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Tom Titus

THEATER REVIEW --

April 11, 2002

Horton Foote spins a fascinating yarn. His Texas townsfolk are a

colorful lot, but they're in no hurry to move things along, as evidenced

by his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Young Man From Atlanta," now in production

at the Newport Theatre Arts Center. At the moment, the octogenarian

playwright also is represented in a world premiere at South Coast

Repertory, "Getting Frankie Married -- and Afterwards," which might be

termed the flip side of "Young Man." It's a comedic look at Foote's

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world, as opposed to the grimness of the Newport show, though it takes

even longer to complete.

You don't rush Foote's characters, and director Martin Benson doesn't

attempt to. His staging emphasizes the lackadaisical nature of the

playwright's Southern territory with its offbeat relationships, its giddy

gossip mongers and -- in this case -- its regional humor, some of it

strained by traumatic events.

"Getting Frankie Married" is the mission of the elderly Mrs. Willis --

here played by the illustrious Nan Martin -- whose son Fred (Joel

Anderson) has been courting his girlfriend Frankie (Juliana Donald) for

about a quarter of a century without putting a ring on her finger.

Martin's character is determined to see her son married before she passes

on, an event which may be imminent.

Fred, however, hasn't been altogether faithful in his relationship

with Frankie, as we learn when the trashy Helen Vaught (Sarah Rafferty)

sues him for breach of promise. Seems Fred once offered to marry Helen,

though he claims he was too drunk at the time to remember. This event

provides the catalyst for a hurry-up wedding, but the honeymoon is

short-lived as Helen creeps back into Fred's life with a vengeance.

Martin excels as the frail, aging mother who must be helped in and out

of the living room to participate in the action, an achingly realistic

performance. Anderson underplays skillfully as an awkward 42-year-old

mama's boy who bends to the prevailing winds, while Donald wins affection

as a gamine beauty upset by her role as the pawn in this familial chess

game.

Fringe characters provide much of the humor, particularly the

effervescent Linda Gehringer and the taciturn Hal Landon Jr., a

May-December relationship that's about to expire. Gehringer offers a

rich, flashy depiction of her thrice-married good-time girl, while old

pro Landon steals his scenes with remarkable subtlety, drawing roars of

laughter with underplayed words or furtive gestures.

Three town gossips create a single ensemble character as Annie

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