The now iconic James Dean once said that "The only greatness for man is immortality." Without question, James Dean has achieved immortality in the over 55 years since his death, and he still has quite a fan base.
Those fans are at the center of The City Theatre's current production of COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN. The play by Ed Graczyk concerns the 20 year reunion of the James Dean fan club of McCarthy, Texas, a town not far from the shooting location of Dean's last film, Giant. As the characters reminisce about their idol and their high school years, certain secrets start to immerge.
Director Andy Berkovsky excels at keeping this dizzying play on course. While Graczyk's text tackles heavy topics including religion, motherhood, femininity, homosexuality, and celebrity, Berkovsky gives each of those topics their due attention by wisely not giving specific attention to any of them. After all, the play isn't about those controversial topics but rather about what the characters think and feel about them. And so Berkovsky focuses instead on the relationships between the characters, turning us into eavesdroppers within a dilapidated and forgotten five and dime store, an environment which Berkovsky also designed.
All of the actors and actresses in this small nine person ensemble possess acting chops that would make Dean himself proud. Bobbie Oliver is fantastic as Juanita, the Bible-thumping dime store owner and mother hen to the rest of the characters. Victoria Harrison gives a hysterical turn as the cute, ditzy, and permanently pregnant Edna Louise. Renee Brown is equally funny as the cynical and slightly crass Stella May. Wendy Zavaleta breathes plenty of life and heart into the mysterious Joanne, the only Disciple of James Dean that none of the girls remember 20 years later, and Gabriel Diehl, Angelina Castillo, and Abbey Benold all prove to be strong, capable young actors with their interpretations of the teenage versions of a few of the key characters.
Though as extraordinary as this cast is, there are two in particular that give incredible, tour-de-force performances. As Mona, the ringleader of the fan club and the only one to actually star alongside James Dean (as an extra in Giant), Anne Hulsman is phenomenal. She gives Mona a desperate intensity as she grapples for control while her secrets come to light, threatening the world she's known her entire life. And as Mona's best friend, Sissy, Samantha Brewer clearly delights in spitting out foul-mouthed zingers that a truck driver would be proud of. But beneath that bravado and brassiness, Brewer's Sissy has a vulnerability and frailty that draws you in further.
Despite the sometimes over-ambitiousness of the text, COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN is, for the most part, a well-written and engaging examination of our fascination with celebrity and our inherent need to belong. This is a new classic of American theater, and City Theatre's production handles it with reverence without allowing it to get schmaltzy or melodramatic. Berkovsky's direction is exquisite, and the cast is spectacular. If you see this production, I guarantee you'll want to come back to the five and dime, and to the City Theatre, again and again.
Run time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 20 minute intermission. Recommended for teens and adults.
COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd now thru November 18th. Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5:30pm. Tickets are $10-$25. For tickets and information, visit www.citytheatreaustin.org.