Good Ol' Girls
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
February 13, 2010
Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Nora and Delia Ephron's stage adaptation of Ilene Beckerman's book about women, their lives, and their clothes (with a rotating cast of celebrities), has some competition. It may not be A+ competition, but it's competition nonetheless.
It's called Good Ol' Girls. It's a country musical based on the stories of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, with songs by Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman, writers for the likes of Reba, the Dixie Chicks, and Faith Hill. The script by Paul Ferguson is an amalgamation of Smith and McCorkle's work (whether or not they joined together to create stories for this piece is unknown).
The formula is rather simple: story vignette about life, love, death, followed by song, and so on. Because of this, the songs can easily be imagined as radio singles. They're not great songs, but a lot of them are passable (though lyrics like "She's a good ol' girl / And she won't let you down / She's got a picture of Elvis / When he came to her town" feel cringe-worthy to me). There's heart in the stories, but when it comes to profundity, it's Cliff's Notes. There's a downright bizarre vignette set in a nursing home, and one that's equally bizarre involving the film Body Heat.
The performers—Lauren Kennedy, Sally Mayes, Teri Ralston, Gina Stewart, and Liza Vann—generally do a good job with the material. Kennedy takes on the ingenue roles, the young wife who gets slugged every time her husband has a bit too much to drink. Mayes has some very heartfelt moments towards the end as a hairdresser who is reflecting on her life, and her mother's life, as she makes up her mother's body before her funeral. And Stewart plays a damn fine guitar (the cast, Stewart included, is backed by a small, hard-working band).
Roundabout's Black Box Theatre is good and bad for the piece. Yes, the stage is tiny and so many people on it look cramped (the band is behind them, behind a scrim curtain depicting a map of North Carolina), but I don't think the show itself is big enough for, say, the Laura Pels Theatre a few floors above. (Incidentally, they're just leasing space from the Roundabout, this is not a production from the nonprofit company.) Be warned if you have any back issues: seating is general admission and if you don't get there early, you may be stuck with high, armless chairs (as opposed to the first three or four rows of moveable chairs that are not raked).
There's nothing particularly compelling about any of the stories and they don't really go anywhere. Director Randal Myler, who has an extensive resume that includes Love, Janis and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, doesn't really show that he knows what to do with the material. Even stage business that was supposed to look spontaneous, like swigging water from beer bottles, seemed overtly staged.
The comparison to Love, Loss and What I Wore is even apparent on the Good Ol' Girls website, where the show is described as "a musical about love, loss and laughter." Neither of these productions is targeted toward the male of the species by any stretch of the imagination; however, judging by the reception throughout the performance I attended, women will have a good ol' time.