Dixie Theatre features serious comedy in repertory

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 12:55 PM.

As the teacher, Mrs. Mannerly, actress Cleo Holladay shows she commands the physical energy, range of emotion and well-crafted subtlety that has come from her more than 60 years as a professional actress. The sternness of her classroom persona, the impetuousness with which she snatches Jeffrey’s tuition check, the comfort she conveys in a dive bar, all testify to a vintage, multi-layered performance by a woman gracefully entering the twilight of her years in the footlights.

As strong a performance as Holladay provides, the “iron man” of the stage is young Folks, a graduate of Otterbein College’s esteemed theatre program, which also produced David Caldwell, who directed both shows. Folks is a bundle of manic energy that complements Holladay’s frosty self-control, and then, hours later, he ably steps into a completely contrasting place, the mythical northern Maine town of Almost.

It is in that second show, either later or earlier on Saturday, that Folks shows his gifts for elongating the pain of love and loss, and unearthing the quaking of our hearts, that we all try to hide as best we can. The show features nearly a dozen separate, and softly desperate, scenes, each at the same time on a moonless Friday evening during a Maine winter. Folks is in about half of them, playing heartbroken former lovers, frustrated married men, bewildered suitors, with smoothness and familiarity.

His equal are the three actors who share in the energy of “Almost, Maine,” Caldwell, who is featured as an average Joe in a couple of the scenes; Caitlin Morris, a fellow Otterbein graduate; and Dixie Partington, who together with Jerry Hall produced the shows for the Dixie Theatre Foundation, which she heads.

Morris, originally from St. Petersburg, is making her second appearance at the Dixie, and displays a talent for opening the emotional passageways of “the girl next door.” She is a pleasure to watch, whether she is giddily cavorting on a skimobile, or holding her ground skittishly on ice skates against a distant husband. Partington offers a sadder, more poignant persona in her performance, evoking the pain of a long-forsaken love, or the confusion of a girlfriend who shows up at her boyfriend’s doorstep with plastic trash bags full of “the love he gave her.” Caldwell, the director, anchors his shows with a solid grasp of the men he manifests.

As usual, the Dixie doesn’t present an elaborate set, there is no backdrop to evoke Steubenville, or the winter “wonderland” of Almost. What there is, in full bloom, is superb acting that reminds us of the exquisite power of live theatre.

 



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