Oh God, Body Grease! Murder in the Magnolias Act Two

Oh God, Body Grease: Murder in the Magnolias, Act Two
            I was cast to play two roles in the Sparta (IL) Community Chorus’s production of “Murder in the Magnolias”, performed the weekends of February 21st and 28th. On January 2nd we had our first read-through. It was our first chance to meet each other and know who was playing what part.
            Well, first chance I had to meet each other. The rest of the cast knew each other from prior plays and musicals. I met all but two of the cast for the first time.
            There were a lot of chuckles during the read-through. Some of us were looking through the script for the first time – well, if not the first time, it was pretty close – and some of us knew our lines very well.
            I hope I knew most of my lines. I had been reading the script since Christmas day and have been memorizing the ebb and flow of my lines since then. The lines, particularly the Colonel’s, are repetitive. I am either calling something vicious, evil or nasty in every line. I tell my “sister Amanda” to hush up, shut her mouth and listen at various times.  It can be very easy to skip lines.
            When I was in “The Odd Couple” in 1982, we had similar problems. At the end of an act our director told us we were all over the script – even doing lines from other acts yet to come.  It sounded great and no one noticed the repeat performance some minutes later. I’d like to avoid that.
            For example: the Colonel has a line “there’s something in the night air” and later “I have a premonition that something is hovering over my head”. Not identical and barely similar – but the feeling is the same. I could easily get these mixed up.
            The character of Thornbird only has two small soliloquies and his other lines are comments and reactions to other characters. The play is full of things like that – one-up zingers. “Shut my mouth.” “Wish I could.”
            But Thornbird (and others) also have lines like “Are you ailing?” “What’s so unusual about that?”  These require learning the lines before mine to set up verbal cues. “I’ll move the stuffed pig” (don’t ask) is said before my line “what time is Lawyer Possum getting here?” The prior line has nothing to do with mine, so I have to remember when I hear “pig” to ask about Lawyer Possum.
            The insults and zingers are easier to remember because (1) those kinds of lines have a cadence and (2) I enjoy that kind of humor anyway – so the lines are natural to me. “Only a moron would consider that a compliment.” “I ain’t no moron.” “Then it ain’t no compliment.” Or “Black Widow spiders are deadly aren’t they?” “Only when they kill someone.”
            I try to remember certain mnemonics. One of my first lines contained “Whipped ‘em” or WPDM – “That weed pile of yours is a disgusting mess!” VD is vicious and despicable and “Sumsog” is “there’s something unnatural and morbid in that smelly old garden of yours.” I enjoy these memory exercises.
            This is the advertising copy of the play. Oddly, it contains some spoilers but they are necessary to describe the remaining play. Kind of like spoiling the beginning of”Citizen Kane” by saying Kane dies at the beginning.
            Yes, I just compared “Murder in the Magnolias” to “Citizen Kane” …
            What happens when you parody characters and plots from almost every Southern play imaginable, and sprinkle them with the flavor of Gone With the Wind? You get the hilarious Murder in the Magnolias. Colonel Rance Chickenwing has kicked the bucket, leaving the secret of his buried treasure for a houseful of demented relatives to discover. There’s Bubba Kamrowski, who juggles bowling balls in a luncheonette; the delicate Blanche De Blank, whose fiancé drowned in the quarry behind the Veronica Lake Casino; Thornbird, the flaky poet, whose personality is split so many ways, he’s fractured; the cartoonish Lawyer Possum whose only paying client is an alligator. There’s the movie queen, Princess Lotta Kargo, who claims she’s the Colonel’s wife. And Amanda Chickenwing, who attempts to sell subscriptions to the Tudball Tattler. Soon, there’s another death and the mystery at Belle Acres must be solved by Sheriff Billy Jerk. Toss in a prehistoric garden complete with murderous honeysuckle vines, yapping hound dogs, a Voodoo Woman, a menacing hurricane, a suspicious state engineer and a series of devastatingly hilarious “monologues,” and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the fun in this off-the-wall spoof.
“A funny and clever spoof.” – Texas Theatre Week
That’s the party line – er – official description from the playbook and the advertisements.
Some quick written thumbnails of the cast were also found online:
Colonel Rance Chickenwing: Once a US Senator, now aged and difficult
Amanda Chickenwing: His younger sister, daffy & devoted to her strange botanical garden
Jezebel: The housekeeper; slovenly, lazy, inept, outspoken
Voodoo Woman: The local witch
Pet Bogg: A state engineer who must dig up the old plantation
Thornbird Chickenwing III: A Southern writer whose personality is split so many ways he’s fractured.
Bubba Kamrowski: Juggles bowling balls in a luncheonette; en expert in Napoleonic law
Lorraine Carruthers: Social secretary to Princess Kargo; an intelligent young woman
Lawyer Possum: Has an alligator for a client
Princess Lotta Kargo: Flamboyant, theatrical and, maybe, off her rocker
Sheriff Billy Jerk: The biggest man in TudballCounty
Blanche Du Blank: A Southern belle, slightly cracked.

And now the cast – from the Facebook page of the director … (no last names ere used to protect the innocent – I know eventually our last names will be in programs and – hopefully – favorable reviews; but for now … )
Colonel Rance Chickenwing  – Mike (me)
Amanda Chickenwing – Erica

Jezebel – Mary 

Voodoo Woman – Heidi 

Pete Bogg – Brad

Thornbird Chickenwing III – Mike (me) 
Bubba Kamrowski – Ryan
Lorraine Carruthers – Amy  
Lawyer Possum – Ernest
Princess Lotta Kargo – Debbie
Sheriff Billy Jerk – John

Blanche Du Blank – Britney
            At the first read-through, some of the cast were absent either by permission or with the pandemic flu going around. I, Erica, Mary, Heidi, Brad, Ryan and Amy were there. Everyone read through their lines splendidly.
            Erica is the big kahuna of the Sparta Community Chorus – the president or board chairman, I can’t remember specifically. We have the most lines together.
            Mary was going to try out for a role in the 1982 production of “Oklahoma” I was in, but she was expecting a child at the time. She said she gave birth to her daughter on one of the performance dates. I said that was too bad. Imagine the laughs of a nine-month pregnant Ado Annie singing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”.
            Debbie was in “Oklahoma” with me back in 1982. Well, she didn’t perform, but did play the piano during rehearsals and was the “orchestra leader”. I recognized her and remembered her as the evening wore on. She’s already playing her part with hilarious zeal.
            Heidi and Amy are going to be an excellent Voodoo Woman and Lorraine. Heidi enjoyed the over-the-top cackling and Lorraine (if the read-through is any indication) will play it with a nervous fluster. She and the character Pete Bogg are the only sane characters in the play.
            Ryan is taller than I am (and I’m 6’3”) and will make a fine Bubba. I suspect he is less than half my age – a man young enough to be my son is playing my childhood bully…
            Brad grew up a few blocks north of me. I am older than him by four years – a geologic time when it comes to childhood. It was the first time I got to meet him as an adult. It was nice catching up with him even for only a few minutes before the read-through. Who would have thought three kids from the Cobbler’s Knob section of Coulterville would be part of a play thirty-plus years later? Must be something in the water.
            Fifteen more rehearsals to go. More news as it develops…
Original Material Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

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