After exhaustive deliberations, I have come to the conclusion that funerals are funnier than weddings. I think it's because you need the emotional release brought about by loud guffaws and incessant laughter after you've been in a protracted state of mourning and unrelenting sadness. It cleanses you somehow and reaffirms your living, breathing self. Weddings, on the other hand, are filled with romance (even when folks are fussing and fighting over who's at the singles table, who gave the happy couple those tacky-as-all-get out placemats and what hideous color scheme will be foisted upon the members of the wedding party), culminating in a new union that is filled with hope, love and the sense of bonhomie that often follows. And even if you are only tangentially connected to the wedding, you are likely to find yourself in a heightened romantic state afterwards.
Granted, most of my research can be credited to two plays by J. Dietz Osborne and Nate Eppler (known professionally as the eponymously named Osborne and Eppler, in the spirit of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kaufman and Hart and George and Ira…Gershwin…which sorta ruins the sound of my sentence, but what can you do?), an impressive and noteworthy Nashville playwriting team, who seemingly have cornered the theatrical market on such Dixiefied ceremonies and celebrations in their comedies Southern Fried Funeral (which was debuted by Franklin's Bethlehem Players in 2010) and Southern Fried Nuptials (now onstage at Bethlehem United Methodist Church in its world premiere production). I'll be sure to include them in the footnotes when my findings are published.
Clearly, the two men excel at creating sharp, witty and incisive dialogue that is fairly redolent of honeysuckle and magnolias, perfectly conveying a decidedly Southern approach to these landmark events on the lives of the richly drawn characters they create. By returning to the overflowing fount of inspiration that is to be found among the characters who first peopled the town of New Edinburgh, Mississippi, in Southern Fried Funeral, they again poke gentle fun at small-town social hierarchies and the centuries-old traditions that make Southern families unique.
Osborne takes on the job of directing the debut production of the pair's latest play and he succeeds in crafting an easy-to-enjoy production, brought to life by a strong blend of professional and amateur actors. Osborne keeps the play's action moving at an excellent pace, propelled along its way by the genuinely funny situations in which the characters find themselves.
David Compton supplies the production's superb set design-the Frye living room has the air of refined small-town respectability, accented by the comforts of middle-class prosperity-while Katie Gant provides the lighting design.
In Southern Fried Nuptials, it's a year after the action ended in the original play, and the newly widowed Dorothy Frye is adapting to her new life-rather tentatively-while preparing for the pending wedding of her oldest daughter, Harline (the one with the jaded past, who like the prodigal son of yore returned with enough emotional baggage to keep Louis Vuitton in business for decades), to her childhood sweetheart (and local attorney) Atticus Van Leer. There's all manner of hilarity that ensues during the play's two acts, what with Dorothy's other daughter, Sammi Jo, working hard to keep her own baggage neatly stored out of sight and sound, and wacky young son Dewey Jr. riding herd over the passel of wedding gifts that are arriving daily at the Fryes' front door.
Add to that basic family unit, the members of the extended family-Martha Ann and Fairy June-local church busybody and wedding coordinator Ozella Meeks and a local businessman named Vester Pickens (he's the owner of the alliteratively named Pickens Pickles) who has obvious romantic designs on the Widow Frye.