“Sweet Tea at the B&B,” which the Panhandle Players debuted at the Chapman Theater Friday night, is outstandingly funny – with well written jokes, successful casting and strong set and costume design.
But perhaps the show’s greatest success is in its ability to capture the essence of the Apalachicola community and push it to its dark, but humorous, edge.
The play, by local playwright Jerry Hurley, follows an Apalachicola family and their house guests through a summer during the height of the Great Depression.
Beau Singleton, a dedicated grandson and the family’s main provider, played by Panhandle Players newcomer Nick Avossa, and his adoptive brother Dothan Alabama, played by another recent troop addition Mike Giere, conspire with their derelict uncle, Bertram Singleton, played by Panhandle Players veteran David Stedman, to restore their family’s fortune by opening a booze and brothel operation in their historic family home.
The three characters move most of the show’s plot, and through strong onstage chemistry, successfully convey the devolving nature of their new enterprise ,while keeping mood light, concealing their efforts from Singleton house’s matriarch, Cleopatra Singleton, played by Renee Valentine.
But the details that build out “Sweet Tea at the B&B” are delivered by the Singleton House “girls,” Mona, Trixie and Velvet, summer borders taking a respite from working the busy streets of New Orleans to offer their services to locals in small town Apalachicola.
The trio, played by Megan Shiver, Ashlee Sklute and Ashley Olson, are hilarious, but they offer their characters depth, successfully taking Hurley’s script and building out each girl’s personalities and dreams without making the characters the butt of the joke.
The show’s supporting cast, including actors David Adlerstein, Eric Olson, Bobbi Ann Seward and Doug Rauscher, is strong, showing adaptability and energy.
But perhaps Co-Directors Judy Loftus and Nick Avossa’s greatest casting success is with Mishelle McPherson in the role of Mrs. Good, an unsuspecting house maid who ends up facilitating Singleton House’s nefarious new operation.
McPherson’s strong acting skills allowed her to convey Mrs. Good’s complex character arc while bringing a freshness to the role that pulls the audience deeper into the story.
“Sweet Tea at the B&B” has a book just as strong as the show’s acting, delivering on its promise to represent a humorous, but perverted, glimpse at Apalachicola’s history.
But with such complex characters, the first few scenes do feel slow to get moving, setting up plot and long-running jokes that pick up pace later in the script.
The play is the third installment of the “Sweet Tea” series written by Hurley, a retired teacher and principal who has been involved with the Panhandle Players for several years, appearing in and writing several of the organization’s other productions.
There will be two more performances of “Sweet Tea at the B&B” on Saturday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 27, at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door or on the Panhandle Players’ website.