Opera House to show ‘Hallelujah Girls’
CHARLES TOWN-Women know a beauty spa offers more than just services that ease a tired back or shape toe nails into sexy, physical accoutrements.
Yes, they are places where women congregate to fine-tune their appearances, but the physically nurturing environment also serves to inspire the spirits. How many consider their stylist their informal psychologist, with whom they discuss personal subjects – like marriage, job and health issues – and share stories about children? Maybe it’s the miniscule distance between the stylist’s hands and the patron’s heads, hands or backs that bridges the gap between stranger and confidant, but let’s face it, how better to feel good than to spend a day at the spa, caring not only for one’s outward appearance but discussing matters dearest to the hearts?
Women leave the spa feeling renewed not only because of a fresh, new look, but because they have been inspired by a refreshed perspective. They look forward to returning for their next appointment and over time, they form bonds with other women who become more than friends-they are family.
Opening Feb. 10, the Old Opera House Theatre Company in Charles Town will feature the comedy play, “Hallelujah Girls,” directed by Steven Brewer and written by the same playwrights who have entertained us with “Dixie Swim Club,” “Southern Hospitality,” “Christmas Bells,” “Dearly Beloved” and “Dearly Departed.”
“Hallelujah Girls” is set at Spa-Dee-Dah, located in Eden Falls, Ga. In Act I, five friends, Sugar Lee Thompkins (Christine Brewer), Carlene Travis (Elizabeth Egan-Valois), Nita Mooney (Robin Tatina), Mavis Flowers (Claudia J. Patterson) and Crystal Hart (Linda Romero) return from the funeral of Vonda Joyce, a beloved friend, who before her death expressed regret she had not pursued her dreams. Vowing to vindicate their dear friend’s life, as well as celebrate and honor their own spirits and lives, Thompkins purchases an old church and remodels it into a day spa, Spa-Dee-Dah. Each character possesses a unique personality and challenge, and it is in this spa setting where they work out their troubles in an effort to overcome barriers that formerly have prohibited happiness and freedom.
Act II Scene I opens with the women sitting around chatting at the spa, They have learned Sugar Lee’s old, high-school flame, Bobby Dwayne Dillahunt (Rico Massiminio), is back in town after 30 years. Though the two once had plans for marriage, when Sugar Lee discovered Bobby Dwayne in another woman’s bed the night before graduation, her heart was broken and the two went their separate ways. Ever the villain and Sugar Lee’s arch nemesis, town socialite Mrs. Bunny Sutherland (Jennifer George) has contacted now-construction contractor Bobby Dwayne in order to go to the spa to install a sauna, an effort which Bunny knows will anger Sugar. You see, in high school, Sugar, rather than Bunny, was voted Most Popular Senior Girl, and since then Bunny has devoted her efforts to proving her superiority over the well-respected and pure-of-heart Sugar Lee, who has devoted her own life to helping others. Further, Bunny seeks to condemn the old church building in order to take it from Sugar Lee, an effort by which she continues to seek to destroy Sugar Lee’s dreams. Bunny announces Sugar Lee has two weeks, until Valentines Day, to fix the problems with the building or she has threatened she already has a check made out to purchase the property if Sugar fails to meet that deadline.
Enter Bobby Dwayne, a hunk of a tradesman in rugged shirt, shorts, tool belt and work boots, who upon inspecting the old building discovers it has severe structural issues, problems which present administrative challenges due to files and papers being “lost or misplaced” by loyal constituents on each side of the fight who work at the Permits Office. Immediate attraction occurs between the ex-star-crossed lovers, Bobby Dwayne and Sugar Lee.
“I’d strangle him with my bare hands if I didn’t need him to love me so much,” Sugar Lee says as Bobby Dwayne descends the stairs to check on ongoing repairs.
The girls respond in wide-eyed surprise, “What did you say?”
“That is, if I didn’t need him to work for me so much,” Sugar Lee corrects herself.
Christine Brewer, who plays a confident and talented Sugar Lee Thompkins, is married to Steven Brewer, the director. The couple met at college in Clemson, S.C., and they have been performing community theater ever since. Christine Brewer teaches Spanish and theater at Clarke County High School in Berryville, Va.
