Theater Review - Wailing wall

Beached Wails airs sisterly conflicts

Perhaps young playwright Topher Payne can be forgiven for the terrible pun in his title Beached Wails. Writing in the tired subgenre of the Southern women dramedy, a la Steel Magnolias, Payne offers a reasonably original and well-observed work that currently plays on "off nights" on the 14th Street Playhouse's second stage, where Atlanta Classical Theatre is also presenting The Coast of Illyria by Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans.

Directed by Sonny Goff, Wails depicts the loving but fractious relationship of four sisters: matronly Virgie (Leigh McClelland), caustic widow Brenda (Kathy Simmons), "saved" Christian Katie (Julie Oshins) and working mother Dana (Jennifer Gaydeski). They're enjoying their annual vacation to Gulf Shores, but Hurricane Louis threatens to cut their trip short.

Inclement weather closes the roads and strands the women in a beach house with an amiable, 21-year-old underwear model (Scott Shelfer), who wears gratuitously little and bends over a lot (in a gesture at equal exposure, Dana frequently shows off her legs). The tradition for this kind of play is for each character to have a deep-seated problem to air out, but Brenda's is rather surprising, as she believes the hurricane might be a sign from her late husband — who was also named Louis.

Given that the play involves a hurricane, it shouldn't be a surprise that the speeches can get a little windy, while savage arguments blow up with insufficient warning. But the four actresses have an easy chemistry with each other, comfortably delivering Payne's quips about pain-in-the-neck husbands, prayer circles and useless wedding presents. But Beached Wails could use a more definitive ending: Closing the show with the sisters miming along to a Supremes song seems like an idea of last resort.

Beached Wails plays through Feb. 17 at the 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th St., Mon.-Wed. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 6 p.m. $10. 404-685-8861.??

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