By BRUCE COLLIER
NICEVILLE, FL – This week will see the opening of area playwright Don Goodrum’s original play Littlefield, presented at the Northwest Florida State College (NWFSC) Sprint Theatre in the Mattie Kelly Art Center, 100 College Blvd., Niceville.
The show opens Wednesday, Oct. 12 and runs through Oct. 15, with curtain time for all performances at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for youth. NWFSC Professor Clint Mahle directs and also designed the set.
Littlefield is set in present-day Mississippi, in a small town (Littlefield) whose citizens know most – but not all – of each others’ business. The action takes place over a period of five days, and is narrated by the main character, high-school student Polly Littlefield (played by Madison Smith).
Mahle’s colorful, ingeniously mechanized set gives the show a retro, pop-up postcard look, and allows swift scene transitions from outdoors to interiors.
From the operatic dramas of Tennessee Williams to the soap-operatic works of Robert Harling, “Southern plays” have become a full-fledged genre of American theatre. At their best, they are warmhearted, funny, and life-affirming. At their worst, they are formulaic, cartoonish and mean-spirited. Happily, Littlefield veers toward the positive side, offering carefully-calibrated measures of comedy, drama and silliness, with just enough eccentricity to be plausible. If you’re looking for stereotypes (such as populate plays like Sordid Lives) you won’t find them in Littlefield, Miss.
The multiple storyline is anchored by Polly, whose efforts to earn a Kiwanis college scholarship are intertwined with a minor scandal involving closeted businessman Andy Andrews (Zachary Phillips), a spiteful fellow citizen, and a compromising Youtube video.
Polly’s mother Lisa (Maddie Ostrowski) owner of the local diner, yearns for the romantic attentions of Deputy Bubba Cooper (David Honsinger), a good-natured, mildly clueless lawman with a nice grasp of practical psychology when it comes to keeping the peace. Polly’s own heart warms to handsome Holden Callaway (Wesley Barlow), a kindred soul who also seeks to sever his small-town roots. Teacher Emmie Sue Bishop (Malinda Locke) and her student teacher Chug Ledbetter (James Meadows) are secretly in love, but their work relationship poses an ethical challenge. Holden’s Uncle Eli (Tom Mosley) an ailing author portrayed somewhere south of Hemingway and north of Faulkner, is slipping into dementia. Got all that?
No program is necessary. Polly offers introductions, exposition, and commentary, moving in and out of direct audience address and interactions with her fellow characters, sort of like Tom Wingfield, minus the self-pity.
The play contains no gory gothic secrets nor earth-shaking crises, and the ending is not a Happily-Ever-After hugfest where everyone gets what they want (or deserve).
In fact, that was the point I got from Goodrum’s play. He seems to be suggesting that Littlefield is neither Endsville nor Utopia. It is what it is – a good fit for some, less so than for others, like a lot of places we think that we must flee. Its citizens – mostly – are reasonably intelligent, empathetic folks. They are largely conservative and Christian, but only two – a punk and a drunk – show any traces of Evil Redneck Syndrome. The way I saw it, if Polly does end up leaving, good for her. If not, she could do worse for friends and neighbors.
Performances are generally very high quality. Madison Smith’s intelligent, endlessly striving Polly brought Shailene Woodley to mind. Tom Mosley gets to be both crazy and pitiable as Uncle Eli (which doubtless pleases him immensely). Danny Thomas breaks the preacher-as-hypocrite mold with his thoughtful, kindhearted Rev. Peabody. Zachary Phillips hits the right note as the middle-aged, married and established Andy, a guy about to change every single element of his life. Everyone plays well together. Director Mahle, as usual, has crafted an effective ensemble.
Take a look at Littlefield – we don’t often get to see original full-length plays get the (always) top-notch NWFSC treatment.