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First Baptist of Ivy Gap from Theatre Suburbia: Sweet, Sentimental Theater

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The setup:

In Theatre Suburbia's First Baptist of Ivy Gap, women of varying ages roll bandages in 1945 as part of the war effort, and exchange badinage as well as bandages. And we see them 25 years later, as secrets and life choices are revealed.

The execution:

Some vibrant performances and some experienced acting help make interesting a sweetly sentimental parable about reconciliation and forgiveness. The setting is a convocation hall at the First Baptist Church of Ivy Gap, where Olene (Amesti Reioux) dreams of Hollywood and Mae Ellen (Renea Been) dreams of Nashville. They provide the youthful vitality, and a sense of rebellion against the small-mindedness of a small town. Edith (Nora Hahn) has organized the war effort, and Hahn is highly effective in creating a fully developed and likable character.

Luby (Kristi Nicholson) is given the unenviable task of looking dour for most of the play -- she has her plot reasons for this. Vera (Carol Davis) is a straight-backed Baptist, but her judgmental nature is softened by Act Two. Sammy (Keitha Mae Hanks) is the youngest, and is more effective in the second act than the first, when she appeared ill at ease. Theatre Suburbia gives young actors, as here, stage experience, an essential phase in developing talent.

Act Two takes place 25 years later, and the costumes and the wigs indicate this, though Vera seems not to have aged. There is a lot more humor here, and the tender seeds of plot planted in Act One are resolved, though we are dealing with saplings, not mighty oaks. Playwright Ron Osborne has chosen to give us narrative, not insights, and has crafted a play with predictable elements. He is not above some sloppy writing -- one of the two thin plot tendrils is the civilian son of Vera, and the line "he wanted to enlist, but his father had influential friends" is a non sequitur that goes unchallenged. The work is directed by Doris Merten, and she has elected to stage the rolling of bandages at such a leisurely pace that it's a wonder we won the war.

The set is simple but serviceable, and the music that bridges minor prop changes has been chosen with wit and intelligence. This is not a play for those who crave sophisticated theater, or care to witness the dark grapplings of humanity -- we have Shakespeare for that -- but it provides entertainment for those who prefer "Theatre Lite." The strong response to this work of 2004 has led to a 2009 sequel, Showtime at First Baptist, in which a lightning bolt has destroyed the sanctuary and a talent show is staged to fund rebuilding -- it sounds like fun.

The verdict:

A sweetly sentimental play sparse on plot captures the mood of a small town, and some talented actors generate some fun onstage.

First Baptist at Ivy Gap continues through May 12 at Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Dr. For information or ticketing, call 713-682-3525 or visit the company website.

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