by quickly with witty jokes and outrageous scenarios, but one problem with the show is length. It could just be the way the script is written, but the ending just seems superfluous—it doesn’t know where to stop. After the major plot twist/reveal is resolved, it seems like a perfect moment for bows, but the show continued and in the last fifteen minutes energy seemed to take an immediately downfall for actors and audience alike. In addition, the double intermission was unneeded and added over half an hour to a play that runs about two hours (not including intermissions). I personally advocate for cutting second intermissions.
The amount of detail put into the production is definitely apparent, particularly in the set designed by Larry Cuprys. From the furniture to the wallpaper, every prop is meticulous, and immediately transports us to the world of Magnolia Place Assisted Living Home. Also, a shout-out to Steve Edmonds, Sarah Marsh, and Tara McMilan for their brief, but memorable cameos as voice actors for characters of Alexia, Carlton and Dupree, the stars of Maude’s favorite fictional soap opera “A Search for Love”—absolutely hilarious!
Charming, honest and fun, Four Old Broads caters to Mountain Community Theater’s audience as well as their pool of talent. A great pick for their 2019 season; bring your grandparents, enjoy a glass of wine, and watch a heartfelt comedy that marches to its own drum.