Friday, November 13, 2009



At Invisible Theatre

by Chuck Graham

If you think the dating game is complicated for young people, consider the dimensions of effort required to maneuver around decades of past experience -- plus respecting the feelings of grandchildren as well as children, maybe stepchildren, and all the other baggage of life while falling in love at age 72 or older. Even if both members of this new coupling have only had one husband or wife before, expectations can get pretty tangled.

That's the premise of "Southern Comforts" by Kathleen Clark, just opened at Invisible Theatre. This gentle romantic comedy tweaks the emotions in unexpected directions as two strangers deep into their senior years meet sweetly over a televised baseball game. She stops by his northern New Jersey home to ask for a contribution to charity. He's watching baseball. She loves baseball.

Determined not to seem interested in each other, but wanted to know more about each other, they are wary to begin that euphoric slide into cohabitation. So their mating dance has a different pace. The sexual revolution may have changed the rules of the game for those just starting out in life, but fidelity often has a heavier consequence for people in their seventies.

Tucson favorites Maedell Dixon and Douglas Mitchell play the roles of Amanda and Gus -- people raised to be responsible and reliable in a different generation. Under the direction of Harold Dixon, these two find each other in a totally believable glide though the stages of compatibility to their ultimate destination.

Outgoing Amanda, with genteel southern manners, hides her caution behind graceful conversation. Grumpy Gus, a retired stonemason with flinty features, cuts right through those flowery gestures with his no-nonsense New England attitude. He's all about being practical. His romantic side has been left withering for decades.

Yet, Amanda sees Gus with his broad shoulders and thick fingers as just the sort of man who could become the steadfast anchor she needs to survive in such a harsh land. Unsentimental Gus compares Amanda to a good cup of coffee. "You keep me awake," he explains earnestly.

Within the context of this play, such compliments draw recognition as well as laughter. Throughout the evening of their banter (there are no other cast members )couples in the audience are always looking at each other, poking each other, nodding in agreement, seeing themselves in the give-and-take of Amanda and Gus.

Considering the number of second and third marriages being consummated these days, a lot of traditional expectations have pretty much gone out the window. Traditionally, the guy gets to pick the stereo system and the gal gets to pic...basically, everything else. But if both people have similar interests, such as reading, and have accumulated huge libraries of books you can appreciate the difficulty. Even a killer stereo doesn't have the cachet it used to.

"Southern Comforts" has a scene like that. Gus prefers a spare amount of furnishings in his home, he values empty space because a man needs room to move around. Amanda has 12 of those floor-to-ceiling cases full of books. And a big sofa, some chairs, lots of pictures and knick-knacks for the walls. She likes things cozy.

A more touching moment arrives in their conversations about funeral plots and headstones. Gus just assumed he'd be buried next to his first wife. Amanda is horrified. Gus protests because, after all, he already owns the plot. Well, you can see how this kind of discussion can get pretty complicated.

Reassurance is what this play provides, just as its title implies. Love and marriage are always scary at any age, and in our youth-dominated culture there is some resistance to even think about older people enjoying fresh new love at all. But they do, the online stories in Facebook are full of evidence. This play is set in 1996, a digital update could come along any minute.

Performances of "Southern Comforts" by Kathleen Clark continue at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays (no performance Thanksgiving Day), 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to Nov. 29. Tickets are $22-$25, with group discounts. For details and reservations, 882-9721, or visit

Friday, November 6, 2009

'Southern Comforts' seductively charming | ®

'Southern Comforts' seductively charming | ®

The Arizona Daily Star

Published: 11.06.2009
'Southern Comforts' seductively charming
By Kathleen Allen

The North and South are at it again.

It's not quite a civil war in Kathleen Clark's "Southern Comforts," which Invisible Theatre opens next week.
But it is a bit of a war between two septuagenarians, she from the South — Tennessee — he from the North — New Jersey.

They fall in love, but it ain't easy.

Amanda (Maedell Dixon) and Gus (Douglas Mitchell) star in the Invisible Theatre's production of "Southern Comforts," a romantic comedy.
Tim Fuller / Courtesy of Invisible Theatre

"Southerners are a little bit more spirited," Clark explained in a phone interview from her New Jersey home. "Northerners are a bit more staid."
Clark knows what she's talking about — her family is a big mixture of people from both parts of the country.

The Northerners love that partying but are a bit perplexed by it.
"There's a little bit of that New England Yankee thing going on with them," she said. "That is not how they party."

The dichotomy between the two served Clark well with her love story.
Amanda is visiting her daughter in New Jersey when she meets Gus. They are both widowed, and romance is not on either's agenda.

He is stubborn, austere, set in his ways. She is gregarious, social and set in her ways.
Naturally, love steps in.

Clark knew the difference in geographical and cultural backgrounds would make for good comedy.
But she was concerned about the acceptance of a play that's a romance about two people in their 70s.
"I know they are older," Clark said, "but I feel that we all have these bumps in the road — old and young."
It seems her instinct was right:
"Sincere, warm and filled with poignant longing," Entertainment Weekly said when the play made its New York City off-Broadway debut.

The New York Times called it "delightful" and "sneakily sexy."
And Susan Claassen, Invisible Theatre's artistic director, said she was seduced by the play of opposites in "Southern Comforts."

"The potential of the relationships was so interesting to me — the cultural differences, and the quirky personality differences," she said.

"As the playwright said, when it comes to love, the hardest part isn't loving, but learning how to live with the person. That is what this plays shows us."

if you go
• "Southern Comforts"
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• Playwright: Kathleen Clark.
• Director: Harold Dixon.
• Where: Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave.
• When: Preview 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; opening 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Regular shows are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays (no show Nov. 26); 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 29.
• Tickets: Preview $16, regular performances $22-$25. Half-price rush-hour tickets available one-half hour before curtain; subject to availability.
• Reservations/information: 882-9721.
• Cast: Maedell Dixon and Douglas Mitchell.
• Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128