Woody Weingarten

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Novato Theater Company’s ‘Jimmy Dean’ offers drama, comedy, nostalgia with a twist

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★½☆

A statuesque blonde, a stranger who’s somehow privy to everyone’s secrets, appears out of the blue in a small Texas town and triggers a string of clashes.

Old delusions disappear. Old disappointments and hurts reappear.

That’s the underbelly of a comic drama at the Novato Theater Company with a sing-song title that feels as if it goes on forever: “Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.”

But then again, I do remember Tinseltown rebel without a cause James Dean.

Fondly.

So, apparently, does Ed Graczyk, who wrote a play about a small gaggle of middle-aged female fan-clubbers, the Disciples of James Dean, who gather to commemorate, in 1975, the 20th anniversary of where the teenage idol shot his final film, “Giant.”

But, as narrators repeatedly proclaimed in bad soap operas and melodramatic movies, “the plot thickens.”

Graczyk’s unique hook? A reunion attendee has long claimed she was an extra on the film and, after a hot night with the movie star, birthed a developmentally disabled kid who’s Dean’s son.

The NTC play is certainly nostalgic, with a major twist that may have been shocking when first directed on Broadway decades ago by Robert Altman but now tame — and about as nuanced as Donald Trump’s vocabulary.

If you’re looking for an emotional dramedy, however, “Jimmy Dean” provides it. In spades.

Or, to mix metaphors, on steroids.

It’s riddled with a slightly contrived cornucopia of melancholy memories and intimate revelations, anger and accusations, internalized feelings and exposés.

Not all’s heavy, however: Laughs in “Jimmy Dean” are as omnipresent as eclectic ‘70s hairstyles.

Jayme Catalano (left, as Joanne) watches while Margot Biehle (Sissy, center) and Angela Squire (Mona) engage in a hair-pulling catfight. Photo by Vi Bradman.

The play’s predominant actors — Angela Squire, who plays Mona; Margot Biehle (Sissy), Kristine Ann Lowry (Juanita) and Jayme Catalano (Joanne) — definitely deserve plaudits.

But I believe two youngsters who impeccably portray flashbacked teenagers — Gwendolyn Phair as Mona and Claire Fogarty as Sissy — need to be showered with even more praise.

Director Kim Bromley also merits accolades for making the cast step on a theatrical gas pedal to keep the 105-minute show from sputtering.

Bromley also gets high marks for casting Catalano and Biehle, who in a scene calling for raucous laughter do it so believably, and Squire, who in another that demands vulnerability has real tears in her eyes.

An even more poignant moment occurs when one of them details her breast cancer and double mastectomy.

Much more easily watched is a segment in which all three playfully lip-sync the words of “Sincerely,” a chartbusting do-wop cover tune by The McGuire Sisters.

Meanwhile, set designer/builder Mark Clark has added a deft touch of authenticity with his quaint vision of the inside of Kressmont’s 5 and Dime — including an Orange Crush machine and a tacky three-dimensional depiction of the Last Supper.

If there are any problems with the production, they’d be that several un-mic’d actors are occasionally difficult to hear or understand, and that it takes a while for theatergoers to realize that the young characters are early incarnations of the adult women.

Problems, yes, but hardly big enough to keep me from enjoying the vitality, punch and theatricality of the production.

“Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” will run at the Novato Theater, 5420 Nave Drive, Suite C., through June 9. Night performances, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $27-$50 . Information: http://novatotheatercompany.org or 855-682-8491.

Contact Woody Weingarten at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.