by Jack Kirkland
Directed by Wilson Thomas
Starring Bob Lipka, Patricia Pope, Scott Hodges, Matt Collins
Theater Downtown, Orlando
Poverty. Starvation. Inbreeding. Ringworm. This is the span and scope of Jeeter Lester’s world. Jeeter (Bob Lipka) and wife Ada (Patricia Pope) haven’t planted a crop or taken a bath in years. They did spawn 17 kids, most of who had the good sense to flee Tobacco Road for the brown lung and enlightened management of Augusta cotton mills. Still at home are mush mouthed Dude (Scott Hodges) and cleft lip Ellie May. Times are tough and getting tougher. Captain Jim’s son is back, and rather than extend credit for seed cotton and badly needed snuff, he’s in bankruptcy as well. Time for Jeeter to go. At least Dude gets lucky, forcibly seduced by ample preacher Sister Bessie. After he accidentally runs over mama, Jeeter is just happy to starve in peace.
On a set built out of lumber so bad it must have been imported from Moultrie, Georgia, a filthy cast wanders back and forth projecting a strong sense of hopelessness. With a perfect look of rural poverty, the audience rejoices the set can’t capture the smell. Torn between a story of starvation and an ample opportunity for Lil’ Abner humor, this play misses both despite excellent acting. Lipka capture Jeeter perfectly, willing to do anything to eat, but not until tomorrow. Both Sister Bessie (Nicole Caro) and Ellie May (Katie MacDonahue) convey the raw sexuality one hopes to find amongst the country folk. While each character is developed expertly, the ensemble never achieves the dramatic crescendo that lies within this tale of desperation. Inappropriate laughter greets the demise of several key characters, which we all felt guilty about the next day. When Jeeter lies down for his final nap, the audience gets the idea and shuffles itself off to greener fields. Sound good to me.