What culinary dish does Ed Graczyk’s comedy The Blue Moon Dancing, currently baking in the premiere oven at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, evoke? Lead character Connie, a dipsomaniac, pill-popping actress tired of playing big catfish in the crawfish pond while romanticizing Dallas, bewails the fact that the local McCarthy, TX, newspaper sent the food critic to review her most recent production. She got compared to a peach cobbler.
That moment in the play strikes a critic’s funny bone hard since there are certainly far worse kitchen creations she could be compared to, particularly in her self-pitying, booze-soaked, pill-stoked state. Can’t please temperamental actresses. For this production’s opening night, I’ll have to go with a scratch-made Mississippi mud pie. The scent teases like down-home heaven as it slides out of the oven, and its rich, chocolate-y goo and crispy nuts reflect the lyrical and salty balance in Graczyk’s evocative dialogue. All the tantalizing ingredients are there, just like the play’s strong cast, in the right proportions. But the cook must have been anxious and turned the heat up a notch too high to rush it along; the piecrust bottom got a bit toasted, and the middle is a tad mushy.
To be fair, Sue Loncar got ill and had to pull out of a key role two days before opening. That meant her understudy Catherine Wall had one rehearsal plus a preview to fully grasp the blocking, with lots of complicated props to fuss with, and find her place in the ensemble before opening night. The Blue Moon Dancing is a luxurious, poetic work, with dark, pensive threads laced throughout as thematic undercurrents; the play has a dramatic rhythm not unlike Shakespeare, minus the verse structure. It may be set in the back room of a dingy bar with simple country characters, but they all have tales to tell, sorrows to grieve, dreams to share. Had I not known that Wall was understudy, I’d not have guessed it from the focus and confidence she brought to her opening night performance. A real pro.
The strain of the switch showed in other portrayals, nevertheless, with a few notable exceptions. Cindee Mayfield, respected, well versed, capable of exploring a full range of emotion to truest advantage, seemed anxious and strident and flubbed lines as main character Connie. She had some fine comic moments, but I felt she held her character at an uneasy distance rather than immersing herself in it. Nancy Sherrard, another fine actress with superb comic timing and bold presence, seemed off her game as well, essentially tiptoeing throughout. She delivered some hilarious lines almost inaudibly (I sat on Row 2) and hardly connected to the other characters on stage. Jenae Yerger-Glanton as pivotal character Nadine, still fresh from CTD’s Steel Magnolias, seemed to reprise her role as Annelle in vocal intonation and physical presence. She presented a thin, flat characterization in a role faced with learning the play’s most crucial lessons about life and self. On the other hand, Carolyn Wickwire as the hopeless romantic Roselle brought a comforting natural grace to the play as she floated through scenes, clinging to a constructed reality of her heart’s deepest desire. Equally resilient and vulnerable, Don Long, as abandoned, disconsolate husband Howard, handled the play’s complex imagery and dialogue overlap with ease and fluency, made me wonder about his life secrets, wish he stayed on stage more. Nye Cooper and Lee Jamison Wadley, as mostly comic relief, brought their signature spunk and humorous delivery to the performance. Shane Beeson and Kevin Moore, both capable, interesting actors to watch, rounded out the cast and could have done more if Jenae Yerger-Glanton as Nadine had given them more depth to interact with.
I don’t fault Director Cheryl Denson for the uneven opening night performance; Denson’s blocking worked beautifully and gave every actor space to create definitive characters, as Rodney Dobbs wide open yet strategically cluttered barroom set offered a viable playing space. It felt like key actors were collectively holding their breaths. This is a lovely play with much potential. I hope CTD’s talented cast will find its bearings and take the production to the level Graczyk’s writing warrants. Scoop out a big, gooey serving of that yummy mud pie for me, anyway, please.
The Blue Moon Dancing runs through September 12. For tickets go to: www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com or call 214-828-0092