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Theatre in the Park's zesty presentation of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten's 2005 Southern-fried comedy, Dearly Beloved, is rib-tickling behind-the-scenes look at a Big Honking Church Wedding, with a Gone with the Wind theme, in Fayro, Texas, where Murphy's Law is very much in effect, and everything that can go wrong does — at the absolute worst time — with hilarious results.
Kelly McConkey plays the brassy, boy-crazy, midriff-bearing-on-her-wedding-day bride-to-be Tina Jo Dubberly as more than a little bit trashy; and never seen groom Parker Price is described as the headstrong son of snooty well-to-do small-town socialite Patsy Price (Susannah Hough), who does everything in her power to sabotage these unwelcome nuptials.
Meanwhile, the formerly rock-solid marriage of the father and mother of the bride, Dub Dubberly (J.K. Ferrell) and the former Frances Anne "Frankie" Futrelle (Heather Shinpaugh), has hit a Texas-size pothole on the rocky road of romance: Frankie thinks Dub is stepping out on her, because in the weeks leading up to the wedding he's been pulling a disappearing act for a few hours just about every night.
While Frankie is telling her troubles — out loud — to the long-time-dead Mama Eula, her two sisters—the never-married Teresa Denean "Twink" Futrelle (Leanne Norton-Heintz) and the five-times-divorced Honey Raye Futrelle (Gilly Conklin) are making mischief in the fellowship hall of Fayro's Tabernacle of the Lamb Church. To save her sister and brother-in-law a buck or three, Twink has turned the wedding reception into a church-wide potluck supper and even convinced Clovis Sanford's House of Meat to furnish the pork, chicken, and turkey free — in exchange for some advertising considerations — and the prodigal sister Honey Raye has blown back into town, unexpectedly, with some eyebrow-raising news that is bound to get Frankie's panties in a twist.
Then the preacher falls ill and a terrified seminary student named Justin Waverly (Thomas Porter), moonlighting as a bull-semen deliveryman for United Parcel Service, is drafted to perform his first wedding ceremony. Just when it seems that things cannot get any worse, they do — when Parker and Tiny Jo disappear right before she's supposed to flounce down the aisle in her ante-bellum hoop skirt a la Scarlett O'Hara.
Heather Shinpaugh is hilarious Frankie Dubberly, whose worst fears all come true one after the other on her daughter's wedding day; and J.K. Ferrell is a stitch as Frankie's good-old-boy husband Dub, who thinks it's perfectly okay to wear a camouflage hunting cap with his rented tuxedo. Also amusing are the travails of Leanne Norton-Heintz as Twink, who is desperately trying to get Wiley Hicks (Larry Evans), her devoted but dense boyfriend of nearly 16 years, into a marrying mood, and the ongoing ordeal of Gilly Conklin as Honey Raye, who steadfastly refuses to admit that her hot flashes are a part of The Change, because (she says) she's too young to be going through menopause.
Kelly McConkey gives crowd-pleasing performances as the slutty Tina Jo Dubberly and her bashful twin Gina Jo — GJ — who carries a secret torch for Justin Waverly. Thomas Porter has some side-splitting moments as that hopelessly unprepared seminarian; and Larry Evans is a scream as the outrageously overmedicated Wiley Hicks, whom Twink Futrelle drags to Tina Jo's wedding because "Madame Nelda" (Sandi Sullivan in a cute comic cameo) has promised that exposure to a marriage ceremony will prompt him to pop the question... finally.
Frances Stanley is amusing — and loud — as flamboyant and outspoken jill-of-all-trades Miss Geneva Musgrave, who not only runs Fayro's florist shop and bus station but also serves as a martinet-like wedding coordinator for the Price-Futrelle nuptials; and James Hampton Rowe is another audience favorite as quick-on-the-draw local law enforcer John Curtis Buntner — think Mayberry's Barney Fife with a Texas twang. But the funniest performance of the show is Susannah Hough's wonderfully witchy portrayal of the stuck-up mother of the groom Patsy Price, whose Machiavellian machinations backfire on her — much to the audience's delight. All the hard-drinking Patsy Price lacks is a broomstick and some flying monkeys!
TIP director Ira David Wood III keeps the laughter rolling, rolling, rolling in this wild-and-wooly wedding comedy. Scenic and lighting designer Stephen J. Larson and master carpenter Jeff Nugent create a strikingly rustic Deep-South hunting-lodge-like multipurpose set that is, perhaps, a little too dark for the settings of the events of Dearly Beloved. Costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson outfits the characters in flashy fashions that help underscore their personality traits; and sound designer Will Mikes creates a clever soundscape — complete with choice musical snippets and barking dogs — that helps highlight the hilarity of this delightful down-home comedy.
Theatre in the Park presents Dearly Beloved Thursday, June 19 and 26, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, June 21 and 28, at 8 p.m., in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607. $21 ($13 students and active-duty military personnel and $15 seniors 60+). 919/831-6058 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 8 p.m. June 19th performance. Theatre in the Park: http://www.theatreinthepark.com/. Dearly Beloved: http://www.joneshopewooten.com/dearly-beloved.html (Jones - Hope - Wooten).