A week ago Saturday night (5/3/08) I drove to 18th and Alabama to the Epilogue Players’ space to see the world premiere of “Three Belles of Eden,” by Jacob Appel. It was directed by Norris Wright and produced by Andy Brand.
I think my mother would have enjoyed this piece. She died two years ago today, May 11. She wasn’t a big theatre buff but she enjoyed reading mysteries and she liked the “Golden Girls” TV show. “Three Belles” has some feisty senior citizens in it and some delicious suspense.
The setting is The Eden Gardens Assisted Living and Retirement Community, located “somewhere in the south.” Luellen (Joann White) and her sister, Doris (Priscilla Ruddell), live there and argue, as siblings often do. They especially love to fight over the obituaries. Doris loves to read them and to talk about death in general. Luellen does not. Their friend, Clara (Marjorie Beasley), pleads with them to cut down on the drama, but it does no good.
The big news of the day is that Luellen’s high school boyfriend, D’Artagnan (Duke Thomas Low), is going to move in to Eden Gardens. They have not seen each other in decades, but Luellen is certain that they will get back together, and that he will become husband number five (or was it six?) for her. Clara hopes that he will have a friend that he can introduce to her. She has been a workaholic all her life, and therefore never been in a relationship that included sex. She would like to know what she has been missing.
But when “Dart” arrives, he has already has a wife with him! Grace (Carole Rose) is a former prima ballerina now confined to a wheelchair and bitter to the point of obnoxiousness about it.
Disappointed, Luellen jokes about killing Grace to get her out of the way. But is she really joking?
If I were an actor, I would dream about playing any of the juicy roles in this play. Playwright Jacob Appel has created senior citizen characters that are fully human and complex. They are also sexy, funny, and imaginative.
For the most part, the Epilogue actors have explored their characters’ complexities and portray them well.
I believed, for example, that handsome Duke Thomas Low is, as Dart, still truly in love with his wife, even though she is now so unlovable. I believed that he feels burdened by his life with her, but also that he doesn’t stay with her merely out of duty. He still sees her as the beautiful, graceful dancer with whom he fell in love years ago. He also still sees himself as someone who could go mountain climbing if he had the time and the opportunity.
I believed that Carole Rose as the harridan, Grace, is acting out her frustrations not only about being in a wheelchair but at no longer being a young, star performer.
I believed that Marjorie Beasley as Clara worked hard for years, thinking that it would reward her, and is now full of regret over her misplaced priorities, and bitterness over the lack of equal opportunity for women to advance in her profession. I also believed in her optimism, her ruthlessness, and her desire for group harmony. I laughed out loud when she said, “I want to make out in public!”
As I say, these are some satisfyingly complex characters.
I believed and enjoyed the love/annoyance/loyalty dynamic that Priscilla Ruddell and Joann White develop between the two sisters over the course of the show. Each woman is also funny and touching in her own right. Rascally White, especially, is a hoot. And I loved Ruddell’s just-right reading of the last line of the play: it brings the whole piece together.
When I saw the show, early in its run, the actors were already at ease with holding appropriately for laughs, but they did not yet seem to be fully grounded in their lines, especially in the third act. One of the things I love about this play is that it is language-rich, with all kinds of literary references, but I imagine that this also makes it a challenge to memorize. I bet that if I were to go see this show again in the third weekend of its run, the lines would be flowing more smoothly.
I wish I had time to go see it again. It is a fun show.
There are two intermissions. The second act is very short. So short, in fact, that I wondered why the director or producer or whoever is in charge of this even bothered having two intermissions, but I think the second one is to allow time for costume changes. In any case, I always appreciate an extra chance to stretch my legs.
‘Speaking of costumes, I think they came from the actors’ own wardrobes. The program credits only “director, cast, and crew” for props and costumes. All of the outfits are appropriate and lovely. I wished I owned several of them myself.
I found it odd that there was no pre-show, post-show, or intermission music. However, the elegant set is a treat. It was designed and decorated by the director, Norris Wright, and constructed by Jeff Roby, Norris Wright, Ralph Grant, and Gene Cramer.
At the performance I saw, Angi Bailey ran lights and sound for Andy Brand, who couldn’t be there that night. Brand is also Epilogue’s photographer. Several of his shots of past performances, including the hilarious “Ruthless,” are on display at the back of the theatre.
“Three Belles of Eden” runs at the Epilogue Players through Sunday, May 18, 2008. Several performances of this show are already sold out, and the theatre only seats 65, so be sure to call 317-895-6734 to make a reservation. Please note that the reservation number is for someone’s home, not a theatre office, so please don’t call in the middle of the night to leave a message.
Also please note that the Epilogue Players is in the same building as Footlite Musicals. There is free parking on the street or around back.
I had the privilege of meeting and talking with playwright Jacob Appel after the show. More about this in my next post.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com