The audience was brought to laughter and tears during the opening performance of “A Southern Exposure” Friday at in Carmichael.
The performance was the first of the play, written by Kelley Kingston-Strayer.
The play follows a young woman, Callie Belle (Sara Sells), raised by her grandmother, Hattie (Linda Nalbandian) for most of her life after her parents died in an accident.
Hattie has an abundance of advice for Callie, often too much for her liking. And Callie gets no help from her great aunts, Ida Mae (Deborah Odehnal) and Mattie (Janice Reade Hoberg) who do not hesitate to put in their own two cents.
Hattie is the rock of the family, Ida Mae is a pushy card shark and Mattie is a hilariously batty old lady. Playgoers will be reminded of the matriarchs of their own families in one, if not all three of the characters.
Heated arguments about whether Oprah has talent and how colloquialisms should be used, had the audience roaring with laughter during the first act. However, the play takes a more serious tone during the second act when Hattie falls ill.
The plot moves at a leisurely place like the Kentucky drawls its characters speak in. However, there is never a dull moment, with humor sprinkled in even among the play’s darkest turns.
Nalbandian and Sells brought the audience to tears during a touching scene in which Hattie is sick. In the scene, Hattie asks Callie to promise to make a lot of friends in her life and keep her hair out of her eyes.
“It drives me crazy,” she said.
Overall, the acting was excellent. Odenhal as Ida Mae crafted a flawless portrayal of a sometimes pushy woman who cares deeply about her sisters. Hoberg is a master of facial expressions in her depiction of a woman with dementia, who wants her sisters to realize her mind is not totally gone.
The performance was all the more emotional because of the intimate setting at Chautauqua Playhouse. There is not a bad seat in the house, and the Friday performance was attended by an estimated 65 people.
The set itself also gave way to intimacy, a quaint Southern kitchen was the mainstay, with a corner dedicated to Callie’s New York apartment.
“A Southern Exposure” will continue at Chautauqua Playhouse Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 20. The theater is at 5325 Engle Road in the La Sierra Community Center. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors. For additional information, call 916-489-7529 or log on to www.cplayhouse.org.