BY SANDY STAGGS
The Clampetts are back instilling mayhem and mountain customs in the posh zipcode 90210 in the Foothills Playhouse’s 35th season opener “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Any play based on a silly hootenanny of a 1960s sitcom may seem, well…silly. And it is, but the talented cast of “The Beverly Hillbillies” serves ups a heapin’ mess of good-natured nostalgia and fun.
This script by David Rogers was written in 1968 (near the end of the show’s nine-year run on CBS) and based primarily on the pilot episode that follows the story about a man named Jed (a faithful portrayal by Jonathan Houston), a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed. Well, you know the rest of the song.
And if you have forgotten the lyrics to “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” Bob Dockendorff, director Jennifer Ouellette’s husband, plays acoustic guitar and sings the jolly ditty at the top of the show.
After selling off his swamp to Oklahoma bankers for $25 million and aiming to marry off his 17-year-old tomboy daughter Elly May (Jillana Darby in a dead-on performance and accent) before she becomes an old maid, Jed loads up his truck and family (dumb-as-dirt nephew Jethro played handsomely by Tim Spears) and his mother-in-law Granny (the irrepressible Anne Robards).
Of course hilarity ensues as the Clampetts adjust to city living in several subplots: Jethro fancies himself as a playboy and has a trio of gals-in-waiting played by Heather Driver, Taylor Tessnear and Summer Stenger; Elly May tries to become a debutante rather than fighting boys and wildcats; and the irascible Granny, in a completely immersed, nuanced, physical and scene-stealing performance by Robards, traverses the modern amenities of electricity and indoor plumbing.
And Jed has to outfox Carlie Brooks and Edwin Divine, who play the con artists that try to blackmail him.
Maurice Reed is readily convincing as Mr. Drysdale the banker entrusted to guard Jed’s millions in his bank and a hilarious Lynne Gibson plays his societal pillar of a wife, Mrs. Drysdale.
And a terrify Kathy Hydrick-Patterson plays Drysdale’s feisty assistant Miss Hathaway, who is really the only “normal” character in the Hillbilly universe. Personally, Miss Hathaway was always my favorite character on the TV show as played by Nancy Kulp, the Emmy-nominated actress who later ran for Congress in Pennsylvania in 1984. (She was defeated when her former co-star Buddy Ebsen actively endorsed her GOP opponent.)
And even cousin Pearl makes an appearance embodied by Donna Duffie in her first of two roles. Ryan Oliver, Ron Jones, Sheri Taylor, and Aaron O’Bryant Lisa Spears round out the cast.
As a side note, Darby Robards and Taylor have something else in common besides their acting careers: the ladies all have day jobs on local radio stations: Darby at Magic 98.9 & B93.7, Robards at WORD 106.3 and Classic Rock 101.3 and Taylor at Magic 98.9as well. I also had the pleasure of seeing Robards and director Ouellette last year in Centre Stage’s powerful drama “Kindertransport,” albeit their characters were in different periods and didn’t interact.
Ms. Ouellette directs this play with sitcom expediency and flair with an ample emphasis on the one-liners and multiple layers of absurdity. And she closes the show on a delightfully pleasant note. There is, however, a brief freeze-frame sequence in act two that probably doesn’t work as well as intended. The sunny California lighting suddenly becomes dark and scattered and interrupts the narrative flow.
Kudos as well to Tommy Sorrells for his clever and functional set design, which becomes a welcome character upon itself in the first act when we get a rewarding reveal.
Jill Campion serves as show producer with Lisa Spears, who is also costumer. Maurice Reed is Lighting Designer, Sound Design is by Michael Firnhaber, and Haley Kreft is Stage Manager.
“The Beverly Hillbillies” doesn’t tax the brain much but it’s refreshingly familiar (like second or third cousins that you only see at weddings and funerals) and may illicit some uncontrollable foot-stomping. The only thing really missing from this production is a banjo, a jug of Granny’s infamous “rheumatism medicine,” and maybe a critter or two. Y’all come and sit a spell at the Foothills Playhouse!
Incidentally, there is also a musical version that premiered in 2014 with a score by Gregg Opelka and book by Rogers and his daughter Amanda Rogers, though it is not available for licensing yet.
“The Beverly Hillbillies” continue through Sept. 11, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Foothills Playhouse, 201 S 5th St. in Easley. For tickets, call (864) 855-1817 or visit http://fhplayhouse.com/
And don’t miss the next Foothills Playhouse production: “All’s Well in Roswell (Isn’t It?)” Oct. 21-30.