Review Fix chats with the cast of “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” to find out what inspired the return of the production and why it’s still a special one,
About “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean”:
Ed Gracyzk’s play set in a West Texas town in the mid-1970s celebrates the power of friendship and acceptance to overcome even the darkest moments in our lives.
It’s the 20-year reunion of the James Dean fan club, and the filming of the film Giant. Mona brings everyone home, including an unexpected visitor, to the Five and Dime that she has lived her life in and together these women face their demons and some home truths in the hot Texas sun.
Performances continue at The Workshop Theatre 312 W 36th St: 9, 10, 11 @ 7:30 p.m.; and November 11, 12 @ 2:30 p.m. Tickets are still available at comeback.brownpapertickets.com.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Barnaby Edwards (Producer): I was talking to a friend in England about the idea behind Regeneration Theatre a couple of years ago and he mentioned how this was a play he had always wanted to see a production of. I had not read it in many years, and a few months later I picked it up, and there was something there that intrigued me. With all the nonsense going on in the world with governments trying to control people’s bodies and bathroom habits, rather than spending time and money on things that can really make a difference in handling the wealth divide, healthcare (check out As Is from Regeneration in Feb 2018 for more on that!), homelessness, education, and gun control, it seemed like a perfect fit for the 2017-18 season which has a very political slant as we follow up last June’s successful production of Kennedy’s Children.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Sonja Gabrielson (Sissy Then): In my creative process, I primarily focus on how my character impacts others onstage. As I go through scenes, I focus on what I’m saying and the impact the character is trying to achieve.
Kristin Sgarro (Stella May): My process revolves around a character roadmap, typically. Having done a lot of classical theatre, I’ll track my character’s journey throughout the play to see which choices affect the changes my character’s experiences. With this play, my character functions as a major source of comedic relief—a lot of my stage time is purely reactionary as opposed to active decision making. But Stella May still has a story: it’s just happening largely before and after I walk onto the stage. And we discover her story as the other women start to probe—a small but significant moment Stella has to take back to Amarillo with her.
Chris Clark (Joanne): As an Actor who has spent the bulk of his career in front of a lens, I am nontraditional. I prefer to work in chunks and develop the character through discoveries in the rehearsal room rather than going on day one with a clear and well-defined idea. In theater, your motivation and objective is decided and will likely not change whereas on camera it could change from take to take. I feel that making choices in the moment opens the possibility to develop a rich and layered character without restrictions that you may have placed on yourself prematurely, resulting in a more organic performance. I also draw immensely from the work of those around me, there are always outlines of my own character development that are eventually shaded in by the work of those around me.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Sgarro: It is rare for a play to revolve around women. It is even rarer for a play to revolve around so many different women. And each one of us (I do refer to the characters, but of course this applies to the actors, too) is special: we’re our own kinds of brave, smart, sexy, ridiculous, honest, funny, and wonderful. What makes this show different from others is that this show is in itself a time capsule. The multiple period references and tone of the show is captivating. Then you add the amazing, complex characters played by some of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with. It’s the perfect cocktail.
Clark: I think the fact that I am playing a Trans-Women makes this project particularly unique, it’s also what drew me to it. I have looked at the strong Women that I grew up surrounded by for reference. I drew a lot of inspiration from my own Mother. I have long been fascinated by the societal obsession regarding masculinity in Men as a means of commanding respect juxtaposing the demand for femininity in Women coupled with lack of respect. I am now more than ever convinced that society regularly negates the strength Women possess and simultaneously fails to recognize the burden they carry.
Nicole Greevy (Mona): It’s really interesting to tackle a play that debuted in 1976 that address issues like gender identity, because of how far we’ve come as a society in our understandings of identity. There are points where I think, “Oh, a playwright doing this today wouldn’t say such-and-such” and other times where I think Graczyk was incredibly prescient. Oddly, the part that makes me most uncomfortable now is having to refer to someone as “retarded,” because that’s also something we’ve come so far on understanding. My 7-year-old told me I was using bad language when he heard me practicing that line!
Edwards: Our approach to casting this production in an age of gender fluidity sets this production of the play apart. 2017 is a very different time from 1975 when the play was first written, and attitudes have changed considerably. Being in New York we have a very vibrant community with all genders and preferences represented we felt that the key roles of Joe and Joanne in the play should represent the gender blindness that that community represents. We are all people. We all love. We all have losses. We all have our own preferences. If we can stop losing sight of those things that make us the same, then we can start embracing the differences for the variety and the joy they can bring.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Greevy: I realized that, no matter how far I myself get away from being 18-years-old, that the teenager inside me is still very much there. It was very easy to tap into my character’s need to hold onto those years.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Greevy: Great! I’m always surprised when each rehearsal comes to an end (it’s so much fun I never check the time); I’m so energized by the creativity that it takes me a few hours to unwind after.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Edwards: The goal for Regeneration Theatre is to create a community to bring interesting, forgotten and unexpected pieces that will hopefully inspire and entertain, to New York City audiences, and to provide a safe place for artists of all varieties to have a safe place to work and to express themselves.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Garbrielsen: I think audiences will enjoy the nuanced friendships portrayed by the various characters throughout the play. The friends we make in high school can be some of the most complex relationships since the stakes are always so high when you’re in your teens. This play explores how loyalty, denial, and love shape these relationships over time.
Sgarro: I don’t like superlatives! But if our community doesn’t get just the biggest kick out of Miss Rebeca Miller (Edna Louise), I’m hanging up my acting shoes. I couldn’t have asked for a more fantastic acting partner.
Figueroa: I think audiences will enjoy the dynamic of the cast. We all have such fun with one another and it clearly shows on the stage. It’s also a wildly entertaining show with lots of drama but a generous helping of comedy. Overall a bundle of good times.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Figueroa: Next for me is to focus on my play Red Wine in Paper Cups. It’s been in edits and readings for six years and the goal for 2018 is to put it up on stage for full production. I also am currently writing the book for a dance workshop titled Standing, Still.
Edwards: Our next production is William M Hoffman’s As Is, which was Tony-nominated in 1985, and is probably the first play that dealt with the AIDS crisis, but in a very different manner to later great dramas such as The Normal Heart and Angels in America. As Is is more about the importance of home, family, friends, and a support system when dealing with chronic illness, and that is something everyone in the USA should care about as the health care debate rages unabated. As Is opens at the Workshop Theatre Mainstage Jan 31, 2018.