Sad Café’s Southern Discomfort

(Review) The Ballad of the Sad Cafe at Le Moyne College’s Coyne Center for the Performing Arts

Carson McCullers was the female Tennessee Williams, but with an even deeper taste for misfits. Despite her capacious gifts for theatrical dialogue, McCullers’ 1951 novella The Ballad of the Sad Café was adapted for the stage by Edward Albee in 1965, crafting explosive encounters while remaining faithful to the original text. It took visionary director Matt Chiorini, of Le Moyne College’s Boot and Buskin Theater Club, to know that this nearly forgotten treasure would make a great fit with a student company. The townies of Oklahoma (reset from Georgia by Chiorini) look as authentic as scenic designer Karel Blakeley’s rough-hewn but imposing set, the men in scraggly redneck beards and the women in Montgomery Ward duds.

True to the “ballad” in McCullers’ title, a dispassionate narrator (Vincent Randazzo) retells and sings the story of a lonely small-town Amazon, Miss Amelia Evans (Brittany Fayle), in achronological flashbacks. Clad in shabby blue overalls and scuffed paratrooper boots, husky-voiced Miss Amelia dominates the town joylessly until two unlikely men enter her life. One is a weaselly hunchback, Cousin Lymon (Peter Medici), wearing a bow tie and knickers, whom she saves from bullies. Lymon softens her heart, and she opens her general store for the locals to drink and socialize, the Café of the title.

Then there’s needful ex-convict Marvin Macy (Chris Lupia), initially so abject and groveling. In a flashback, Miss Amelia had just barely agreed to marry him but denied him on their wedding night. Their subsequent battle, enough to make George vs. Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? look like patsies, is what must have drawn Albee to this project. Director Chiorini took a penetrating surmise of his student troupe before he correctly assumed that Fayle and Lupia would ignite theatrical dynamite in these roles.

Lexi Badore as an assertive townie and Krystal Wilson as the preacher’s wife give nuanced and effective support. And music by the Salt City Gentlemen Ramblers ratchets up the tension with a washboard.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe concludes with performances on Thursday, Oct. 23, and Friday, Oct. 24, 8 p.m., and Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m., at Le Moyne College’s Coyne Center for the Performing Arts, 1419 Salt Springs Road.

Theater Review

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