Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean
Review by Sue Gough
If you want to live forever be sure to die young. The theory holds good whether you are a messiah, freedom fighter, president, poet or movie star.
In this case the prime example is James Dean, the sultry, mumbling young rebel who was every teenage boy's inner vision of himself and every girl's dream. His dramatic death in a head-on collision in his Porsche fixed him forever in the formaldehyde at fantasy.
This Australian premiere of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, has been dedicated to film director Robert Altman who directed both the American stage show and the film version. By coincidence, 1985 is the 60th anniversary of Brisbane repertory, Robert Altman's 60th birthday and the 30th anniversary of James Dean's death.
In his letter acknowledging the dedication, Altman says "superstars are really an excuse for the masses to circumvent their own reality". And Graczyk's play examines the effect of cult behaviour on people's lives.
The set is eloquently nostalgic: the Art Deco jukebox, green and white patterned linoleum, the advertisement showing young Ronald Reagan promoting Chesterfield cigarettes are all true to the era. Here, in the small-town squalor of south-west Texas, the local James Dean fan club meets at the five-and-dime store 20 years after the death of their idol.
In spite of the perfect setting, the opening scenes lacked cohesion. A series of blackouts and time switches across 20-year gaps were too frequent and indistinct, and the cast seemed to be floundering to avoid dead spots in the script.
Central character is Mousy Mona (Gabrielle Lambrose), who for years has been the centre of attention due to her claim that James Dean fathered her son. She is aided and abetted by prissy, god-fearing old Juanita (Bev Langford) and members of the fan club, gormless Edna Louise (Shauna Conlon) and vulgar Stella May (Katrina Devery). They are all well cast but star of the show is undoubtedly Rosamund Vidgen as Sissy, the brassy, brave, provocative belle with the big boobs and a voice like Southern Comfort.
As the evening progresses, an unexpected arrival (Dianne Eden) throws the cat among the pigeons. Beer bottles are opened and tongues loosened. Revelations, secrets and tragedies are shared and moments of truth are finally faced. As Juanita says: "Believin' is so funny. What you believe in don't even know you exist."
The Australian, April 1985
Article courtesy Bev Langford