“Southern Comforts” -- Square One Theatre, Stratford

--Irene Backalenick

Hurrah for “Southern Comforts,” now playing at Square One Theatre under the direction of Artistic Director Tom Holehan. Indeed, “Southern Comforts” are southern, northern, everyone’s comforts! This charming romantic comedy depicts a December romance, as a man and woman of a certain age go through meeting, mating, almost dis-mating, and ultimately finding true love in each other’s arms.

 

December romances have long served as a popular theme on the comedy circuit, creating all kinds of unlikely couples. This is not the case with playwright Kathleen Clark’s duo. She brings two very ordinary people to life, as they move through each stage of a relationship. At the same time, she skillfully weaves their past histories into their present realities. Each is a distinct -- and distinctly opposite -- personality. Gus, the man, is a gruff fellow, a man of few words, and his emotions (if indeed he has emotions) exist hidden far below the surface. Amanda, on the other hand, is forthright, outspoken -- and indeed feeling, with her emotions open for all to see.

 

Such a two-character play could easily deteriorate into male/female stereotypes, but Clark never lets that happen. Her Gus and Amanda are believable, fully-fleshed. They meet cute, as they say, when Amanda (visiting her daughter in town) knocks at Gus’s door, collecting funds for her daughter’s church. A rainstorm erupts outside, keeping Amanda longer in Gus’s living room than she had planned to stay. They quickly discover that both love baseball and gardening, and gradually make further discoveries.

 

Fortunately for this Square One production, the play is ably performed by veteran actors Alice McMahon and Al Kulcsar under Holehan’s deft direction. The comedy and poignancy of their growing relationship delights the audience. Kulcsar creates a grumpy Gus who gradually softens and warms to Amanda’s attractions. McMahon, on the other hand, gives off a radiance combined with a forthrightness that appeals to both Gus and the audience.

 

Moreover, Holehan’s set works well, turning from Gus’s austere bachelor pad to a cozy (in fact, cluttered) living room. This calls for heavy furniture moving by the stage crew, but proceeds smoothly. In fact, everything in this production goes down like an ice cream soda.

 

In all, “Southern Comforts” is a delight -- just what theatergoers need to counteract today’s headlines and worldwide tribulations. Thank you, Holehan, McMahon, Kulcsar, Clark and all!

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

 

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