The writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten hit on a winning formula for writing silly, Southern-fried comedies for small town community theaters, including such popular shows as “Dixie Swim Club” and “Dearly Beloved.” Their latest to hit the boards at Olympia Little Theatre is “Mama Won’t Fly.”
It is directed by Kathryn Beall and features a cast of little-known actors. Southerners Savannah Sprunt Fairchild Honeycutt (Nicole Galyean) and her mother, Norleen Sprunt (Gretchen O’Connor) have a typically toxic mother-daughter relationship.
A divorcee with a track record of bad choices in men — note the many names — Savannah blames her mother’s meddlesome nature for everything wrong in her life. And, as this play quickly proves, Mama really is meddlesome in the worst way.
Savannah’s brother is getting married and his fiancé has traveled from California to Birmingham, Alabama, to fly back across country with her future sister and mother-in law. But Mama refuses to fly and they embark on a four-day road trip with stops along the way in small towns such as Tater Mound, Mississippi, and Nickle Bone, Texas (These are made-up names, cleverly invented by the playwright team. The closest I could find to a similar name on Google was Tater Creek.)
In Tater Mound, they tour the big local attraction, a brassiere museum where a little old lady (Claire McPherson) conducts the tour wearing a bra on top of her dress. In Nickle Bone, population 31, they visit horrible aunts and uncles and cousins. They have to escape in the night due to circumstances I can’t divulge, and they wind up in a bar run by brothers who fight over whether it should be a cowboy bar or an Irish pub. And, oh yes, the bar apparently doubles as the town’s little theater.
The improbability of having a theater in a town of only 31 inhabitants is but one of countless improbabilities in this play, which relies on stock characters, absurd situations and groaner punch lines. The many minor characters are all overblown Southern or country stereotypes.
The three principal characters, Galyean, O’Connor and Stephanie Kroschel as the fiancée, Hayley Quinn, are talented actors who give it their all playing characters that demand overacting. The rest of the cast, playing a multitude of minor characters are either absurdly histrionic or they do not act at all but just walk through their lines.
There are a few funny scenes and lines, the scene in the brassiere museum being one of the funniest. The succession of cartoonish cars and trucks they travel in are something between interesting and ridiculous, and most of the costumes are almost laughable because they are so bad, but overall “Mama Won’t Fly” is not a funny show. The over-the-top characterization of some roles and at least one entire scene near the end are offensive. At almost three hours, it is a chore to sit through.