by Hugh Hunter
“Wedding Belles” (2009) by Alan Bailey and Ronnie Claire Edwards is a contemporary play that takes you back to yesteryear. Now running at Old Academy Players, it is set in 1942 in Eufala Springs, a small Texas town where middle age women hold a Garden Club meeting.
The set is striking. The porch of the white country house of Laura Lee is full of stacks of paper – part trash, part donation to the war effort. As women gather, they inspect the neglected backyard flowers, and you can see a lot is going wrong.
Bobrita (Ginny Kaufmann) is married and weary of supporting Violet (Patricia Pelletreau), her bible-quoting spinster sister. Improbably, Violet is now living with Glendine (Michele Loor Nicolay), a zippy and sportive woman now married for the sixth or seventh time.
The early going is full of circumspect chitchat. All these women are vibrant, but their personalities are so different that you wonder how they can live together. You are kept in the dark, even as you are being teased by an undercurrent of shared disgruntlement.
A second issue emerges when Laura Lee (Susan Lonker) finally shows up with Ima Jean (Kimberly Shrack), whom she found at the bus station. Ima is a picturesque and winning waif who is trying to marry her fiance before he goes off to war. Will she be stranded at the altar?
But the dramatic tension in “Wedding Belles” is never very high because somehow you know everything will turn out all right. Even if overtaken by disaster, you have the presentiment that these resourceful women will at least manage to pull off a moral victory.
That is because the script of Bailey and Edwards all but screams at you that, in an earlier time and place, people (women anyway) were worth more than they are today – more staunch, more true-blue. Given this point of view, victory on some terms is a foregone conclusion.
I do not see there is much director Helga Krauss could have done to change any of that. “Wedding Belles” is a short work, just 90 minutes in its entirety. Since the pace picks up in Act Two, the drama might work better if played straight through without intermission.
But I doubt any tinkering with staging can overcome weaknesses in the script. The plot itself is overly familiar. Consider: a dynamic stranger bursts into an already disquieted community with the result that old problems are stripped bare, and everyone is forced to own up. Heard this story before?
Maybe people were more true-blue in the old days. For this to ring true, the drama would have to unfold in such a way as to surprise you into the realization. But with its insistent nostalgia and predictable outcomes, surprise is the one thing “Wedding Belles” lacks.
Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “Wedding Belles” will run through March 17. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.