At Oz Arts Nashville
Sloppy Bonnie: Goofy Fun at OZ Arts.
The latest COVID-era production from OZ Arts Nashville, a company who has been kept amazingly busy during this hateful pandemic, is playwright Krista Knight’s Sloppy Bonnie. Billed as a “roadkill musical for the modern chick” and produced in association with the Vanderbilt Theater department, it tells a “morality tale” of a modern Southern belle who travels across Tennessee from Sulfur Springs (the Murfreesboro area) to visit her fiancé who is leading a spiritual revival retreat in the Tennessee mountains. Along
the way she is confronted by the challenges of “the American Southern Patriarchy.” The production’s concept is goofy fun, and while social distancing constraints forced the production to innovate, the staging in the building parking lot (as accessorized with a bar, a chicken truck, and a pink ’72 Nova with flashing, multicolored, dashboard lights) takes COVID’s bitter lemons and makes lemonade.
The cast is made up of only 3 actors who portray more than a dozen characters. Bonnie, the “Everyman” of this morality tale, is played by a charismatic Amanda Disney who is appropriately a little too loud, a little too gullible and twice as rambunctious as the situation demands. Her realistic portrayal of this charming and irreverent Southern belle can probably be attributed to two things—her youth in Birmingham, Alabama and her training at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. Her delivery of punchlines was natural and fluent, and her intonation quite good (despite a few typical first night difficulties with the sound system). For playing her first professional role, she is downright amazing.
Both described as the “Male Chorus” in the program, Disney is flanked in the production by Curtis Reed and James Rudolph II. Rudolph is most hilarious in his depictions of both Jesus and Trucker Joe. His ability to bring a dry seriousness in the most ridiculous of situations provides an excellent foil to the loud, often screaming, characters portrayed by Reed—his most notable performances are as Bonnie’s competition in love and as the religious revivalist cum devil. These actors are amazing, their physical humor outstanding and each sang quite well in duet with Bonnie. From the narrative standpoint, I do think that, as a “male chorus” there is a missed opportunity here to give multiple (and contrasting) interpretations of Bonnie’s ‘animal-like’ actions onstage—perhaps this might have made the essential “moral,” and underlying feminist message clearer.
Director Leah Lowe’s blocking (like the choreography) is outstanding—a mix of tradition and function-defining form. Disney’s excursion into the audience as she seeks alcohol in a dry Tennessee county was a silly goof that will only get funnier as the production proceeds. Composer Barry Brinegar created a postmodern collage of southern popular music. From the cesura media res that references a car jump from the Dukes of Hazzard sans “the hateful symbolism of the confederacy” to the adaptation of Charlie Daniel’s anthem for the grand finale, the score matches the entire musical by being simultaneously high-minded and low brow with very little in the middle to explain the connections.
Indeed, the only problems for me resided in references to the musical as a morality tale or a feminist statement, and Bonnie’s final fowl transformation. At the end of the evening, I puzzled that Bonnie’s murderous acts had zero currency in the musical’s “morality.” Also, the whole script espoused a feminism neither consistently drawn nor clearly delineated. However, the next day I looked back at the program notes and noted Dramaturg Brook Fairfield’s description of Deleuze and Guattari’s “Becoming Animal” which explained these keys aspects of the production. No wonder I hadn’t “got” it, I hadn’t done the required reading! In any case, even though it went over my head, it was fun.
Sloppy Bonnie continues through June 5th at Oz Arts: you should see it and try not to think of Bonnie when you stop at the chicken truck.