Sunday, April 15, 2012

'Good Ol' Girls' Is as Good as the Professional Version

I anticipated the production of "Good Ol' Girls" at Hollins University for more than six months and even gave Christmas gifts based on having seen this wonderful show (written by Hollins grads Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle). This one would give me the opportunity to compare a professional, touring production of a little more than a decade ago with Ernie Zulia's version, using Hollins students as the actors (and everything else, nearly).

I'd call it a tie. The professional company, as I recall, has six crackerjack actors who played their own backup music. Today's show featured seven Hollins students, one 1980s graduate and a Roanoke actress with a good resume. Today's production also had a tight four-piece band that added extra life to a show that doesn't need it. Julie Hunsaker's (formerly of the Grandin Theatre) costumes were spot-on, as they always are.

Martha Boswell of Roanoke (who had a striking segment as an old lady in a nursing home that was funny and poignant) and JoAnn Lindsey Hairston of Abingdon (an '82 grad) were the non-students. Most of the students are seniors, giving their last performance and making the most of it. Ernie Zulia has turned out some fine talent and this group will rank with the best of it.

The students in this production are Mary Allen Apgar, Sarah Ingel, Maria Latiolais, Meredith Levy, Lianne Jackson McCray, Elaine Previs and Emma Sperka. They all had wonderful individual moments, highlighted for me by Emma Sperka's ballad "Lying to the Moon" and Elaine Previs' expressive "Late Date with the Blues."

"Good Ol' Girls" is an homage to those wonderful Southern women we grew up with, loved, argued with, were mothered by and adore every day of our lives. Nobody knows them better than Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, who are Southern girls and Southern writers all at the same time.

Ernie says today's crowd was the oldest and most sedate of the series (as old as I am, I felt positively youthful with this group), but the evening crowds this week have "been raucous," said Ernie. "It's been really lively here" and if you know the music, you know why.

The play will run Thursday through Sunday of this week, then appear again in late May. The writers will be at the April 20 performance to sign books. Get tickets here.

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