Death by flying cat
The Sugar Bean Sisters
The Sugar Bean Sisters are firmly planted in Sacramento for the next few months, and, if the Studio Theatre’s previous successes are any indication, the loopy siblings will entertain quite a few visitors.
The Sugar Bean Sisters is the first production under the theater’s new professional Equity status and the first selection of the theater’s first-ever subscription season. It’s also the local premiere of Nathan Sanders’ story of Southern swamp sisters.
Studio Theatre produces plays under the banner of “contemporary works with a female perspective,” usually aimed at an audience of women, though men are welcomed. Like the theater’s eight-year record-breaking run of Six Women with Brain Death, The Sugar Bean Sisters is a broad comedy in every sense of the word.
This surreal story is a goofy romp through the Florida swamp, and it ends up with more heart than substance. Though funny and clever at times, Sanders works too hard at making his plotlines peculiar and his characters quirky, at the expense of story and script.
We are quickly introduced to the eccentric Nettles sisters through one look at their disheveled wood-slat house, with an accompanying outhouse and family graveyard. The impressive set portrays a run-down swamp shack patched up with RC Cola signs and decorated with tacky family memorabilia and old Christmas decorations.
The two sisters with the three-part names, Faye Clementine Nettles (Nancy Madden, who played the part in San Jose) and Willie Mae Nettles (Six Women veteran Chris Hille), are eccentric “bachelor girls” living on the old family homestead. While one is waiting for a good Mormon man, the other is readying to be whisked off by aliens.
Their quiet life is interrupted by the appearance of a wayward showgirl named Videllia (a very funny Nisa Davis Hayden) who seeks refuge with the sisters on a stormy night. Videllia is regaled by family lore, including the murder mystery of 14 Miss Teen Sugar Bean Beauty Queens and the tragic deaths of family members via gator and flying cats. Add to that a strange preacher, an unexplained “reptile lady,” outer-space visitors and a bottle of Jack Daniels, and you end up with a convoluted comedy. The strong direction of producer and director Jackie Schultz and solid performances by appealing cast members rescue this swamp tale. If you throw logic out the door, it’s a hoot and a howler.