When asked about the mantra he was drumming into The Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming “The Sugar Bean Sisters,” director Eric Lewis answered, “Laugh with magic.”
The set had yet to be built. The actresses were in street clothes. The occasion was an early run-through.
Even so, even then, signs of Lewis’ mantra showed through.
This not-particularly-dark comedy centers on three wackos on a homestead amid alligators, snakes and mosquitoes in a Florida swamp: the Nettle sisters, Faye Clementine and Willie Mae, and a stranger, Miss Videllia Sparks, a lounge singer from New Orleans.
Faye (Susan Connors) makes sandwiches for the martians she expects to come take her. Willie (Melanie Calderwood) husband-hunts for a Mormon man to expedite her ascension into the Celestial Kingdom. Willie’s got her eye on Bishop Crumley (Austin Gregory), a younger guy with a wife.
What Videllia (Laura Hanson) is up to is a question mark. That she needs money to get a voodoo curse lifted surfaces early on.
The action generates out of personal relationships, secrets from the past erupting into the present and the outrageous comedy of feminine sensibilities in conflict. According to the billing, “romance, murder and alien abduction” figure in.
What theatergoers will see, who knows?
What they won’t see for sure is the “laugh with magic” that went into staging “Sugar Bean Sisters,” the finished product.
Minutes after Lewis assured Laura Hanson that “I am more concerned with you as a person than an actress,” Hanson – in character, focused and in the swing of things – was quipping and lighting up with everybody else. She had forgotten about the cough getting her down.
I swear, Hanson, Connors and Calderwood behaved like high school girls on a sleepover every time a better way of doing something was discovered.
The run-through I saw convinced me. Lewis’ “laugh with magic” worked then. I am betting it will again, starting opening night.
‘The Sugar Bean Sisters’
WHEN: Aug. 31-Sept. 23
WHERE: The Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Ave., Edmonds
TICKETS: $18.50 general, $15.50 seniors/students/military; call 206-533-2000 or go to www.phoenixtheatreedmonds.com