Few community colleges have theater programs at all. Even fewer produce world premieres of original work.
Bluegrass Community and Technical College's theater program is one of those few. Its latest production, See Jane Quit, marks the world premiere of Mississippi playwright Beth Kander's comedy about a 30-year-old waitress whose life turns upside down on the worst day possible: the day she decides to quit smoking.
Light-hearted and entertaining, See Jane Quit is a playful southern romp that is blessedly free of cliche and the stable of predictable characters that often accompany Southern-fried comedy. Director Tim X. Davis deserves points for interpreting her story with a native Southerner's aplomb.
Kander's modern-day South is drawn from reality: Not everyone has a big ol' accent. Just like in the real South, some do, some don't, and often there is a distinct generational difference among speech patterns.
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Impressively, this is reflected in the play, with Grandmother Bessie pouring on the wide and drooping accent of her generation (very accurately delivered by Kathy C. Swango) and her granddaughter Jane vascillating between a hyper-correct, unaccented tone and the pull of her surroundings.
Of course, linguistic accuracy is hardly the show's primary appeal.
Beneath the veneer of comedy, Kander's plot surreptitiously takes on some issues that would never have flown in the old South: a character's decision to forego marriage in lieu of single motherhood, another's comical but pertinent foray into Eastern religions. A gay character's impending parenthood is accepted without too much fuss.
Davis' multigenerational cast faithfully interprets Kander's contemporary south. Swango is mamaw mean as passive-aggressive, hard-of-hearing, eavesdropping Bessie. Phillip Oliver Sharkey's character gets some of the show's biggest laughs, mostly because his character, Charles, who has recently come out as gay to everyone (including himself), repeatedly has the worst ideas possible for how to deal with a pregnant ex-girlfriend.
Zachary Dearing and Allie Darden deliver strong supporting performances as Jane's brother and best friend, James and Diane. Perhaps it's in Kander's writing, but whenever one of these two appear, the show's momentum steps up a bit.
It would be remiss not to praise Leah Dick in the lead role of Jane, whom she plays with verve and spunk.
Speaking of momentum, the play never obviously sags or stalls, and the ensemble never feels disjointed, but quickening the pace from a steady trot to a quicker clip might have yielded a few more laughs during the Friday night show I attended on opening weekend. For a comedy, there was a suspect lack of laughter in the audience.
I sensed that the actors were still holding their breath to make sure their performances are solid on the fundamentals before cutting loose and having fun with their roles. They are.
Actors, relax, go for it, and your audience will follow suit.