Alabama Rain is the story of five sisters in a fictional Southern county where there has been no rain for 40 years. The eldest, Pheenie (Suzanne Bradbeer), is the narrator, although she is not actually present at many events, having understandably become fed up and left home in a quest for the sea. Laurie Laurie (not a typo), played by Kate Hoffman, is the fragile, spiritual sister, who dies of a broken heart and spends the rest of the play as an irritable ghost. Monty Louise (Ellen Berfeld) is the luckless soul who has been pregnant for years [You see, without water, nothing grows...] The two youngest sisters, who seem not to have grown up emotionally, are Rachel (Susan P. Vaughn) and Dallas (Andria Laurie). Pheenie's departure is one of the first signs of change in this stagnant world, but other changes follow, including, not surprisingly, dehydration. It is not made clear what has triggered these developments after such a long time. Ultimately, there is a quest of sorts, and the family is reunited with indications that now their lives will be normal.
The acting was generally competent, but was marred by frequent false starts on lines, especially by the narrator. This was particularly unfortunate because her speeches seemed to be intended to set the mood of the show by using poetic and picturesque language. There was a no-frills set, by Anthony Costa, made up mostly of stepped platforms and the occasional piece of furniture. It worked well, although the tree, which plays a pivotal role in the proceedings, was jarringly crude. Perhaps it would have been better not to even try to make it look like a tree at all. Christina Lynn Whited's costumes were appropriate to the characters and the timeless setting of the play, while Jeff Croiter and Blake Edwards provided unobtrusive and effective lights and sound.
This new play has roots deep in the tradition of Southern Gothic. It has the right elements: an overwrought family that speaks in semi-poetic cadences, explicit or implicit allusions to myth, and supernatural events. The story is not on a level with, say, Tennessee Williams in terms of poetry, characterization or even sheer melodrama. More to the point, even fantasy needs to have internal consistency, something lacking here. Granted that it hasn't rained, so there is no accessible water; that the women are seldom thirsty (if they are, they go to town for a Diet Coke); and that poor Monty Louise has been pregnant for a long time (presumably because she can't come to term in this barren place). However, if nothing can mature here, how did these women grow up? With no water, how did the laundry a character hangs out to dry get done? These points may seem trivial, but they are symptoms of a deeper failure of vision.
Copyright 1996 Maya T. Amis
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