Jewel Box Takes Audience Down the Aisle with a Smile in “Wedding Belles”
Jewel Box Theatre presents a wonderful and amusing comedy “Wedding Belles” a play guaranteed to put a twinkle in the eye. The play is co-written by Alan Bailey and Ronnie Claire Edwards and premiered in 2008 to high acclaim. The action takes place in the garden of Laura Lee Mcinerny, a prominent citizen of Eufala Springs, Texas in 1942. Laura Lee, a public-spirited and genuinely kind soul has come across a young waif who waits to meet her intended at the bus station. The young woman, Ima Jean Tatum, waits for her young man Jesse at the bus station and the two plan to elope shortly thereafter. It’s a long wait before his bus arrives and Laura Lee convinces young Ima Jean to wait at her home. She and the young Ima Jean arrive at Laura Lee’s home a little late for the garden club meeting that is set to take place. The three other leading members of the garden club have been friends since high school and they are a bit upset about Laura Lee taking on too many causes.
“Wedding Belles” is a collaboration, not only between Bailey and Edwards the two playwrights but including the director and the actors. Denise Hughes is making her directorial debut with “Wedding Belles” and the first decision comes with the auditions. Hughes cast the roles of all five actresses brilliantly, capitalizing on their natural chemistry. Hughes then encourages the natural chemistry to develop into very realistic characters. Part of a director’s job is to ensure that the author’s intent is realized, and this group of ladies take that responsibility seriously. Respect for the author is a core philosophy that this ensemble understands perfectly.
The blushing bride is played by Lindsay Nicole Steinberg. Steinberg is a senior at Oklahoma City University and she is certainly a credit to the OCU Theatre Department. She plays Ima Jean with a poignant realism, and an uncertainty typical of a dust bowl orphan with excellent and heart-wrenching but amusing results. Her character knows nothing of the four ladies who are almost overwhelming in their kindness, and she is wary but does not fail to respond and ultimately accept their gracious good will.
The very busy and slightly bossy Laura Lee Mcinerny is portrayed by Peggy Hoshall. Laura Lee is an upstanding woman and has been the mayor’s wife for 35 years, but she recently lost him. While he was given up for dead by everyone, she is unable to accept that he will never return. She immerses herself in activity in order to keep her thoughts from dwelling on his absence. She sees in Ima Jean a chance to give someone else the best start in life and as happy a marriage as she had. Amazingly, Hoshall communicates all this with a great deal of humor as well as poignancy. The humor is forefront, and the best comedy comes from tragedy, small though the tragedy may be against the back drop of war.
Ima Jean and Laura Lee find the other garden club members in the back garden and not very happy about Laura Lee’s over-exuberance. Nevertheless, they all quickly join in the fun of making a very happy beginning in life for a stranger. Julie Donaldson plays Glendine the flibbertigibbet of the group, determined to maintain her youthful playgirl image. She sees herself not as she is but as she was and rivals any Hollywood Star for number of marriages. She squeezes every bit of humor into her slightly desperate and convincingly sweet portrayal.
Chris Harris plays Violet Montgomery, a typical genteel and delicate member of the group. She sees herself as faded Southern gentility, helpless and frail and utterly dependent on the kindness of relatives rather than strangers. She has recently moved away from her older sister’s home in a bid for independence and has become a somewhat permanent houseguest of Glendine. Harris reveals the sputtering spinster with perfect sensibility, giving Violet a marvelous veneer.
Barbara DeMaio is Bobrita, the elder sister of Violet, and she has her overbearing personality exactly right. She is witty in her practicality, and although she has always dominated her younger incompetent sister, one can see that the burden is not from her sister, but what she has become in order to care for her while maintaining her own household, and pleasing her husband and family.
The magic of the four friends is somewhat reminiscent of the popular television show,
‘The Golden Girls’ however, these four women reveal in a few short hours a greater depth of humanity then can be found in the television sit-com. And they do so with as much humor and timing as any golden ager star could claim. The depth of caring and somewhat tactless thoughtfulness between them and the young Ima Jean is quite marvelous, and the chemistry the women share teaches Ima Jean about family, friendship and relationships with great wisdom as well as wit. The magnetism draws her character in, and Steinberg plays her with lovely tenderness.
“Wedding Belles” is amazingly all these things as well as great light-hearted comedy, and is a treasure of a choice for any theatre. The Jewel Box Theatre is in its 61st year of quality community theatre providing shining performances and nurturing the great talents of Oklahoma performers. Not all of them go on to successful careers in entertainment, but many do, and it is good to have them return to Oklahoma and get back to their roots in theatre. Some of them go on exploring other avenues, even becoming theatre critics, but they all have the foundation given to them by the Jewel Box Theatre, and they have all shared that solid strength in their lives and livelihoods. The traditions and quality of great community theatre should be preserved for generations to come, as we laugh away our cares.
“Wedding Belles” plays March 7 through March 31, 2019 at the Jewel Box Theatre attached north of the historic dome, the First Christian Church at 3700 N. Walker. Reservations can be made at the box office open Tuesday through Friday afternoons at 405-521-1786 or visit www.jewelboxtheatre.org. This is one show you won’t want to miss; it is filled with outstanding performances and very charming chuckles!