A theatrical Giant which is superbly presented

Review by Paul Nelson

IN AN all too brief career, James Dean managed to star in and grace three major movies. His performance in his last film, Giant, to my mind, proved that he was being totally manipulated, his raw and chrysalid talent was incapable of presenting an elderly man.

He was more a matinee idol rather than an actor, and I have to admit his persona outstripped anyone on the screen in his day with the exception of Marlon Brando.

However, he became a legend because he died driving a Porsche at presumably an unacceptable speed, this at a point in his career that would have either proved him as an actor, or relegated him to an upstart.

As with Rudolph Valentino, who all too young died of appendicitis, a legend was born.

At the Wimbledon Studio, there is a production of the play Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, a play which deals with a James Dean fan club and their meeting 20 years after the dreadful news of his death.

It is one of those plays where everyone examines themselves and comes to a conclusion as to why they are all meeting there and what appalling changes have happened to them and gives them an opportunity to explain their development and why.

The fascinating thing about the play is that some of the characters are played by doubles as they were 20 years ago, and are again reincarnated as they now are. One, indeed, has had a sex change.

Well doesn't that happen in every small community?

I can't remember the number of people who went through a sex change in my small town in Yorkshire.

The ploy does, however, cleverly push the play along. Nevertheless, a ploy, I maintain, which pushes the play just that bit over the edge.

For me, the play doesn't work, though I can understand why director Gary Diomandes chose it for this year's offering from St Mary's University of Minnesota School of The Arts Department of Theatre Arts.

It is, if you do not know the play, a brilliant observation of small town America which places a blindingly white light on the greater issues of what makes America what we, sad foreigners, think America is. It tears one apart. I wonder if Americans consider the play in that light?

It also searingly throws a spotlight on dreams and fantasies. How many of us can actually bravely face what we wanted to believe as true when we were young in the harsh light of our present existence? Did we really only dream it or did we actually wake up in the arms of our cinematic ideal?

These questions are superbly and eloquently presented.

In probably the most fascinating set I have ever seen at the Studio Theatre in Wimbledon, Dr Diomandes has surpassed himself.

I have long sung his praises but his work on this play, a work he admits in a programme note is close to his heart, must rank as the apotheosis of his career so far, though I have to say I tremble as to what he will present us with next year.

Can I dare to hope he will return next year in a more light-hearted vein, and kill us once again with his pronounced panache and with something more akin to a musical comedy?

This is not to deny that in a serious vein he can make us grimace and suffer almost at his will, but he himself is a jolly character and I personally believe the world needs more of that.

5 and Dime is a definite 'must see'.

Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean by Ed Graczyk. Directed by Dr. Gary Diomandes, Lighting Design Matt "Trippy" Scherbring, Scenic Design Sarah Walavich, Costume Design Michelle Floersch-Clow, Sound Alison Murray WITH: Andrietta Scales (Juanita), Mary Schumacher (Mona), Kate Schuster (Mona then), Rara Reinke (Sissy), Melissa Fye (Sissy then), Peter Jones (Joe), Anna Shields Joanne), Sarah Fisher (Stella May), Anna Mukencshnabl (Edna Louise), Jim Clark (Radio Announcer), understudy - Sarah Marek., Presented by Saint Mary's University of Minnesota School of the Arts, Department of Theatre Arts, and Wimbledon Studio Theatre at the Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19.

RELATED STORIES: Click here for a review of St Mary's University of Minnesota's 2001 production of SubUrbia

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