Woven into the larger effort by Sugar Lee and her friends to save the old church from demolition, thereby prohibiting the property from falling into the hands of the contemptuous Bunny Sutherland, are Sugar’s friends who are burdened by their own personal issues.
Nita Moone (Tatina) is obsessed with escaping into romance novels, and it seems after every story shared by her friends she is somehow able to draw a reference to one of her novels, such as Love’s Labor’s Lust, which in many cases after explaining the scene, she is moved to tears. Perhaps her fixation with romance novels is an effort to escape her predicament. She is burdened with a deadbeat son, Ronnie, who is in and out of jail and always on probation. She continues rescuing him, thereby enabling him to continue his careless actions. Indeed, the friends go way back when characters reveal the location of Ronnie’s very first burglary and he goes back to his old ways.
Originally from Loudoun County, Virginia, Tatina has lived in West Virginia for the past 25 years and works as an art teacher for Jefferson High School.
After 40 years, Mavis Flowers’ (Patterson) marriage has become dull and lacks romance. She is caught between leaving her husband and faking her own death. To help, Sugar Lee has invited Mavis to stay at her home until Mavis can re-introduce a sense of excitement into her marriage. Mavis takes advantage of this sabbatical by attending regular dates with her husband, and the two stay out until the cock crows “booze-ing” it up.
Despite her own marital problems, Mavis may be Sugar Lee’s closest friend, and throughout the play she speaks words of wisdom which go straight to the heart, especially concerning Sugar Lee and Bobby Dwayne’s still-present yet denied love for one another.
Any background on Patterson?
Mavis reminds Sugar Lee of her own words, “‘It’s never too late to become the person you were meant to be.'”
Crystal Hart (Romero) is obsessed with holidays and she rewords Christmas carols accordingly, calling them “Crystal carols.” She appears on stage in Act II dressed for Chinese New Year, her favorite holiday of the year, promising she will have a song for Chinese New Year just as soon as she comes up with a word that rhymes with Beijing. Indeed, Crystal never misses a holiday, including during the performance making an adorable appearance as Cupid on Valentines Day. “Hallelujah Girls” is Romero’s first performance at the Old Opera House. She most recently performed five years ago in the Vagina Monologues at the Opera House in Shepherdstown. She is a retired federal court administrator after 27 years.
Poor Carlene Travis (Egan-Valois), a manicurist, has had a run of bad luck, having lost each of her three husbands due to one picking up a downed power line, another taking a swim in Lake Moccasin and the last by entering a Deviled egg contest on the hottest day in July. She now has been single for quite a while and has lost confidence in herself. She has given into the idea that she will be alone and that this group of women is her family. She enjoyes a brief romance with mailman Porter Padgett (Will Heyser) who though he proposes marriage and expresses that “their song” is Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” later backs out of the proposal due his mother’s disapproval. However, by the end of the play, Carlene’s spirit is rekindled, evidenced by her dating card being booked solid.
With a lighter spirit, she jokes, “Why are married women heavier than single women? Single women come home and see what’s in the fridge and go to bed. Married women come home and see what’s in the bed and go to the fridge.”
Egan-Valois, originally from Vermillion, S.D, moved to Frederick, Md., in 2005 to help start The New Play House. Prior to that she attended Gregory Abels Training Ensemble in New York City from 2001 to 2003. Her previous appearances at the OOH include “Death Trap” and “Dixie Swim Club.” Outside of acting, she owns a green residential and commercial cleaning company, Absolve Cleaning, serving Frederick, Martinsburg, Shepherdstown and Charles Town.
Will each woman face and overcome their challenges by the end of the production?
“Hallelujah Girls” opens Feb. 10 and runs to Feb. 12 and again from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19. Ticket prices are $17 for adults on Friday and Saturday evenings and $15 for Sunday matinees. Children and students (18 years and under or college students with valid ID) will be admitted for $8. More information is available at www.oldoperahouse.org or by calling 304-725-4420.