Arts Agenda - Southern belles

ART Station stages 'Womenfolks'

Brad Bailey's Womenfolkstakes the raw material of "tacky" Southern comedies like Steel Magnolias and shatters the structure. Directed by Mike Beechum for Stone Mountain's ART Station, Womenfolks consists of four monologues (with a little left over) that go for both pathos and kitschy humor. Portions of Bailey's play can feel dated and overly familiar, but it occasionally finds poignancy in its confrontations with aging and mortality.

Hairstylist Annette (Karen Howell) reflects on her life and how she finds styling hair a spiritual calling, seeming to refer to hair about as often as Moby Dick mentions whaling. If you don't find hairspray funny in and of itself, you're not likely to have much patience with this section, and Howell's studied performance has the most conspicuous dialect, mentioning clients who get their hair done "onceta week" and generally making "hair" a two-syllable word.

Womenfolks' strangest sequence has frazzled, churchgoing Dora (Karen Beyer) repeatedly calling her cable company when her service goes out, as she's desperate to have her "Doppler." The evening's most satisfying monologue has a prim schoolteacher (Judy Leavell) addressing the audience while standing next to her comatose body. Leavell is every inch a class instructor, pausing to define "caesura" or quote "The Lady of Shallott" as she speaks of being terminally ill and brain-dead, wishing someone would pull her plug and put "punctuation" at the end of her life.

The last character, Dee-Dee (Lorilyn Harper), plans to audition for the Up With People dance revue, even though she acknowledges that it's "like a two-hour milk commercial featuring the Hitler Youth." Her speech hinges on nostalgia for the early 1980s and the loss of three friends to AIDS. Grief may have no expiration date, but the Dee-Dee segment, with its Reagan-bashing, seems to belong in a play from a decade ago. Still, Harper conveys the right blend of melancholia and never-say-die showmanship, whether dancing, twirling a baton or wrapping herself in a feather boa.

Womenfolks plays through April 23 at ART Station, 5384 Manor Drive, Stone Mountain, with performances at 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and 3 p.m. Sun. $15-$21. 770-469-1105.


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