Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 6, 2008
Miss Magnolia Beaumont goes to Provincetown is an entirely charming and delightful solo play about the hazards and benefits of sharing a body. It's written and performed by Joe Hutcheson and presented as part of the new LeftOut Festival of gay performance art.
Hutcheson, dressed for P-town himself in t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, strides onto the stage matter-of-factly enough; but when the lights come up and he starts talking to us, it's in the dulcet, measured tones of an ante-bellum Southern belle. And, we suddenly notice, there's an elegant fan in his hands, which he uses to shield his face from our penetrating glare sometimes. There's also some business with said fan everytime he introduces himself...er, herself: Miss Magnolia Beaumont, Debutante, of a plantation outside Atlanta.
Miss Beaumont, it seems, died when some food lodged in her windpipe at a stylish barbecue in 1861. Next thing she knew—nearly a century and a half later—she was looking at some khaki trousers in a "country called the Banana Republic." Soon she realized she was looking at these trousers through the eyes of "Master Joe," an unmarried thirtysomething young man whose body her spirit now inexplicably occupied. Delicately, she explains to us that Joe's sexual proclivities tend toward his own gender; she complains about the pre-emption by him and his friends of words that she used to bandy about innocently but now seem to mean something different: "gay," "queer," "fairy."
The story she tells us is of her journey, with/within Joe, to Provincetown, where he takes himself for vacation as a 33rd birthday present. It's one filled with obvious culture shocks for Miss Magnolia, but also of accommodation and growth, both for her and her host.
Smartly (though still somewhat unexpectedly), Hutcheson brings his alter ego into the show, too, allowing Joe to communicate with us as soon as he becomes aware of Miss Magnolia's presence. The interplay between them is the best part of the show. It starts off as the comical bickering/bantering that arises from too-close proximity, and then turns sweeter and more tender as the two learn to understand and maybe even love one another. Hutcheson manages to keep his fantastical premise grounded in an internal logic that we intuit and never question. With director DB Levin, he moves the show forward so fluidly and engagingly that if there are any contradictions or inconsistencies, I never noticed them.
And so Joe and Magnolia take their vacation together, he trying to do all the things that a "normal" 33-year-old unattached gay man is "supposed" to do, such as swim at the nude beach, get drunk, and try to pick up guys at the piano bar; she, generally appalled, trying to restrain him and push him toward more "socially acceptable" pursuits. Hutcheson's writing is terrific throughout, finding eminently appropriate and convincing voices for both of his protagonists. The story goes where we expect it to, albeit often taking unexpected twists and turns on its way; if the conclusion feels a bit pat, that may be because what precedes it is so inventive and fun.
Hutcheson's performance is grand. He embodies both Magnolia and Joe deftly and broadly but with real economy in achieving his effects. He also plays a variety of other people with whom they interact during their P-town trip, figuratively filling the stage with believable characters and places that are vividly rendered for us by his expressive acting.
Miss Magnolia Beaumont goes to Provincetown suggests great things both for this fledgling LeftOut festival and for Hutcheson's own clearly promising career as solo creator/performer (this is just his second show). LeftOut only runs one more week but will hopefully return in the future; and Hutcheson will be on my list of young theatre artists to watch as he takes Miss Magnolia and/or some other character(s) out for a spin on stage in months and years to come.