Give Off Broadway audiences 85 minutes of performers like these, and you're halfway home.
Give Off Broadway audiences 85 minutes of performers like Sally Mayes, Teri Ralston and Lauren Kennedy and you’re halfway home. Or down home, you might say. “Good Ol’ Girls,” a non-Roundabout booking in the black box space beneath the Laura Pels Theater, strings together songs from Nashville’s Matraca Berg (who conceived the project) and Marshall Chapman that bring an authentic country sound to the little playhouse in the sub-basement. Script material — mostly brief sketches of good ol’ girls in distress — is adapted from the writings of Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle in a show that meanders along aimlessly at times but is continually rescued by its cast.
The collage work has been patched and pasted by Paul Ferguson, who, according to his bio, has “transformed the novels and songs of 39 Southern writers into works for the stage.” Sounds like quite a cottage industry. Randal Myler, director of such items as “It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues,” “Hank Williams’ Lost Highway” and “Love, Janis,” does the staging.
What we get is a country music concert — with some strong singing — mixed with less successful sections of women sittin’ around talkin’ about the joys (few) and tribulations (many) of bein’ good ol’ girls. Lotsa sex talk, some childbirth, some wife-beating, a neighborly hairdresser and more. The long one-act has been awkwardly mixed; it isn’t until midway through that the performers switch from a parade of songs to concentrate on talky book material. A section about good ol’ senile girls is especially jarring, springing from nowhere as if someone had briefly switched channels from Nashville to Lifetime and back. Impressively acted, mind you, by Mayes and Ralston, but if the stated aim of the authors was “to redefine the modern Southern woman in a musical about love, loss and laughter,” they are only intermittently successful.
Where “Good Ol’ Girls” is most welcome is in the performances of three of the five principals. Mayes has been entertaining New York audiences for 20 years. She artfully hits the comedic and dramatic bases in her singing — best moment in the evening is her “Late Date With the Blues” — and now displays added poignancy. Ralston has been around even longer, since creating roles in Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 “Company” (as Jenny, the pot-smoking wife) and “A Little Night Music.” After many years on the West Coast, she returns with a very nice job here. Kennedy — who stands out among these good ol’ girls by looking at least 25 years younger, but handily matches the veterans — has been a familiar presence recently, in last season’s short-lived musical “Vanities” and as a replacement Lady of the Lake in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
Cast also includes singer Liza Vann and singing musician Gina Stewart. There’s a four-piece combo — guitar, drums and two keyboards — up behind the curtain. Production elements are minimal: a scrim featuring a map of the North Carolina/South Carolina border, from Cape Hatteras to Myrtle Beach; one bench; four stools; and five long-neck beer bottles. Myler has not outdone himself, but his three principal good ol’ girls fend well for themselves. And for their material.