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Good-natured Jimmy Dean a pleasant mystery
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Good-natured Jimmy Dean a pleasant mystery

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Woman Seeking & A Theater Company West
Through March 14


In a small, sleepy Texas town, a group of friends gets together for the 20th anniversary of a James Dean fan club. It's September 20, 1975. As often happens in plays of this kind, there are secrets that get revealed and mysteries that get cleared up. Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean by Ed Graczyk is being performed by Woman Seeking & A Theater Company West on stage at Richard Hugo House.

The play's main mystery is whether or not Mona's 19-year-old son Jimmy Dean is really the son of James Dean. Another mystery is whether Jimmy Dean is a normal kid, or if he is mentally challenged.

Both of those questions come from his mother, Mona (Kate Szyperski - and Alyssa Kay as the younger Mona). Mona is a big-hearted but confused woman who longs for bright lights and has clung to her one moment of glory: appearing as an extra in the James Dean movie Giant. We see each of the five characters in both their younger and older selves gathering in Juanita's (Laura Kenny) 5 & Dime store.

Mona's best friend is Sissy (Eleanor Moseley and Rebecca Olson). Another best friend is Joe (Patrick Lennon, then, and Sonia Perez), the picked-on loner who is taunted for being Gay, but may be a tender-hearted straight male. The humorous sidekicks are Stella Mae (Susan Connors and Jesica Avellone) and Edna Louise (Laurie Bialik and Alysha Curry).

The cast is a strong one and includes many Equity actors in an Equity Member Project Code presentation, which allows members to perform in productions for no pay if the project is free or donation only. The realistic set by Eric Helland sets the tone for the crumbling 5 & Dime, and the lighting design by Beth Hersh helps the audience know when the action is taking place in 1955 or 1975, since both sets of actors are often onstage at the same time.

The characters are distinct, though on the stereotypical side, but fun to watch. The blending of the younger selves and older selves is mysterious but pleasurable to puzzle out. The story unfolds slowly and doesn't reveal all its tricks right away.

At the risk of revealing too much, this is one of very few plays with a Transgendered character, and it's handled fairly well. That character is the least stereotyped and most nuanced, which is a relief. Sissy, the big-busted, sexually progressive character, turns out to have had cancer and lost her breasts, which none of the others knew. Woman Seeking & gave almost $1,000 from opening-night proceeds to Gilda's Club, one of their primary charitable relationships.

Christine Mosere, artistic director and director of this piece, clearly feels kindly toward these characters and their worship of James Dean. Even the biting comments they make to each other are brushed off and moved through gracefully, leaving the impression that they are only transitory nips. Confrontation is muted and revelations are accepted with good-natured astonishment. For more information, go to www.womanseeking.org/west or call 206-328-4102.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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