Stage & Dance

Characters are older, but love makes them feel young in latest Studio Players show

Southern Comforts stars John W. Campbell as Gus and Mary Anne Mathews as Amanda, who find themselves drawn to each other.
Southern Comforts stars John W. Campbell as Gus and Mary Anne Mathews as Amanda, who find themselves drawn to each other.

Many things happen when a person approaches the twilight of life. The changes can be physical and mental, but there are certain emotions people, luckily, just can't outgrow.

That is what rests at the heart of Kathleen Clark's play Southern Comforts, and it is also what Studio Players will attempt to convey in its production at the Carriage House Theatre.

Southern Comforts is a tale of two seniors: New Jersey widower Gus Klingman (played by John W. Campbell) and Tennessee widow Amanda Cross (Mary Anne Mathews). The two meet in 1996, when Cross travels to the Garden State to visit her daughter. The audience will quickly realize through their interactions that the man and woman couldn't be more different and, often, butt heads because of it. But as the play goes on and their relationship develops, both realize they are still capable of experiencing that chemistry and occasional awkwardness that comes with young love.

The production's director, Scott Turner, said Southern Comforts exudes a humor that is quietly funny with a lot of subtle wit while still dealing with heavier thoughts that come with the highs of love and the lows of wrestling with mortality.

"I hope that I put together a play that will make (the audience) laugh and touch their hearts as well," Turner said.

The actors tasked with delivering that heart and humor are two veteran Central Kentucky performers. Despite Campbell's and Mathews' wide array of previous work, both acknowledged the difficulty of having to carry the two-person show on just their shoulders.

"I've not done a show with this small of a cast," Campbell said. "It's a tightrope, and the adrenaline is kind of fun. ... It's also a little scary."

Mathews said, "It's been quite a challenge because it's bigger than anything I've ever done as far as part-wise. I really learned a lot during this process."

The show's producer, Debbie Sharp, describes Southern Comforts as feeling a bit like a charming romantic comedy whose appreciation doesn't have an age limit. A large part of the play's allure is that it shows something most people probably don't get to see: an older couple trying on new love to see how it fits.

"We talked during rehearsals that even though our characters are older, it's not a lot different than when we're younger," Mathews said. "I don't think people in everyday life think about older couples feeling the same way that everybody else does."

Campbell said, "I think teenagers can see this play and realize that they're not the only ones that have those feelings for another person that are awkward and yet are strong.

"There are just differences between any two people, and you have to learn to compromise. Those are important lessons in any part of life."

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