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Stage: Lee Street Theatre's Four Old Broads
This Lee Street production features a new generation of Golden Girls roasting each other without mercy.
Four Old Broads, now entering its last weekend at Salisbury’s Lee Street Theatre, delivers on its title and then some: At a less than ritzy nursing home, four aging women and their friends constantly talk smack while they clear the way for the cruise ship getaway they deserve.
Four Old Broads
Presented by Lee St. Theatre
329 N Lee St, Salisbury, NC 28144
Fridays and Saturdays
January 13 - 28, 2023
7:30 PM Shows
Pious Eaddy Mae Clayton and debauched Beatrice Shelton are the emotional core of the show, friends for years as residents of Magnolia Place despite their fundamental differences. Nary a minute passes without the pair exchanging below-the-belt attacks on each other’s character. Their biggest problems, however, are the folks surrounding them, from playboy Elvis impersonator Sam Smith, to the stern nurse Pat, to soap opera addict and nervous wreck Maude Jenkins. Despite the social drudgery they must endure, the pair have invited a newcomer, the oxygenated Imogene Fletcher, to join them on their annual vacation.
Needless to say, the best laid plans of nursing home residents are bound to go awry.
Composed in the familiar style of the three-camera sitcom, playwright Leslie Kimbell’s writing is funny. The group speaks about death like it can’t touch them and sex like it’s what’s coming next.
This production is funny, however, because Shar Marlin is so invested in her neurotic performance of the fretful Maude; because Lillie Oden’s Beatrice speaks to the person inside us all who will never be ready to leave the party; because Liz Waller’s sweet turn as Imogene is so convincing that we cannot believe it when she pulls a flask from her bra; and because Ruby Sue Bennett, the goodhearted young nurse buried in her novel, is played with such lighthearted pluck by Lauren Wilson.
And, of course, because we have all met Beth Cook’s Eaddy, a Southern Baptist who makes us cringe with dread every time she opens up with, “I’m not trying to get in your personal business, but.…”
It is the show’s familiarity that will make it such a delightful outing for audiences of any age. Almost any age, that is. There is a fair amount of foul language and an explicit description of Eaddy helping Beatrice extract her breasts from her own armpits on a nude beach.
Nurse Pat is a more cartoony Nurse Ratched, and with the Devereaux-esque Beatrice and a Rose-adjacent Imogene, it is impossible to avoid comparisons to The Golden Girls. Unavoidable as the comparisons may be, there is plenty that makes these characters their own broads.
Oden is rock solid in her low tolerance for sentimentality and devotion to the next thrill. She deadpans every joke and earned laughs for absolutely every crass punchline at the performance I attended. This reliability helps her make Beatrice an unexpected source of security as danger creeps into the plot. Cook as Eaddy is another pillar, quick both to pry and to pray as she navigates the existential jeopardy a friendship with Beatrice puts her in. Answering their steadfastness with the most satisfying character arc of the show, Shar Marlin’s Maude transforms from beginning to end. We meet her so debilitated by anxiety over death that she keeps a journal to plan her own funeral; we are left with an indefatigable performer, tap dancing her way into the Miss Magnolia Senior Citizen Pageant.
It is especially fun to watch Cale Evans and Liz Waller as they get to know one another. Sam’s lecherous reputation precedes him, and we are sure that he will remain the heel as he seeks to bed Imogene as he has so many other of his neighbors. But, with hearts in her eyes, Imogene will not heed the advice of her new compatriots. The budding love we witness is genuinely sweet. Without noticing, we become delighted to see Sam every time he saunters onto the stage. It is just another way in which Kimbell’s script enjoys defying expectations.
The show’s lighthearted design rounds out the fun. Leaning hard into camp, audiences are treated several times to the melodrama of characters from Maude’s favorite soap opera, whose timorous voices fill the space as the lights dim. With some dramatic lighting and an over-the-top music cue, the door at stage left becomes the path to the “Dark Side,” the wing where Magnolia Place’s most infirm residents are no longer in control of their day-to-day lives. The Dark Side is, sincerely, the scariest part of the plot.
Often, you will want to attend theater for thought-provoking approaches to difficult topics, or a window into the mind of a dark, unsavory character. But we are lucky that our local theaters also see the value in a silly situational comedy which is just plain fun to stage. Four Old Broads is a romp for the capable actors at Lee Street, and an excellent diversion for audiences lucky enough to attend.
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