Two middle-aged sisters live in the swampland of central Florida, outcasts due to the fact their moonshining father was accused of accidently killing 14 participants in the Miss Teen Sugar Bean Beauty Queen contest. Both are looking to escape their fate, one via a returning spaceship.
Yes, the latest Elmira Theatre Company production is a comedy. A black one, with some moralizing about the nature of good and evil … wrapped up in a farcical layer.
The Sugar Bean Sisters runs Apr. 29 to May 14.
“I’m so excited about this play. I’ve been working on it for a year now, and it’s still fun,” said director Ken Harkes of the production that finishes off ETC’s season.
Billed as a Southern Gothic comedy of romance, murder and alien abduction, the Sugar Bean Sisters transport us to the swamps of Sugar Bean, Fla., home to Willie Mae Nettles and her sister Faye Clementine. Both are looking to avoid spinsterhood – Willie Mae by going to Salt Lake and finding a good Mormon husband and Faye by hopping on the spaceship when the “space people” return for another visit.
We meet Faye and Willie Mae as they return home to their ramshackle swamp dwelling after a disastrous daytrip to Disney World, where Willie lost her prized Eva Gabor wig on Space Mountain. Having witnessed the landing of an alien space craft some 25 years ago in her daddy’s sugarcane field, Faye prepares for the return of her celestial visitors on this night, the
very anniversary of that fateful day.
A disturbance in the sugarcane field lures the sisters outside to investigate, and Faye recalls how their infamous daddy claimed to have witnessed dead folk walking through Sugar Bean on a similar night many years before. A strange bird-like woman suddenly appears out of the darkness of Buster Swamp, setting in motion a chain of extraordinary events. Lies begin to unravel and the truth is revealed as the sisters hatch a diabolical plot to ensure the space people’s return.
While obviously heavy on the farcical moments, the play does have some melodramatic tendencies, said Harkes, noting we all have demons to wrestle with.
“It’s a black comedy bound in the idea that there’s good and evil in each of us.”
From their father’s bad batch of hootch that ended badly to the imminent arrival of aliens – Faye’s obsession making Willie Mae’s fixation on a much-younger Mormon bishop seem almost normal – there’s no shortage of out-there moments in the play, which fires off one-liners like there’s no tomorrow … which just might be the case if Faye’s to be believed.
“Their life has been like living inside a supermarket tabloid except that, for them, all the headlines are coming true,” said Harkes.
The play, first by Nathan Sanders, premiered off-Broadway in 1995. More than 75 productions have been staged since that time.
The Elmira Theatre Company production of Sugar Bean Sisters runs Apr. 29-May1, May 5-8 and May 12-14 at 76 Howard Ave. Show times are 8 p.m., except Sundays (2:30 p.m.). Tickets are $18, available at the Centre in the Square box office in Kitchener by calling 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, online at www.centre-square.com.